Airlines’ Plea to Delay ‘Passenger Rights’ Denied

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Department of Transportation will not delay implementation of three of the ‘airline passenger rights’ for which the department issued rules in April, depite requests from airline and travel industry groups. Three provisions of the rule that will remain effective Oct. 24, 2011, are those requiring that passengers bumped from over-booked flights receive increased compensation, that all fees for optional aviation services be prominently displayed on a carriers’ Web site, and that international flights must allow passengers to deplane if they have been sitting on a tarmac for 4 hours.
     The department will delay until Jan. 24, 2012, other provisions of its “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” rule published in April, including requirements that advertised fares must include all taxes and fees, that passengers must be notified of flight status changes within 30 minutes of the changes and a provision banning post-purchase price increases unrelated to government taxes or excise fees.
     The department also agreed to delay a requirement that airlines and ticket sellers hold reservations for 24 hours before requiring consumers to pay for the ticket.
     According to the department, the U.S. carrier associations were most concerned about the full-fare advertising requirements, which they said required the greatest information technology investment.
     The carriers said that while they were preparing to reprogram and reconfigure their online search engines to incorporate the new advertising requirements, they would need at least an additional 180 days beyond the rule’s original Oct. 24, 2011 deadline to create, modify and test the changes.
     Several foreign air carrier associations asked that all provisions of the rule being imposed on non-U.S. airlines for the first time be delayed 180 days, both because of the technological hurdles they face in implementing the new requirements and the need to retrain existing, and hire new, staff to comply with the customer service provisions of the rule.
     The American Society of Travel Agents requested that the department delay requirements to disclose baggage fee information on Web sites when a fare quotation for a specific itinerary is selected by a consumer and the requirement to disclose baggage fee information on all e-ticket confirmations, until the department completes a new rule on disclosure of fees for ancillary services.
     The travel agents also argued that the two methods the rule described for providing baggage fee information to consumers were not feasible, calling the first – linking to the airlines Web site where consumers could be tempted to buy their tickets directly – “an act of commercial suicide” and the second – creating their own in-house site displaying airline baggage fees – “impractical” because of the labor costs necessary to monitor airline Web sites for changes in baggage fees.
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