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Airline Consumer Protection

Over the past four years DOT has demonstrated its commitment to protecting consumers when they travel by air. DOT has virtually ended lengthy tarmac delays, prohibited the largest U.S. airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, increased compensation for bumped passengers, required advertised airfares to include the full price to be paid by consumers, and taken numerous other consumer-friendly actions. During the past four years, the Obama administration has issued two major rules that have significantly strengthened protections for airline consumers.  More information is at the Aviation Consumer Protection website.

December 2009 Rule - Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections

Ban on long tarmac delays. The Department established, for the first time, a limit on how long passengers could be forced to remain aboard an aircraft as it sat on the tarmac. Under the ruling issued in December 2009, U.S. airlines operating domestic flights cannot allow an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without allowing passengers to deplane, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security, or air traffic control reasons. DOT later expanded the tarmac delay rule to cover foreign airlines operating at U.S. airports with a four-hour limit on tarmac delays for international flights from U.S. airports.  

Monitoring delays and banning chronically late flights. Airlines are subject to enforcement action if they schedule flights that are chronically late. Airlines must also designate an employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints, provide information to consumers on where to file complaints, and display on their websites flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate.

Adopting customer service plans. Airlines must adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans.

April 2011Rule - Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections

Reimbursement of baggage fees.  Airlines are required to reimburse passengers for bag fees if their bags are lost.

Increase in bumping compensation.  Consumers are now eligible for up to double the previous level of compensation if they are bumped involuntarily from an oversold flight.

Disclosure of optional fees. Airlines are now required to disclose all potential fees on their websites, including but not limited to fees for baggage, meals, canceling or changing reservations, or advanced or upgraded seating. In addition, airlines and ticket agents must include all government taxes and fees in every advertised price.

Allowing passengers to cancel reservations without penalty.  Airlines are required to allow consumers to cancel reservations without penalty, or hold reservations at the quoted fare without payment, for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date. 

Ban on post-purchase fare increases. Airlines are required to not increase the price of a ticket after a passenger has purchased it unless the increase is due to government-imposed taxes or fees, and only if the passenger is notified of and agrees to the potential increase at the time of sale.

Stepped-up enforcement of airline consumer rules. Under the Obama Administration, the Department has aggressively enforced its airline consumer rules.  Between 2009 and 2012, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office has issued 203 civil penalties totaling $16.5 million in fines, compared to 105 penalties and $8.8 million in fines the previous four years.