Flight bumping may change
By JOAN LOWY
WASHINGTON — Airline passengers would receive as much as $1,300 for being bumped from a flight and would have 24 hours to cancel reservations without penalty, among other consumer protections proposed yesterday by the Obama administration.
Currently, airlines must pay up to $800 for involuntary bumping of passengers.
The new rules, which will likely go into effect this fall, would also require airlines to fully and prominently disclose baggage fees as well as refunds and expense reimbursement when bags are not delivered on time, provide special notice any time baggage fees are increased, and notify passengers buying tickets whether they must pay to check up to two bags.
Price increases after a ticket is purchased would also be prohibited under the proposal. And airlines would have to give passengers timely notice of flight status changes.
The proposal would extend to foreign airlines a requirement to have contingency plans for returning passengers to terminals if they've been kept waiting on tarmacs for prolonged periods. A rule requiring that U.S. carriers have contingency plans for international flights stuck on runways went into effect in April. A flat prohibition on waits that last longer than three hours was also imposed on domestic flights at that time.
Transportation Department officials said yesterday they are considering whether a firm three-hour limit should be extended to international flights by U.S. and foreign carriers. They're asking the airline industry and the public to comment on that prospect. Interested parties have up to 60 days to submit comments on the proposed rules to the Transportation Department.
"This administration believes consumers are entitled to strong and effective protections when they fly," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
Currently, airlines may limit compensation to $400 for involuntary bumping of passengers if the carrier arranges substitute transportation scheduled to arrive at the passenger's destination one to two hours after the passenger's original scheduled arrival for domestic flights, or one to four hours for international flights.
They limit compensation to $800 if the substitute transportation is scheduled to arrive more than two hours later for domestic flights, or more than four hours later for international flights.
The proposed rule would increase the limits to $650 and $1,300, respectively, and adjust those limits every two years for inflation.
LaHood said he believes that airlines can factor the new rules into their schedules without disruptions in service. James May, president of the Air Transport Association, which represents major carriers, said airlines will evaluate the proposals "with a focus on minimizing potential passenger inconvenience."
Bumpings due to overbooking are becoming more frequent. They've risen in three of the past four years and jumped 10 percent to 762,422 in 2009, the highest total since 2002. They soared 17 percent in this year's first quarter.