Air passenger rights championed over airlines in new law
As the final months of his term wind down, U.S. President Barack Obama is standing up to champion air passenger rights with a flush of proposed new laws this week.
The White House announced new rules for airlines Oct. 18, including reporting requirements, fair and transparent pricing, and passenger compensation when it comes to luggage fees for travelers whose bags are “substantially delayed.”
While the Administration did not define the period of time it considers to be “substantially delayed,” the proposed rule is designed to address one of the common complaints air passengers have about the airline industry.
“The Administration’s actions will spur competition in the airline industry,” the White House announced in a press release. “Today, consumers can easily determine the full fare for a flight, hold a reservation without payment or cancel reservation within 24 hours, get real-time updates from airlines about delayed flights, and feel confident that, if they get bumped from a flight, they will be properly compensated.”
A microscope being held up to on-time performance
The proposed new rule takes a hard look at airline’s on-time performance, which is a measurement of its frequency to arrive to its final destination within a reasonable time period. If your flight is delayed in excess of 1.5 hours, and you’re traveling into or out of an EU member state on an EU-based carrier, you could be eligible for compensation under a little-known European law, EC261.
Under current rules in the U.S., airlines engage in cherry-picking with mandatory reporting, a practice where they only report a portion of their on-time performance flights, according to Ashley Raiteri, Chief Data Officer at AirHelp.
The new rules will require that major carriers like Delta, United and American Airlines report performance numbers for all flights flying under their banner, including codeshare flights and regional partners like ExpressJet and SkyWest Airlines that operate a large volume of short haul flights for the major carriers, Raiteri says.
“Improving flight delay on-time reporting is important, but at the end of the day, it is the ‘passenger on-time performance’ that people care most about,” said Lance Sherry, airline passenger transportation expert and George Mason University professor.
Around 33 percent of U.S. domestic passengers fly on connecting itineraries, Sherry said. When these flights are cancelled or delayed the passengers must then be rebooked, which means nearly 60 percent of the total passengers face delays while traveling.
“An enormous percentage of the delays for the “Big 3” U.S. air carriers – Delta, American, and United – come directly from their Regional Express partners serving airports like Charleston, Wichita and Memphis,” Raiteri said.
Traditionally, the full-service carriers simply don’t report these flight disruptions as belonging to them, even though you are most likely flying on a plane with crew wearing United uniforms, on an aircraft painted with United’s colors and with a ticket sold by United when you flying from Charleston to Chicago, for instance.
“Adding this new reporting requirement will go a long way towards transparency in the industry, and that’s always a good thing for consumers.” said Raiteri.
What’s more: new refund rules on luggage
The proposed new law also touches on luggage fees. Currently, many carriers charge $25 for checked luggage. Therefore, the passenger is not receiving the service they paid for if their luggage does not arrive, or is significantly delayed en route to its final destination.
Several regulations on luggage are already in place. The absolute maximum you can get back per person for lost luggage is $3,400 for domestic flights, unless you purchased protection for a higher value prior to your flight.
The absolute maximum you can get back per person for lost luggage is around $1,550, depending on SPR (Special Drawing Rights), for international flights, as per The Montreal Convention. In terms of getting the money, it can take from one to three months, according to The Department of Transportation.