New protections for air travelers

New protections for air travelers

August 24th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Airline passengers in this country have had reason to be frustrated, if not irate, in recent years. They've faced rising fares, shrinking numbers of seats, heightened security measures, the near-elimination of once-common amenities and the implementation of a maddening array of fees. They've put up with the changes and paid up when necessary, but not happily or quietly. Their palpable anger did not go unnoticed.

New federal airline passenger protection rules took effect Tuesday. Airline passengers and their advocates praise them, though they understandably lament the fact that airline lobbyists were able to secure postponement of additional reforms. Even so, the skies in many instances should be far friendlier now than they were prior to Tuesday.

The new rules address issues that particularly vex travelers: Oversold flights, long tarmac delays for international flights and lost baggage, In every instance, passengers gained new protections and benefits.

The regulations raise the mount passengers can collect if they are bumped from a flight. The old rules limited the amount to between $400-$800; the new law puts it between $650 and $1,300. In both instances, the lower amount is applicable if the airline can get passengers to their intended destination within an hour or two of their original arrival time. The higher amount applies if they are unable to do so.

Airlines, obviously, don't like the rule, but the impact it could have on their bottom line, particularly if more individuals forego the offer of a voucher in favor of the new and higher payout, should help reduce the odious practice of purposefully overbooking flights.

The new delay rule requires carriers operating international flights at U.S. airports to allow passengers to deplane after four hours on the tarmac or face huge fines. There are exceptions for safety and security reasons, but the regulation should put an end to excessively long delays that occur with some regularity. The rule, however, would be far more equitable if the three-hour delay rule in place for domestic flights was applicable to international traffic, as well.

The baggage rule is straightforward. If a passenger pays extra to check a bag and the airline then loses or damages it, the carrier must now refund the fee in addition to compensating the passenger for the bag. That makes so much sense that one must wonder why legislators were reluctant to approve it. Oh yes, the lobbyists.

The airlines did delay utilization of other flier-friendly rules until late in January. Those will require airlines to disclose all fees on their websites and would prohibit raising prices after a ticket is purchased. Those regulations are fair, despite industry claims otherwise.

Those who travel by air are almost universally united in praise for the new regulations. Kate Hanni, the president of FlyersRights.org, a highly respected travelers' advocacy group, spoke for many fliers when she said, "The new regulations are the most sweeping bill of airline passenger rights ever passed. More airline passengers will have comprehensive remedies available when something interrupts or delays a flight."

It's about time that was the case.