Latest US transportation rules: Good for travelers and bad for airlines?

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued the latest proposed Transportation Department passenger protection rule. At 36,361 words, the document is a long read.

Latest US transportation rules: Good for travelers and bad for airlines?

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued the latest proposed Transportation Department passenger protection rule. At 36,361 words, the document is a long read. So far the consensus is that the “proposed regulation will bring positive changes to the way Americans fly.”

As to be expected, airlines will not go down without a fight. The Washington Post reports US carriers are saying “the story will have a darker ending, leading to an overregulated aviation industry in which customers pay more to fly.”

Christopher Elliott of the Washington Post has read the proposed rules. He reports: “At the heart of the proposal is a requirement that airlines and ticket agents reveal fees for certain services associated with airline tickets at all points of sale. The DOT defines these as a first and second checked bag, a carry-on item, and advance seat assignment.”

He added: “Airlines have made billions by systematically redefining what’s included in the cost of an airline ticket. Quietly stripping the ability to check a bag, reserve a seat and even carry a bag on board from the base fare allows air carriers to claim that their tickets have never been more affordable while they still earn a tidy profit. Last year, for example, domestic airlines collected $3.3 billion in baggage fees.

“Forcing airlines and ticket agents to disclose these fees for a particular passenger on a specific flight at the time a fare is displayed would effectively end what many consumer advocates claim is an airline business model based on deception. Air travelers would know exactly how much they’d pay for each service at the time they pull up a fare quote. An airline ticket would effectively become an airline ticket again, in the traditional and historic sense of the word. “

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According to Elliott, the DOT has also suggested several less controversial rules. ”Under one, airlines such as Allegiant Air and Spirit would be required to report information to the department about their on-time performance, over sales and mishandled baggage rates. Those carriers are currently exempt because of their size. Under another, large airlines would have to separately report those same statistics for their domestic code-share regional partners, or the smaller airlines with which they work.”

On the travel agencies front, the DOT “wants to compel large travel agencies to adopt minimum customer service standards, which would include responding promptly to complaints and offering prompt refunds.”

The government, Elliott added, also wants to ban the preferential ranking of certain carriers’ flights over others without disclosing the bias, which leaves air travelers with the impression that they’re seeing the best available fare options. “Travelers often assume that they’re being allowed to compare all airlines and that search results on Web sites such as Expedia, Orbitz or Kayak are impartial. These rules are likely to face opposition from the major online travel agencies, although the benefits to customers would be difficult to deny.”

The latest DOT document is available online via www.regulations.gov (search DOT-OST-2014-0056) for a 90-day comment period. Let the discourse begin.

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