What did federal agencies do for travelers in 2013?

Oleksly Mark/Shutterstock
Oleksly Mark/Shutterstock
Ask travelers what the federal government did for them this year, and you’ll probably get a shrug, at best — or a rant about sequestration, national park closings and the Transportation Security Administration, at worst.

But there’s actually a specific answer: Federal agencies did a lot more than you might think. And, in at least one prominent case, a lot less.

When it comes to consumer protections, two agencies carried much of the water in 2013: the Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees airlines and motorcoach safety in the United States, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has a broad jurisdiction ranging from time-share sales to hotels. This year, the U.S. Department of Justice also played a central role in protecting travelers with a halfhearted attempt to block the creation of the nation’s largest airline.
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Are lax rules slowing down airline ticket refunds?

Kathleen and Eugene Bianucci paid $5,770 for a pair of round-trip tickets between San Francisco and Dublin this year on Virgin Atlantic Airways. A few days before their trip, Kathleen, a fitness instructor from San Bruno, Calif., broke her leg and had to be hospitalized for a week. Her doctor grounded her for six months, and when she told the airline about the accident, a representative promised her a full refund.
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Tarmac delays, R.I.P.? Don’t bet on it

Did the federal government just kill tarmac delays?

You could be forgiven for thinking so after reading this morning’s news release from the Transportation Department, which declared that for the first time since it began keeping records on tarmac delays, it recorded no delays of more than three hours in October. That’s down from 11 flights in Oct. 2009.

There’s no word on delays of less than three hours, although it seems our attention is likely to focus on them soon.

I’ll skip the Ray LaHood soundbite. Needless to say, the DOT is pleased with itself.

But did it just kill tarmac delays? I wouldn’t be so sure.
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“The Department of Transportation has used a bazooka to kill an ant”

The long-awaited sequel to this summer’s controversial tarmac delay study has just been released. In it, aviation analysts Darryl Jenkins and Joshua Marks claim 384,000 more passengers were stranded by cancellations last summer, and an additional 49,600 air travelers experienced gate returns and delays. It calls on the Transportation Department to clarify its three-hour turnback rule — a rule the DOT insists is a resounding success.

I asked Jenkins about the study and its conclusions this morning. Here’s our interview.

You’ve analyzed flight cancellations based on last summer’s data. What’s the bottom line for passengers?

If it’s summer, and there’s a thunderstorm, and your flight is canceled because of this rule – and last summer, load factors were 90 percent or higher – it will take a full day to rebook you on another flight.
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No more lawsuit limits for passengers under proposed government rules

Editor’s note: This is part eleven in a series about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. You can read the entire document here (.DOC). Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at Regulationroom.org. The future of air travel depends on it.

As someone who is currently being sued, you might think I’m the last person who would support a new rule that would allow more people to file a lawsuit against an airline.

But you’d be wrong.

True, getting sued is no fun. But I don’t think the airlines are having fun, anyway. Maybe their passengers will after this passes.

At issue is something called a choice of forum. Forum choice, in the legal sense, is a clause that allows the the parties to agree that any litigation resulting from a contract will be initiated in a specific court.
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Airlines must “promptly” notify passengers of flight delays under proposed rule

Editor’s note: This is part ten in a series about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. You can read the entire document here (.DOC). Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at Regulationroom.org. The future of air travel depends on it.

If you’ve ever experienced a flight delay — and who hasn’t? — then you know that getting reliable updates from your airline can take an Act of Congress.

Actually, make that a federal rulemaking.

The Transportation Department wants to require airlines to give their passengers information on flight status changes through whatever means they use — including electronic messaging services, flight status tools, departure and arrival boards at airports, and gate attendant announcements — within 30 minutes of when that information either becomes available to the carrier or should have become available to the carrier.
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