New Rules Aim For More Passenger-Friendly Skies

Aug 23, 2011

Anyone who flies on an airplane should like some new government regulations that took effect Tuesday. Passengers who get involuntarily bumped will be entitled to more compensation, and airlines face stiffer penalties for long tarmac delays on international flights.

The new rules are aimed at making flying more convenient and hassle-free, according to the Department of Transportation. Secretary Ray LaHood says the new passenger protections will "help ensure that air travelers receive the respect they deserve before, during and after their flight."

Kate Hanni, president of FlyersRights.org, which pushed for the new regulations, gives the government credit for implementing them.

"This Department of Transportation, I really have to hand it to them," she says. "It's the first time in history this DOT has taken on airline passenger issues, and [it] really is doing a very good job."

The new regulations include requiring airlines to refund baggage fees if a traveler's luggage is lost.

And if a passenger is involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight, the airline will have to pay him up to $1,300, depending on the length of the flight; the top penalty now is $800.

An existing rule penalizing domestic carriers for keeping passengers onboard during a tarmac delay of three hours or more will now apply to flights at smaller airports. And foreign carriers at U.S. airports will be allowed no more than a four-hour tarmac delay before facing fines.

Airlines: Competition Fuels Friendlier Skies

The airline industry, however, says it is competitive pressures in the marketplace that are making airlines more passenger-friendly rather than federal rules.

"The airline industry is a tremendously competitive industry, and customer service is an important way for airlines to differentiate themselves from the competition," says Steve Lott, a vice president of the Air Transport Association. "So it's this competitive nature of the industry and this customer choice that drive a lot of the customer service improvements — not necessarily regulations."

Consumer groups say even more steps are needed to protect airline passengers. For one thing, says Brandon Macsata of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, airlines should be required to refund baggage fees for delayed luggage, not just lost bags.

"Let's say your bag shows up four days late. They do not have to refund you for it," he says. "If you purchase something — which in this case you're purchasing your bag to be taken from Point A to Point B, and it shows up not with you, in your person — then we simply feel that these fees should be refunded."

Another set of rules was delayed until next year at the request of the industry, which said it needed more time for implementation. Among them: requiring all taxes and fees to be included in advertised fares, and allowing passengers to hold a reservation for up to 24 hours without making a payment. Those rules will take effect in January.

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