Government Regulations Force U.S. Airlines to Be Nicer

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Getty Images / Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Passengers stranded in the Central Terminal at LaGuardia Airport in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued new rules Wednesday that aim to make airlines more user-friendly.

The consumer protection rules arose in response to a variety of passenger frustrations and addresses lost baggage procedures, fee disclosures, bumping compensation and tarmac delays. In a press release issued on Wednesday, the government detailed changes that will come into effect in August.

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The rules require airlines to refund baggage fees in case of lost luggage and fully disclose fees related to baggage, meals, changes in reservations and upgraded seating both when advertising and after passengers have booked tickets. Fare quotes also must include government taxes and fees so passengers don’t feel “tricked” into paying more for a ticket than they originally anticipated.

The airline industry notoriously overbooks flights and consequently bumps passengers, but new provisions will soften the blow of this reality by requiring airlines to increase compensation. Current standards allow passengers their ticket value in compensation, up to $400. The new rule will entitle passengers to double the value of their ticket for shorter delays and increase the value up to four times the price for longer delays, which could result in up to $1300 worth of compensation, significantly more than the current upper limit of $800.

As far as tarmac delays are concerned, the changes included a much-needed response to the astonishing reports of passengers stuck on tarmacs for more than nine hours. The new provisions extend the four-hour tarmac delay limit to international flights and include requirements dictating when passengers are entitled to food, water, lavatories, and medical care.

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Other changes involve reservation guidelines, delay notification protocol and restrictions on fare increases after tickets have been purchased. The changes certainly seem to be a significant step towards making flying more enjoyable. But according to the Wall Street Journal, the International Air Transport Association disagrees, objecting to the new rules on the grounds they “will result in increased cancellations, higher ticket prices and greater inconvenience for passengers.”

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