By Quentin Fottrell
Buckle up: The government’s new airline rules for passengers finally came into effect this week, but passengers must wait until January of next year for several new consumer protections, including those that require airlines to incorporate all taxes and fees in advertised fares, ban airlines from making post-purchase price increases and those that require airlines to notify passengers of delays of over 30 minutes, as well as cancellations and diversions.
So why the delay? Steve Lott, spokesman for the airline industry group Air Transport Association in Washington D.C., says the industry requested the extension from the government. “The changes are complex for the computer systems that the airlines use and require extensive time and resources,” he tells Pay Dirt. “We made the request and the Department of Transportation agreed. Those changes cannot simply be made overnight.”
Consumer advocates are divided over the two-step implementation. George Hobica, creator of Airfarewatchdog.com, understands Lott’s rationale. “Anyone who works with software engineers knows that rebuilding data systems and websites takes time to do it right,” he says. “So I’m disappointed, but not surprised about this delay.” But Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, says airlines should have implemented all the new rules before the busy holiday season.
Among the new rules: airlines must refund baggage fees if bags are lost, increase compensation to passengers bumped from oversold flights, and give passengers greater protections from long tarmac delays. “The Department of Transportation’s new passenger protections will help ensure that air travelers receive the respect they deserve before, during and after their flight,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. Hanni is also happy with the progress. “Overall, we are thrilled with the new rules that went into effect,” she says.
However, as Pay Dirt reported in April, these rules fall short in some respects, too. For instance, there is still no compensation for long-term schedule changes or delayed bags, and airlines still overbook passengers. Airlines say that routing flights is a complex procedure that sometimes requires changes and, according to data from the Department of Transportation, there were only 1.1 involuntary bumpees per 10,000 passengers last year, down 11% on 2009.
Frequent flyers, are you happier now?