Travel News: New Airline Travelers Rights

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced a new series of passenger rights, the second update in two years. "It's the biggest change in airline passenger protection since deregulation in 1978," said Charlie Leocha, Director of the advocacy group Consumer Travel Alliance.

Most of the new rights regulations will go into effect on August 23, 2011. Here are a few of them:
  1. Getting Bumped
    If you're bumped from an oversold flight, you'll be entitled to some cash for your troubles. For short delays you'll get double the price of your ticket, to a maximum of $650. For long delays, you will be entitled to four times the value of your ticket, not to exceed $1,300. These limits are to be adjusted every two years for inflation.

    Airlines sometimes offer a voucher good toward a future flight in lieu of cash to passengers who are bumped involuntarily. But the new rules will require that airlines tell these passengers of their rights up front - including that they are entitled to cash.

    "You should always ask for the cash," says George Hobica, founder of the travel site "A voucher may only be good for a year, and it may be hard to use."

  2. Time on the Tarmac
    The December 2010 blizzard left nearly 30 planes sitting on the tarmac for up to eleven hours at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The airlines involved were foreign, and so weren't required to let passengers off the plane after three hours, as carriers on domestic flights would have been.

    This nightmare moved the DOT to act. On international flights, U.S. and foreign carriers won't be able to keep passengers on the tarmac for more than four hours without giving them a chance to get off, so long as it's safe to do so. And airlines must make sure passengers have food, water, working bathrooms and medical treatment, if necessary, after two hours.

  3. Lost Bag Fees
    Currently when you pay a baggage fee and your luggage is lost during transport, the airline keeps the fee.

    The new rules will require that airlines refund fees when bags are lost. Although it's not yet clear how long the bag must be missing before it is given up for lost Hobica said. (Airlines already reimburse passengers for lost luggage - up to $3,300 on domestic flights.)
One final word - Leocha suggests that if you have a legitimate complaint and can't get it resolved with the airline, email your complaint to the DOT at "They take those emails and forward them to the airline," Leocha says. "Nothing gets a response from an airline like an email from the Department of Transportation."

This excerpt was taken from the article "New passenger rights rules will make air travel less bumpy for consumers" by Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun. Read the article in its entirety here.

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