ASTA seeks DOT guidance on hazardous materials rules

By Bill Poling
ASTA has asked the Transportation Department (DOT) to clarify a new regulation that will require travel agents to advise airline passengers about hazardous materials in baggage, and obtain an acknowledgement that they understand the rules.

In a letter to the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), ASTA noted that a Jan. 1 effective date is approaching, and said the industry still needs guidance on how to comply.

At issue are regulations about hazardous materials adopted in 2011. One provision states that airlines must post signs in airport check-in and boarding areas warning that certain substances are banned, including "explosives, compressed gases, flammable liquids and solids, oxidizers, poisons, corrosives and radioactive materials." Examples cited include "paints, lighter fluid, fireworks, tear gases, oxygen bottles and radio-pharmaceuticals."

In addition to the signage, airlines are required to "ensure that information on the types of hazardous materials specified ... is provided at the point of ticket purchase."

Beginning Jan. 1, passengers will be required to indicate that they "[understand] the restrictions on hazardous materials in baggage" before ticketing or check-in can proceed.

ASTA said that if travel agents are to comply with the rule as written, the could mean start-up costs of $24 million, plus $27 million annually.

In the letter, ASTA said the government needs to clarify various details, such as whether the rule applies to overseas points of sale and to international flights, and whether GDSs will be required to inhibit ticketing until the agent "affirms that the acknowledgement has been collected."

ASTA also submitted a sample oral script for agents to use to obtain the client's acknowledgement orally, and asked whether frequent travelers could provide a continuing electronic acknowledgement "so that the disclosure does not need to be made with every transaction."

The letter noted that these and other questions were reviewed at a DOT meeting that ASTA attended in August, but "these questions remain largely unanswered, despite assurance that a guidance letter would be forthcoming. Two months have passed, and the industry has less than nine weeks before the regulation becomes effective. It's therefore imperative that the FAA and the PHMSA respond to the industry's concerned stakeholders as soon as possible."
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