In April, the federal government adopted new rules setting stiff penalties for airlines that strand passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours. This fall, the Department of Transportation may take its airline passenger protections several steps further.

Thursday, September 23, marks the final day for public comment on DOT’s proposed “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” rule. If adopted, the new policies will strengthen tarmac-delay regulations, improve compensation for passengers who are denied boarding, and address passenger frustration over airline fees and other consumer information issues.

The DOT’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) includes

  • expanding the tarmac-delay regulations to small and non-hub U.S. airports,
  • requiring foreign air carriers to adopt tarmac-delay contingency plans,
  • requiring carriers to communicate with passengers every 30 minutes during tarmac delays,
  • raising the limit on compensation to passengers who are denied boarding because the airline is oversold,
  • allowing passengers holding “non-fare” tickets (such as those earned with frequent-flyer miles) to be compensated if they are bumped from a flight,
  • requiring airlines to include all taxes and mandatory fees in the fares that they advertise,
  • requiring clear disclosure of all unbundled fees, such as those for luggage, obtaining seat assignments in advance, in-flight entertainment, blankets, pillows, food and beverage, and
  • prohibiting post-purchase ticket price increases.

Get Your Voice Heard
Individuals can read the full text of the proposed regulations and, until September 23, submit their opinion at the government’s regulations.gov Web site. “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” is docket No. DOT-OST-2010-0140.

Comments are also being accepted at Cornell University’s http://regulationroom.org Regulation Room, a Web site operated by the Cornell e-Rulemaking Initiative, which is working with federal agencies to improve policy-making. The Regulation Room will provide DOT with a summary of the discussion around its NPRM.

For supporters of the rule changes, particularly those relating to hidden airline fees, the American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition, and the Consumer Travel Alliance have developed a Web site, madashellabouthiddenfees.com, where individuals can sign an online petition that will be delivered to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on September 23.