IATA data plan approved

Following a prolonged and sometimes acrimonious industry debate, the Transportation Department on Wednesday proposed to approve IATA’s controversial Resolution 787, a global airline agreement to develop new XML messaging standards for third-party sales channels. Read More 

After three years of internal study and debate, the Transportation Department has released a package of proposals to impose additional consumer-protection rules on airlines and travel agents.

The rules, if adopted, would also broaden the definition of the term “ticket agent” to include “entities operating websites that provide flight search tools that manipulate, manage and display fare, schedule and availability information.” The DOT specifically stated that Google and Kayak would be covered.

The 118-page document contains nine separate regulations or rule changes, several of which contain multiple provisions or requirements. On a number of points, the DOT also proposed several variations or alternatives.

In addition to the revised language regarding “ticket agents,” the basic proposals would:

• Require carriers to disclose fees for certain basic ancillary services (first and second checked bag, one carry-on and seat selection) to all their travel agents, either through the GDS or otherwise, but not require that they be bookable through agents.

• Require large ticket agents (with annual revenue of $100 million or more) to adopt “customer service commitments,” such as providing prompt refunds and timely notice of itinerary changes, plus the option to hold a reservation for 24 hours without penalty. Large agents would also have to disclose, upon passenger’s request, information about a flight’s “cancellation policies, seating configurations and lavatory availability.”

• Require large travel agents to “display lists of carriers whose tickets they market and sell.”

• Prohibit carriers and ticket agents from using undisclosed bias in the arrangement of Internet fare and schedule displays. A variation of this proposal would add the requirement that any agent using bias must also disclose information about incentive payments. The DOT specifically requested comment on “what kind of disclosure … would be most helpful for consumers.”

• Codify a requirement that carriers and agents disclose codeshare arrangements on their websites, and specify that the disclosure is required on “the first display presented in response to search.”

• Expand the pool of airlines reporting on-time performance to include smaller carriers (the new threshold would cover Spirit, Allegiant and Republic).

• Require mainline airlines to report date for on-time performance, baggage handling and oversales for their domestic codeshare partners.

• Ease the existing prohibition on the post-purchase price increases for ancillary services. For ancillaries not purchased with the ticket, airlines are currently required to charge the fee in effect at the time of ticket purchase, a requirement that the DOT agreed to waive (except for baggage fees) pending further study. The proposal would codify the waiver and apply the restriction to baggage only; for other services, airlines would be allowed to collect the fee in effect at the time the service is purchased.

As part of a required cost-benefit analysis, the DOT concluded that “the quantifiable costs of this rulemaking exceed the quantifiable benefits,” but it expressed the belief that the benefits would ultimately justify the costs by bringing about “improved on-time performance” for airlines and “improved customer goodwill towards ticket agents.”

The DOT established a 90-day period for industry and public comments. Comments can be mailed to Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590-0001, or filed online at www.regulations.gov. Refer to docket DOT-OST-2014-0056.

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