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U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Enhanced Protections for Air Travelers, Actions to Promote Airline Competition

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is taking a number of actions to enhance protections for air travelers and promote competition in the airline industry.  The actions are a result of the Department’s continued commitment to ensuring that passengers are treated fairly by the airline industry, as well as an executive order issued by President Obama directing federal agencies to identify specific actions to relieve undue burdens on competition and better inform consumers.

“Airline passengers deserve to have access to clear and complete information about the airlines they choose to fly and to expect fair and reasonable treatment when they fly,” said Secretary Foxx.  “The actions we’re taking today and in the coming months will expand aviation consumer protections we have previously enacted.  These actions will enable passengers to make well-informed decisions when arranging travel, ensure that airlines treat consumers fairly, and give consumers a voice in how airlines are regulated.”

More than 700 million passengers are expected to board nine million domestic airline flights in America this year.  The sheer volume of people, flights, and miles underscores how fundamental air travel is to the American economy and to the lives of so many people across the country, which is why today’s actions to spur competition in the airline industry are so important to millions of American consumers.

The Department will take action in the following areas:

  • Requiring Refunds for Delayed Baggage:  Today, DOT issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which will ultimately result in a requirement that airlines refund consumers’ baggage fees when their luggage is substantially delayed.  DOT has previously taken steps to require airlines to reimburse bag fees when bags are lost.

  • Expanding the Number of Carriers Required to Report Data:  The pool of U.S. carriers required to report information to the Department about their on-time performance, oversales, and mishandled baggage rates will increase.  The current one percent of domestic scheduled passenger revenue threshold for reporting data to the Department will be lowered to include any carrier that accounts for at least 0.5 percent of domestic scheduled passenger revenue.  This change will apply to flights that occur on or after January 1, 2018.  The data will be included in the Department’s publicly available monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.

  • Requiring the Reporting of Data on Flights Operated by Code-Share Partners:  U.S. airlines will have to report data for flights operated by their domestic code-share partners (i.e., flights by generally smaller, regional airlines that are sold under the brand of the larger airline) in order to make their airline performance reports more complete.  The data will be included in the Department’s publicly available monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.

  • Providing Consumers with a Clearer Picture of Baggage Delivery:  Airlines will have to report to DOT their total number of mishandled bags and total number of checked bags.  Previously, they were only required to report the number of mishandled baggage reports, which were compared to the overall number of travelers.  This measure better informs passengers of the likelihood that their baggage will be mishandled rather than receiving their checked baggage in good condition in an acceptable and timely manner.

  • Prohibiting Undisclosed Bias by Airlines and Online Ticket Agents:  Airlines and online travel sites that display and sell airline tickets are prohibited from biasing on behalf of certain airlines how they present available flights for purchase without disclosing this bias.

  • Protecting Air Travelers with Disabilities:  The largest U.S. airlines will be required to report on how often they mishandle wheelchairs.

  • Giving Consumers a Voice:  Today, DOT is announcing the extension of its Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection to help build on the Department’s and Administration’s already strong record of protecting air travelers.  New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been selected to serve as Chair of this Advisory Committee as well as to represent state and local governments on the Committee.  Committee members also include: David Berg from Airlines for America, Mario Rodriguez from the Indianapolis Airport Authority, and Charlie Leocha of Travelers United.

In addition to these actions, DOT is conducting another separate rulemaking to further explore requiring airlines and ticket agents to provide consumers with prices that include ancillary service fees, such as checked baggage or other ancillary services that most consumers purchase, alongside fares at all points of sale. 

DOT is also investigating potentially unfair business practices by releasing a Request for Information to solicit feedback from consumer groups, industry, and other stakeholders about the impact on consumers when airlines restrict access to schedule and fare information.  Currently, some airlines prevent online travel sites from listing all fare and flight options.  DOT will be looking into whether that kind of restriction is an unfair practice that makes it harder for travelers to find the most affordable and convenient flights that match their needs.

In the months ahead, DOT will finalize additional rules that will address:

  • Whether to require travel agents adopt minimum customer service standards – such as the right to cancel a reservation within 24 hours and receive a prompt refund – in order to ensure consumers are treated fairly; and
  • Whether to define ticket agent to make it clear that all companies that market air transportation must follow the same consumer protection rules.

In the area of consumer protection, the Obama Administration has fairly and vigorously enforced existing rules while developing new ones based on changes within the airline industry.  The Department’s two previous comprehensive consumer protection rules, issued in 2009 and 2011, have led to better, more fair treatment for the traveling public.  These significant achievements include nearly eliminating tarmac delays over three hours, increasing passenger compensation for being involuntarily bumped from oversold flights, and requiring airlines and ticket agents to disclose the total ticket price – incorporating all mandatory fees and taxes – to the consumer. 

A fact sheet about today’s announcement may be viewed here.

To read more about the Obama Administration’s previous two unprecedented comprehensive aviation consumer rulemakings that have led to better, more fair treatment for the traveling public, click here.


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