After many years of debate, several new and pending Department of Transportation (DOT) rules and Congressional bills are changing air travel in ways that are likely to benefit the flying public and eliminate many airline practices that draw the biggest criticism from air travelers.
In April the DOT’s three hour tarmac delay rule went into effect giving airline passengers the option to exit any flight that has been delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours. Airlines are threatened with stiff fines that could amount to more than $1 million for each flight delay in excess of three hours.
The three hour rule has been controversial. Critics contend that more flights will be canceled as a result of the new rule, thereby inconveniencing a greater number of passengers overall. These same critics also believe that sending all these flights back to the gate to offload passengers who choose to deplane after three hours will also increase airline costs, which will ultimately be passed along to travelers.
At this time it is still too early to assess the impact of the new rule particularly since tarmac delays occur in bunches during bad weather events, but DOT reports indicate that tarmac delays in excess of three hours declined from 302 instances in May and June of 2009 to only eight in the first two months after the rule went into effect.
The case for and against the three hour tarmac rule is discussed in my recent Business Traveler column on the impact of the three hour tarmac rule on USA Today.com.
With the three hour rule in place Congress and the DOT are now focused on hidden airline fees. Pending DOT rules and Congressional legislation could make it mandatory for airlines to disclose all hidden fees at the time of booking so consumers can shop across airlines and know their total ticket price including all fees.
Three airline passenger advocacy groups are largely responsible for the new airline regulations. The Business Travel Coalition http://businesstravelcoalition.com/, the Consumer Travel Alliance http://consumertravelalliance.org/ and FlyersRights.org http://www.flyersrights.org/ have been instrumental in fighting for these new airline passenger rights.
Disgruntled air travelers who wish to express their sentiments on hidden airline fees can participate in a “Mad As Hell Day!” event on September 23rd, co-sponsored by the American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition and the Consumer Travel Alliance. These groups plan to deliver a petition signed by thousands of travelers to the DOT Docket Room on that day. For further information visit http://madashellabouthiddenfees.com/
To learn more about the pending airline consumer regulation read another recent Business Traveler column on the year airline passengers struck back on USA Today.com.