New Department of Transportation ‘consumer protection’ rules went into effect on Tuesday, and they don’t amount to much — mostly codifying practices that are already in place, and imposing penalties for things airlines rarely do. A very small number of people will be better off, others will be worse off.
Kathleen Pender of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes my bottom line: the rules
“won’t change the travel experience for the vast majority of passengers,” says Gary Leff, co-founder of Milepoint.com
Major components of the new rules are:
- If your checked bag is lost (though not if it’s delayed), an airline will have to refund checked bag fees.
- Scott McCartney explains the new involuntary denied boarding compensation rule.
Passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding even though they have a ticket will get significantly more compensation from airlines under the new rules. If the airline can’t get you on another flight within two hours for domestic trips and four hours for international flights, you will now be entitled to cash compensation of four times the value of your ticket up to $1,300.
…The compensation for bumped passengers is calculated off the fare for that particular flight, not your whole round-trip.
Higher involuntary denied boarding compensation may well be appropriate, though I honestly have no idea what the ‘right’ amount is so would just assume leave that to airline-by-airline policies. But an important point is certainly that higher involuntary denied boarding expense means airlines may tend to overbook less. When passengers still no show, that means seats going out empty. Marginally lower load factors may mean marginally higher average ticket costs. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. And of course very, very few people are actually every involuntarily denied boarding, most denied boarding situations are negotiated in exchange for compensation.
- The tarmac delay rule extends to international flights departing the US, whether operated by US or foreign airlines. Delays exceeding four hours incur penalties of $27,000 per passenger. The domestic three-hour rule has meant more flight cancellations. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will be an opinion varying by passenger — some just want out of the plane, others just want to get to their destinations. Not always an easy thing to get rebooked, either, in an era of full flights. And for international flights which lack significant frequency, more cancellations may be devastating to passengers’ ability to get where they’re going. And of course it is very, very rare that such a long delay is actually the fault of the airline — which really does want to get passengers where they’re going, not sit on a tarmac. Weather may make it impossible, sometimes impossible even to return to a gate. Sometimes government security or customs employees may not be around to process passengers. Airports and governments are at least as responsible as airlines in these situations, and yet it’s the airlines that get fined. Again, not necessarily a good or a bad rule, there are tradeoffs, but certainly not unambiguous that passengers are better off as a result.
All in all lots of sound and fury, some likely unintended consequences, but three and six months from now your travel experience is highly, highly likely to be exactly the same as it is now, despite bluster from the Department of Transportation.