The Department of Transportation issued the final rule to improve the air travel environment for consumers on April 21, 2011. You can see the full text of the final rule here. Below is a summary of the regulatory provisions.
Tarmac Delay Contingency Plans
- Requires foreign air carriers operating to or from the U.S. with at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats to adopt and adhere to tarmac delay contingency plans.
- Requires U.S. and foreign air carriers to not permit an international flight to remain on the tarmac at a U.S. airport for more than four hours without allowing passengers to deplane subject to safety, security, and ATC exceptions.
- Expands the airports at which airlines must adhere to the contingency plan terms to include small hub and non-hub airports, including diversion airports.
- Requires U.S. and foreign carriers to coordinate plans with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration ( TSA).
- Requires notification regarding the status of delays every 30 minutes while aircraft is delayed, including reasons for delay if known.
- Requires notification of opportunity to deplane from an aircraft that is at the gate or another disembarkation area with door open if the opportunity to deplane actually exists.
Tarmac Delay Data
- Requires all carriers that must adopt tarmac delay contingency plans to file data with the Department regarding lengthy tarmac delays.
Customer Service Plans
- Requires foreign air carriers that operate scheduled passenger service to and from the U.S. with at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats to adopt, follow and audit customer service plans.
- Establishes standards for the subjects U.S. and foreign air carriers must cover in customer service plans. Examples include:
- delivering baggage on time, including reimbursing passengers for any fee charged to transport a bag if the bag is lost;
- where ticket refunds are due, providing prompt refunds including refund of optional fees charged to a passenger for services that the passenger was unable to use due to an oversale situation or flight cancellation; and
- allowing reservations to be held at the quoted fare without payment, or cancelled without penalty, for at least twenty-four hours after the reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.
Posting of Customer Service Plans and Tarmac Delay Contingency Plans
- Requires foreign carriers to post their required contingency plans, customer service plans, and contracts of carriage on their websites as is already required of U.S. carriers.
Response to Consumer Problems
- Expands the pool of carriers that must respond to consumer problems to include foreign air carriers operating scheduled passenger service to and from the U.S. with at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats (i.e., monitor the effects of irregular flight operations on consumers; inform consumers how to file a complaint with the carrier, and provide substantives responses to consumer complaints within 60 days).
- Increases the minimum denied boarding compensation limits to $650/$1,300 or 200%/400% of the one-way fare, whichever is smaller.
- Implements an automatic inflation adjuster for minimum DBC limits every 2 years.
- Clarifies that DBC must be offered to “zero fare ticket” holders (e.g., holders of frequent flyer award tickets) who are involuntarily bumped.
- Requires that a carrier verbally offer cash/check DBC if the carrier verbally offers a travel voucher as DBC to passengers who are involuntarily bumped.
- Requires that a carrier inform passengers solicited to volunteer for denied boarding about all material restrictions on the use of transportation vouchers offered in lieu of cash.
Full Fare Advertising
- Enforces the full fare advertising rule as written (i.e., ads which state a price must state the full price to be paid). Carriers currently may exclude government taxes/fees imposed on a per-passenger basis.
- Clarifies the rule’s applicability to ticket agents.
- Prohibits carriers and ticket agents someone other than an airline that sells, provides for, or arranges air transporation from advertising fares that are not the full fare and impose stringent notice requirements in connection with the advertisement of “each-way” fares available for purchase only on a roundtrip basis.
- Prohibits opt-out provisions in ads for air transportation.
Baggage and Other Fees and Related Code-Share Issues
- Requires U.S. and foreign air carriers to disclose changes in bag fees/allowances on their homepage for three months, to include information regarding the free baggage allowance.
- Requires carriers (U.S. and foreign) and ticket agents someone other than an airline that sells, provides for, or arranges air transporation to include on e-ticket confirmations information about the free baggage allowance and applicable fees for the first and second checked bag and carry-on but allows ticket agents, unlike carriers, to do so through a hyperlink.
- Requires carriers (U.S. and foreign) and ticket agents someone other than an airline that sells, provides for, or arranges air transporation to inform passengers on the first screen on which the ticket agent or carrier offers a fare quotation for a specific itinerary selected by a consumer that additional airline fees for baggage may apply and where consumers can go to see these baggage fees.
- Requires U.S. and foreign air carriers to disclose all fees for optional services to consumers through a prominent link on their homepage.
- Requires that the same baggage allowances and fees apply throughout a passenger’s journey.
- Requires the marketing carrier to disclose on its website any difference between its optional services and fees and those of the carrier operating the flight. Disclosure may be made through a hyperlink to the operating carriers’ websites that detail the operating carriers’ fees for optional services, or to a page on its website that lists the differences in policies among code-share partners.
Post-Purchase Price Increases
- Bans the practice of post-purchase price increases in air transportation or air tours unless the increase is due to an increase in government-imposed taxes or fees and only if the passenger was provided full disclosure of the potential for the increase and affirmatively agreed to the potential for such an increase prior to purchase.
Flight Status Changes
- Requires U.S. and foreign air carriers operating scheduled passenger service with any aircraft with 30 or more seats to promptly notify consumers through whatever means is available to the carrier for passengers who subscribe to the carrier’s flight status notification services, in the boarding gate area, on a carrier’s telephone reservation system and on its website of delays of 30 minutes or more, cancellations and diversions within 30 minutes of the carrier becoming aware of a change in the status of a flight.
- Prohibits U.S. and foreign air carriers from limiting a passenger’s forum to pursue litigation to a particular inconvenient venue