The Department of Transportation today announced a set of new actions designed to “enhance protections for air travelers and promote competition in the airline industry.” The White House says that these actions should help consumes “know exactly what they’re buying, and…get what they pay for.”
Among the changes include a proposal for airlines to refund baggage fees if your bags are “substantially delayed.” The DOT did not, however, specify the duration. This is in addition to the current policy, which requires airlines to refund baggage fees if the bags are lost. Regarding baggages, the airlines will also now have to report to the DOT the number of mishandled bags in the context of the total checked bags. Previously, the number of mishandled (“lost”) bags are compared to the total number of travelers. Since not everyone checks a bag, the change will allow for a more accurate depiction of airlines’ performances. Passengers will disabilities will receive more protection, by a new requirement for airlines to report how often thy mishandle wheelchairs.
More data will also be available under these new protections. More carriers will be required to report their on-time performance, overbooking, and mishandled baggage information. Previously, a carrier only has to report these information if they have 1% of the domestic travel revenue; this threshold will be lowered to 0.5% starting January 1, 2018. US airlines will also have to report information about flights operated by regional jets and other code-shared partners.
Undisclosed bias by airlines or online travel agents will be prohibited. Currently, some airlines can prevent online travel agencies from displaying certain flight and fare options. Some agencies also do not list the lowest fares first, because of special partnerships with specific airlines. They will no longer be able to engage in this behavior without disclosing it to consumers.
Apart from these “final” rules, the DOT also announced that they are exploring requirements of “all-in” pricing information. Many airlines today nickel and dime, and services like checked bags, seat assignments, and priority boarding are offered a la carte. That’s usually pretty apparent if you buy tickets directly from an airline’s website. However, the DOT will explore whether they will require airlines to share the information with other ticketing agents.
Airlines for America (A4A), an industry and lobbying group, reacted to the news and warned that any new regulations could drive up airfares. A4A represents American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, Alaska, and United, among other airlines. A4A President and CEO Nicholas Call says in a statement (emphasis mine):
Competition is alive and well in the airline industry, and all pricing information is available to consumer at the click of a button. Consumers have multiple information sources independent of airline sites. Airlines have different business models and must be allowed to continue offering optional services in a manner that makes sense for both their customers and their business. Efforts designed to reregulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy.