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USDOT Announces Rule to Help Department Move More Swiftly to Protect Aviation Consumers from Unfair and Deceptive Practices

Monday, January 24, 2022

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (Department) today announced a final rule that will help it move more swiftly to protect aviation consumers from unfair and deceptive practices. The rule will simplify and speed up the hearing procedures that the Department uses when it issues aviation consumer protection rulemakings to prohibit unfair or deceptive practices by airlines and ticket agents. 

Most of the Department’s aviation consumer protection regulations, such as the Department’s advertising, overbooking and tarmac delay rules, are based on the Department’s authority to prohibit unfair or deceptive practices. The Department’s upcoming consumer protection rulemakings on airline ticket refunds and transparency of airline ancillary fees will also be based on this authority.

Currently, if the Department proposes a rulemaking that would protect aviation consumers from an unfair or deceptive practice by an airline or ticket agent, interested parties have the right to ask for a hearing to examine whether the Department’s views are based on a proper economic or scientific foundation. The rule announced today will still provide all interested parties with an opportunity to be heard while providing the Department with greater flexibility to help prevent aviation consumer protection rulemakings from being delayed. The final rule will enable the Department to speed up the rulemaking process and protect consumers by providing the agency with greater flexibility to appoint appropriate hearing officers, eliminating the requirement for the officer to issue a detailed report, and providing more options for the officer on when and how testimony is presented at the hearing. The final rule also clarifies that hearings will only be granted if they are in the public interest.       
“This rule improves the Department’s ability to issue timely rules that protect airline consumers from unfair and deceptive practices, a responsibility the Department takes seriously,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg.      
Along with these updated procedures, the Department also announced that it intends, in the near future, to issue an interpretive rule, also known as guidance, on the definitions of “unfair” and “deceptive” for purposes of aviation consumer protection. The interpretive rule will further explain the meanings of the terms as defined in the regulation. 
The Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) assists, educates, and protects aviation consumers by reviewing and responding to thousands of consumer complaints about air travel; investigating and enforcing, as appropriate, violations of aviation consumer protection, civil rights, and licensing requirements against airlines and ticket agents; and assessing the need for and drafting aviation consumer protection and civil rights regulations. Additional information and resources, including information on how to file a complaint with OACP, can be found here.

The final rule can be found here.