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Long read but if you fly a few times a year, might interest you.

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Long read but if you fly a few times a year, might interest you.

Post by Clueless on Mon Feb 12, 2018 4:41 pm

Carriers also have asked DOT to scrap the 24-hour grace period for a full refund when buying a ticket—you would pay a change fee even if you realized right away you booked the wrong date or made a mistake in the passenger name. They want to eliminate a rule that requires them to honor tickets sold for “mistake fares,” and they are asking for flexibility from a requirement they provide “prompt” wheelchair service. They argue the term “prompt” is ambiguous and complain that providing wheelchair service at zero charge costs the industry $300 million annually and exceeds benefits.

They also want their own booking systems to be free from the DOT ban on display bias so they don’t have to disclose to consumers they exclude competitors’ flights, and they want to drop requirements to show on-time and cancellation data with flights.

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Delta dethrones Alaska in the Journal’s annual analysis of U.S. carriers, while American climbs out of the cellar.

What You Need to Know as a Traveler in 2018

Get ready for tighter plane seats, new security procedures and the completion of a major merger.

Pittsburgh is one of several midsize cities taking costly steps to resize their airports for a new set of needs on the ground.

U.S. airports, airlines and Homeland Security are working to educate employees and passengers for signs of exploited people they see traveling.

United has been marketing its improved Polaris service for over a year, but has been slow installing seats and upgrading airport clubs.

A mandate to detect more weapons at TSA checkpoints means enhanced screening for more travelers through the holiday season and beyond.

In October, DOT asked for suggestions of “existing rules and other agency actions that are good candidates for repeal, replacement, suspension, or modification.” Airlines responded in volume, calling out regulations they consider trivial, costly, outdated, burdensome and unfair. Airlines for America, the industry’s lobbying group, filed 222 pages of comments. United Airlines added 50 pages of its own. There’s no telling when or if the DOT will put through changes.

Airlines argue DOT has limited authority for consumer protection and has turned too-activist over the years. “DOT has strayed far from the limited scope of the statutory mandate Congress gave it when deregulating the airline industry nearly 40 years ago,” David Berg, senior vice president at Airlines for America, says in one filing to DOT.

Unique in everyday commerce, airlines sometimes do bad things to their customers with expensive consequences. They leave them stranded, lose and damage their belongings, and bump them from flights when they have a ticket. It’s a tough business, vulnerable to weather, machines, air-traffic control and complicated scheduling with little cushion for recovery.
The tarmac delays rule has forced airlines to closely monitor flights delayed by snow storms and other events. Airlines are trying to weaken it.
The tarmac delays rule has forced airlines to closely monitor flights delayed by snow storms and other events. Airlines are trying to weaken it. Photo: Rebecca Butala How/Getty Images

Over the years, DOT has imposed new rules in reaction to public outrage over airline fiascos like holding people on planes 10 hours or more in wretched conditions, bumping low-fare customers off planes to seat high-dollar passengers or offering misleading advertisements that not only leave out government taxes and fees but also airline-designated “fuel surcharges.”

The DOT enforces rules on accommodating passengers with disabilities, polices misleading advertisements and tries to make sure that airlines follow rules on things like disclosing code-sharing arrangements, lost baggage liability and compensation when involuntarily bumped from flights.

Consumer groups say DOT under the Trump administration has delayed implementation of three pro-passenger laws approved by Congress in 2016, including a measure forcing airlines to seat families together and another to refund baggage fees when checked bags get delayed. The agency has also signaled to airlines enforcement is changing by inviting suggestions on rules to quash.

“Basically the DOT has stopped working for passengers,” says Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, a group that lobbies in Washington for passengers.

DOT says nothing has changed; it has the same number of staff working on enforcement and conducted more than 100 unannounced airline inspections in August and September alone. The agency employs analysts who look for trends in complaints consumers file about airlines and other travel companies. They sometimes conduct inspections at airports, shop for tickets to see if airlines are following rules and inspect airline records at their headquarters.

Last year, DOT levied $3.2 million in aviation-related fines in 17 enforcement cases, half of the $6.4 million in 31 cases during 2016.

Enforcement cases take a long time and often annual results vary. In 2015, for example, there were $2.4 million in fines levied in only 13 cases.

“The department continues to vigorously and fairly enforce our nation’s laws and regulations protecting the economic and civil rights of air travel consumers,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Benjamin Edelman, a Harvard Business School professor who frequently files formal complaints about airline rules violations, says it’s too early to tell if enforcement has gone lax. He filed only one case last year and it’s too early to say whether DOT is not pursuing it as aggressively, he says. A few older cases have dragged on, but that’s not unusual, Mr. Edelman says.

“I didn’t think they were perfect under Obama and I don’t think they are perfect now,” he says. “There has always been plenty to criticize.”

Airlines say some of DOT’s enforcement actions are absurd or trivial and go beyond the agency’s regulatory authority.

In 2016, JetBlue was fined $40,000, half of it waived if it didn’t repeat the violation within one year, after it self-reported that it had underpaid 12 passengers who were bumped from a flight. JetBlue issued vouchers to the travelers toward future flights instead of the $1,350 in cash each was owed. When the error was discovered, JetBlue sent a $1,350 check to each passenger and trained employees involved on compliance.
Airlines are begging the Transportation Department for clearer, tougher rules on ``emotional support animals.’’ This peacock was barred from a United Airlines flight earlier this year.
Airlines are begging the Transportation Department for clearer, tougher rules on ``emotional support animals.’’ This peacock was barred from a United Airlines flight earlier this year. Photo: The Jet Set TV/REUTERS

Some regulations under review are clearly out of date. Airlines have to pay out involuntary denied boarding compensation in cash or check; they want the ability to use debit cards or electronic transfers.

And airlines are actually begging for more regulations on transporting service and support animals. They complain current regulations are broad and vague, and travelers are abusing them to transport large pets in cabins and avoid pet fees paid to airlines by declaring pets “emotional support animals.”

Delta and United have already tightened their own rules. “All too frequently, animals have jumped on, bitten, or scratched customers and crew,” Delta said in its DOT filing on regulatory change requests.
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