The Transportation Department has finally announced a long-needed set of passenger-friendly regulations that should provide a measure of relief over some of the most frequent and frustrating practices of airlines. The new regulations, alas, won't go into effect until Aug. 23, but at least airlines have been put on notice that they're expected to do better.
New regulations require airlines to hold reservations at the quoted fare without payment or cancellation (or penalty) for at least 24 hours if the reservation is made one week or more before departure. Full disclosure of all fees, including taxes, is mandated in advertised fares. The rules require airlines to promptly notify consumers of delays of over 30 minutes, as well as cancellations and diversions. Post-purchase fare increases are banned in most cases unless they are due to government-imposed taxes or fees.
Lost luggage is an experience guaranteed to make passengers boiling mad. Most airlines charge for checked baggage, but when they lose the bags they get to keep the fees anyway. Under the new rules, they must refund the fees for lost baggage. Airlines are already required to compensate for permanently lost luggage for amounts of up to $3,300 on domestic flights.
Domestic and foreign carriers are banned from keeping passengers on the tarmac for more than four hours without the opportunity to disembark safely, if conditions permit. Passengers have the right to get food, water, working bathrooms and medical attention after two hours.
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When the new rules go into effect, the amount of money involuntarily bumped passengers are eligible to be compensated for will be doubled, up to a maximum of $650 for "short" delays or four times the value (up to $1,300) for delays that cause late arrivals of two hours or more on domestic flights.
The new rules don't guarantee a problem-free flight, but violations will affect the bottom line for airlines. If all else fails, filing a complaint at airconsumer.ost.dot.gov will usually get a response.