Saturday, February 05, 2011

Good News for Airline Passengers ?

     Maybe. Yes, I know that doesn't sound very encouraging from the last time I addressed a specific airline travel situation on this blog back on November 28th, 2009 but the reports look better if not improved to everyone's satisfaction. In truth, 2010 still had its problems. The downright space invading body pat down complaints, Europe's volcano eruption flight delays and new fees instituted by airlines were hardly a step in the right direction. However, a turnaround in DOT's focus from targeting airlines with more regulations to becoming more consumer friendly and enforcing regulations that actually help air travelers is a breath of fresh air. This is the first time in the administration's history that airline passengers rights are being given first consideration since DOT has been in force!
     Last Spring, a rule was put in force which limited tarmac delays to three hours. In addition, several consumer protection initiatives have been brought to the tables which will force air carriers to display airfares and optional fees to allow better side-by-side price comparisons and boosted fines for overbooking were also proposed over the summer which should be finalized by this Spring at the latest. Once these changes are approved airline passengers will have more clout and consideration with DOT than ever before. Not since the deregulation of 1978 has such radical changes gone into initiation and it will continue if everything gets approved and in a short period of time.
     Because of the changes that have already taken place our nation's cops issued 47 tickets to some of the top airlines of which the revenue from the citations totaled $3.33 million in penalties. This is up from 2009 in which the numbers totaled were 30 tickets and $2.6 million. The citations covered such areas as misleading brochure information on baggage compensation and failure of online information supplied by an airline to disclose full ticket prices. One citation even covered El Al's non-compliance with international baggage policy regulations.
     Unsurprisingly, DOT is getting some criticism on the new tarmac delay regulations from travel industry insiders and a few outsiders. All committees, aviation analysts and various industry agencies, such as AAI, feel that more can be done. Michael Miller, AAI's vice president says, "I don't think the tarmac-delay rule is well thought through, and I'm not alone." He also says that for the DOT to create a new legacy of consumer friendliness, it would be necessary to create new initiatives to make air travel noticeably better. One way would be to partner up with the Department of Homeland Security by improving the way passengers are screened and move away from the body-scan/pat down procedures now in place.
     Thomas Dickerson, the author of the book, "Travel Law" and a New York Supreme Court Judge feels that the poor disclosure of new airline fees for extra luggage, ticket changes and other options which were once bundled with the basic airline ticket should be better regulated. There has been an increase in litigation over surcharges, airport concession fees, government fees and passenger facilities charges. 
     With the changes, it appears that many people are stepping forward for greater airline passenger advocacy and that is a step in the right direction if these changes are not tied up in arguments over how these regulations should be written or enforced. Time is of the essence and any input from the consumers themselves will put us on a faster track to solving these issues and making flying more consumer-friendly. Everyone concerned will gain from the changes, I feel, including the airline industry itself.
The Castle Lady with good news for the new year 2011 !    


Elijah DuPree said...

I am truely impressed. I really could care less about new flight and airline regulations, however the eloquence of your writing captivated me, especially since I write also, and I am hungry for more. I will make your page a regular stop.

Evelyn said...

Thank you for that lovely compliment Elijah ! Thank goodness for good writing. I certainly got you to read something outside of your normal interest zone. How clever is that ? You are welcome any time. Take a look through my archives. You might find a subject you like better.