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Feds to Expand Airline Passenger Rights

The U.S. Department of Transportation will release new rules that will expand protections for airline passengers. According to my sources, these news rules, expected to be released tomorrow, should lead to more flights to being on time and impose financial penalties on airlines for losing or damaging checked bags.

The New Rules: No More Hours on the Tarmac
Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued the tarmac delay rules, which said domestic airlines with delayed flights out on the tarmac had to return to the gate within three hours. Those that returned their delayed plane to the gate after three hours could be fined up to $27,500 per passenger. That means a fully loaded 737 could command a fine of more than $4 million! But foreign airlines were exempt.

Under the new rule, all airlines operating in the U.S. will have to follow tarmac-delay protocols. International business travelers can now rejoice -- at least with the knowledge that their odds of being stuck on the tarmac just got reduced. Domestic flights will still be subject to the three-hour rule. Foreign carriers will be subject to a four-hour rule, again with financial penalties.

New Rule: Refunds of Checked Bags
The DOT also will require refunds of checked bag charges if the bags are delayed, damaged or lost. No, the DOT won't (and can't) rule on whether they think charging for checked bags is fair or the amount is appropriate. But if an airline charges you to check your bags and then they delay, or lose your bags, why should you still be charged for a service that was essentially (and literally) not delivered?

Already, business travelers are benefiting from certain credit cards that offer waived checked bag fees or certain hotels (like Intercontinental) that give you a credit for what you paid for checked bags if you stay at one of their hotels. But the new rules will cover anyone who actually paid to check a bag.

The downside? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see some airlines -- faced with the potential of having to refund millions of dollars in lost/delayed bag fees -- start to use the new rules as an excuse to charge even more for checked bags. So fasten your seat belts.

But in the short term, these new rules will be a win-win for travelers: domestic and international flights might actually be on time (or will cancel earlier, giving us more flight options) and airlines that charge us to check bags and then delay, damage or outright lose those bags were be penalized.

What other rules would you like the DOT to adopt?


Photo credit: Flickr user Kelly Sue
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