New Rulings May Alleviate Airline Travelers’ Burdens

Airline travelers may finally catch some breaks as a few regulators are making moves to curb airline actions that have stoked passengers’ frustration.

One of these newly passed rules, called Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections, is meant to alleviate some of the burdens on passengers who have been increasingly stuck on tarmacs—often without air conditioning and beverages.

The DOT implemented the rule in April and capped tarmac wait times at three hours. The legislation included several other rules which are still pending: passengers may soon be permitted to exit the aircraft if delays exceed three hours, airlines may have to provide food and water within two hours of delayed flights, and airlines may have to disclose and take effort to reduce chronically delayed flights.

In the first two months of implementation, tarmac wait times exceeding three hours dropped to eight instances from 302 instances during the same two months in 2009, according the USA Today. However, the results may be skewed because flight schedule reductions have been more numerous this year, meaning fewer flights to clog up tarmacs.

Beyond the tarmac wait-time portions of the rule, the DOT also aims to increase the compensation paid to passengers who are involuntarily bumped off overbooked airlines.

Another piece of legislation that will help consumers if passed is a new bill by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia called the Airline Baggage and Accountability Act.

This bill is a response to the unpopular baggage fees that airlines have implemented en masse since the recession. An uprising of complaints from travelers, corporate travel managers and consumer advocacy groups have pointed out that muggy wording has served to hide fees and has abridged travelers from making informed airline choices.

The bill obligates airlines to disclose all fees at the point of sale, so fees can no longer be buried to surprise travelers afterward.       

Controversially, the bill also aims to tax airlines on charges for baggage fees. Some say this additional tax will adversely affect travelers as they will ultimately subsidize it because the airlines will simply charge more in baggage fees to cover it. Others say the revenues from the tax will go to building airline industry infrastructure, which ultimately benefits travelers by making smoother-running airport experiences.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has likewise recognized travelers’ needs for better treatment on the tarmac and transparency for unbundled fees, and they include language in their massive Reauthorization plan to extend these rights to passengers. The FAA version requires airlines to give passengers water and let them go to the bathroom at any time on the tarmac, not only at some point within the first two hours.