Government Affairs White House puts forward a raft of new air passenger protections By Robert Silk / October 19, 2016 Share 1 -- The Obama administration on Wednesday is pushing forward several new and proposed regulations that it says will enhance transparency and spur competition in the airline industry. “At the U.S. DOT we are committed to a system of fair treatment and fair play,” the department’s secretary, Anthony Foxx, said during a conference call with the media. The DOT is issuing final rules Wednesday that require online ticket agents to reveal when they display sponsored airline content in search results and that toughen the operational reporting requirements of airlines — most notably related to on-time performance and baggage handling. In addition, the DOT will begin moving toward a final rule that requires airlines to refund passengers for lost, damaged and delayed baggage. As part of that process, regulators will define what constitutes a “substantial delay.” The baggage-refund rulemaking process comes at the behest of Congress, which included a requirement for such refunds in the FAA reauthorization bill it passed in July. Those directives are just some of the air travel-related efforts that the DOT is putting forward. In addition, the department will begin exploring whether airlines should be required to share the price of certain ancillary products — most notably seat assignments, baggage fees and change fees — with ticket sellers so that customers get an all-in price while online shopping. Finally, the DOT is issuing a request for information from consumer groups, airlines and other industry stakeholders in order to determine whether it should regulate the common airline practice of only selling some content offerings through indirect channels, such as OTAs and GDSs, while displaying the full offerings on their own websites. “DOT will be looking into whether that kind of restriction is an unfair practice that makes it harder for travelers to find the most affordable and convenient flights that match their needs,” the department said. The various regulatory changes, completed and potential, drew a quick rebuke from the trade group Airlines for America (A4A), which said that reregulating the airline industry could lead to higher ticket prices. The average domestic fare fell an inflation-adjusted 40% between 1979, when the U.S government deregulated the industry, and 2015, A4A said. “Airlines have different business models and must be allowed to continue offering optional services in a manner that makes sense for both their customers and their business,” A4A CEO Nick Calio said in a prepared statement. “Efforts designed to reregulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy.”Among the final rules that the DOT is issuing today are:• A requirement that OTAs disclose when they bias search results for airfares based upon contractual or sponsorship agreements they have with specific carriers. • A measure requiring airlines to include domestic codeshare partners in reports to the DOT about on-time percentage. The move means that Delta, United, Alaska and American will have to include regional flights operated by contracted carriers in their on-time statistics. • A directive that requires carriers generating at least 0.5% of total domestic scheduled passenger revenue to report on-time and mishandled baggage data. Currently, carriers generating at least 1% of total domestic scheduled passenger revenue have to file such reports. According to 2015 revenue, the move would increase from 12 to 19 the number of airlines that must file that information. • A measure requiring airlines to report the total number of bags it mishandles instead of the number of passengers whose bags were mishandled.• A requirement that airlines report how often they damage or mishandle wheelchairs. The DOT said the rule related to undisclosed biasing would take effect within 60 days.New operational reporting rules are to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.