|by Jason Steele|
As a frequent traveler, and a consumer advocate, I have to applaud when I read about any new government action to crack down on airline’s habitual abuse of consumers. This week, the Department of Transportation issued new rules restricting airline practices. While the rules have made for some great headlines, a close examination reveals there are many compromises to the industry.
Let’s Take A Look
1. Airlines Must Refund Baggage Fees For Lost Bags The key word here is lost not delayed. That is to say that if you never see your bag again, you are owed the baggage fee. As long as you paid with your credit card, you should have no problem getting your fees back in a chargeback, or merely the threat of one. It is a pretty sad commentary on the airline industry that the government has to regulate this. Could you imagine a dry cleaner loosing your suit and not refunding the the cleaning fee?
On the other hand, they neglected to mention fees charged for delayed bags. If it happened to me, I would certainly demand a fee refund.
2. Full Disclosure Of Optional Fees Airline fees for bags and food can be hard to find, but they are out there. This rule will force these optional fees to be a little bit more prominently disclosed.
3. All Government Taxes And Fees Must Be Part Of The Advertised Price This is very big, as airlines have been fighting price transparency in an effort to beat the competition. With all airline forced to include taxes and fees in their ads, we have a better idea of what we will have to pay for our tickets. I have never understood how the airlines got away with this for so long. The rule doesn’t address mandatory airline fees like fuel surcharges, but I think they are covered by other regulations as US carriers are not currently advertising fares without that.
4. Increase In Compensation For Involuntary Denied Boarding (Bumping) We could argue all day about what a delay is worth, but I think the correct way to approach this is looking at it from the airline’s standpoint. At what point will they stop accepting last minute, full fare tickets knowing that they can make more money by bumping discounted passengers? The ugly truth is that an airline will continue to sell full fare tickets on flights that they know are already full. Increasing compensation is all about discouraging airlines from this practice.
5. Tarmac Delay Rules For International Carriers Foreign carriers were exempted from the original 3 hour rule. The result was massive delays for international carriers during snowstorms. I call that proof that the rule works. The international carriers will face a 4-hour rule, but that is better than nothing. They will also be required to provide food, water, and medicine after 2 hours.
6. Full Refunds Within 24 Hours Of Purchase This is a great rule. Even if you are a seasoned traveler, you can still make a mistake on the dates or be the victim of a typo. Previously, airlines held you hostage and charged change fees of up to $250 for a couple of key strokes. Also, you can now grab a good fare confident that you can keep shopping for the next 24 hours.
What Do I Think?
The government could have made delayed baggage fees refundable, but they did not. Other than that, the government has done a pretty good job of catching up to where we need to be. The airline industry will moan and groan, but I am sure at least a few people are quietly happy that the government is raising the bar on all airline simultaneously. From the airline’s perspective, any attempt to implement these rules unilaterally would have increased costs and made them unprofitable or uncompetitive. The airlines have got to know that practices like the deceptive advertisements and the tarmac strandings hurt the industry as a whole. The guilty tar the innocent, increasing passenger frustration across the board. I am sure some execs are secretly cheering these new rules.
One final thing to remember is that we have seen more new regulations in the past two years than we have in the previous 8. I am sure there are some staunch libertarians out there that feel that a private company should be allowed to trap customers in airliners on the ground for 10 hours, and that the government should not interfere. I think everyone else should be thrilled that the DOT is finally standing up for the traveling public.