Expanded tarmac-delay rules take effect next week

By Bill Poling
Enhanced and updated consumer-protection rules from the Transportation Department are slated to go into effect on Aug. 23, including an expansion of the tarmac-delay rule and an increase in denied-boarding compensation for bumped passengers.

Although several of the DOT’s consumer-protection initiatives have been delayed or challenged in court, a number of key provisions are slated to take effect as scheduled on Aug. 23.

These include an expansion of the existing tarmac-delay rule to virtually all U.S. airports and, for the first time, to foreign carriers.

Previously applicable only to domestic service at airports designated as large and medium hubs, the rule is being expanded to include small airports.

In addition, the rule will now apply to international flights, including scheduled and public charter flights by foreign carriers with aircraft seating 30 or more passengers.

For domestic flights, the limit on long tarmac delays remains three hours, but the DOT set a four-hour standard for international service.

The DOT also increased the denied-boarding compensation and added an automatic inflation adjustment for future years. Under the new system, the compensation is 200% of the fare to a maximum of $650 if the passenger can be rerouted to arrive within two hours (four hours on international flights); otherwise the payment is 400% of the fare to a maximum of $1,300.

As before, no compensation is payable if passengers can be rerouted to reach their destination within one hour of the original schedule.

Under the new standards, U.S. and foreign airlines must also adopt customer-service plans whereby, among other things, they pledge to offer consumers the lowest fare available on the sales channel being used (website, ticket counter or call center) and to alert the customer if a lower fare might be available through some other sales channel.

Carriers are also being required to refund checked-baggage fees if the passenger’s bag is lost and to disclose all ancillary fees on their websites.

Deferred to Jan. 24 were provisions that would:

• require that Internet fare displays and e-ticket confirmations include specific information about baggage allowances and fees.

• require airlines to allow travelers to hold a reservation for 24 hours without payment, or to grant cash refunds for cancellations made within 24 hours of payment.

• prohibit post-purchase increases in airfares or in any component of an air-inclusive package.

• prohibit airlines and travel sellers from passing on any price increase between the time of the deposit and the due date for final payment unless passengers provided written consent at the time of booking to accept such increases.

• require airlines to apply the same baggage allowances and fees to a passenger’s entire itinerary, and in the case of codeshares to apply the policies and fees of the marketing carrier whose code is displayed rather than the operating carrier.

• require airlines to publish information about known delays, cancellations or changes in the status of a flight within 30 minutes of becoming aware, by making the information available at the boarding gate, on the Web and (upon request) via call centers.
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