Delta fined $100,000 for misleading baggage brochure

Federal law says an airline can’t limit its liability for lost, damaged or delayed baggage to less than $3,300 per passenger. But if you’re flying on Delta Air Lines, you might have thought otherwise.

Even after the Transportation Department issued an industry notice (.DOC) last October, reminding airlines that they couldn’t cap their compensation, Delta allegedly distributed a pamphlet that said it “will not authorize any expense reimbursement” when a passenger’s delayed baggage is expected to reach the passenger within 24 hours.

The brochure also said the carrier’s liability is capped at $25 per day “for necessities after the first 24 hours up to a maximum of USD 125 per ticketed customer” while a passenger is away from his or her permanent residence.

The government has fined Delta $100,000 for distributing the brochure months after its advisory. Here’s the consent order (.PDF).
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Now that the tarmac delay rule is “working as planned” should the government shorten the leash?

That’s a question a lot of airline observers may be asking themselves after today’s DOT report (PDF) that there was just one tarmac delay exceeding three hours in August 2010.

And look at this chart (above). What point is reporting this data to the flying public when there’s no meaningful data to report?

The Transportation Department is doing a well-deserved victory lap on tarmac delays. In today’s news release, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood summed up his department’s reasons to celebrate:

These numbers show that the tarmac delay rule is protecting passengers from being trapped indefinitely aboard an airplane – with little or no increase in canceled flights.

Also, it shows that the hard work the airlines are putting into implementing the rule is paying off. With the summer travel season behind us, it appears that the rule is working as planned.

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Should airlines be allowed to trade slots?

Whose slots are they, anyway?

That’s a fair question, given airlines’ recent efforts to swap slots – government permission to take off and land at a particular time – in Washington and New York.

You may not realize it, but slots can affect how much you pay for a flight. And the decisions made about landing permissions are hardly abstract. They will almost certainly have a lasting effect on competition and airfares, experts predict.

Catching a plane from a slot-controlled airport can be pricey. Fliers from Washington’s slot-limited Reagan National Airport paid an average fare of $373 for the first quarter of 2010, the latest period for which figures are available. At slot-restricted Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., the average fare was $423. By comparison, the average domestic airfare was just $328.

The reason? Slots – specifically a lack of them – drive airfares higher because competition is capped.
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El Al fined by government for “deceptive” luggage reimbursement rules

Article 17 of the Montreal Convention holds airlines liable for loss of or damage to baggage, as long as it took place when it was in their possession. No exceptions.

It looks like El Al had a creative — and ultimately, flawed — interpretation.

At least that’s how the Transportation Department sees it. And the DOT has the power to fine El Al, which is exactly what it just did — to the tune of $30,000. Here’s the consent order (PDF).
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Tarmac-delay rule gives air travelers more respect

If you’re afraid of being trapped in a parked plane on your next trip, stop worrying.

Only three flights were delayed more than three hours in July, the latest month reported by the Transportation Department. All the incidents happened on the evening of July 23, when a line of “very nasty” thunderstorms swept through Chicago, according to American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely.
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Air travelers, let your voices be heard

The federal government is giving travelers an extra month to comment on proposed new consumer rules for airline passengers.

You now have until Sept. 23 to let the Transportation Department know what you think of the regulations, which will affect everything from how an airfare is quoted to whether peanuts will be served on a plane.

Even with my God-given gift for hyperbole, it would be hard to understate the importance of this initiative for air travelers, which is why I’m writing about it again.

The earlier column drew an unusually large number of responses, the most common one being, “What’s the Web address for Regulation Room?”

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Government says airlines “not required” to refund taxes on nonrefundable tickets

Kirk Miller knew his nonrefundable US Airways tickets was lost when he canceled his flight, but like many air travelers, he wondered about the taxes. Could he get those back?

“It is my understanding that although the fare is not refundable, the taxes included in the price of an airline ticket are refundable,” he says. “Airlines act as tax collectors, but they are supposed to hold the taxes in escrow until you actually travel, when they pay the government(s).”


Not exactly, it turns out. A US Airways representative told him the taxes were also nonrefundable. He sent a brief, polite email to the airline, and was again rebuffed.
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Did the airline industry fund controversial tarmac delay study?

A new study by a team of aviation consultants, which claims the government’s new tarmac delay rule will cost the flying public $3.9 billion during the next two decades, is making waves in the aviation industry and beyond.

The Transportation Department yesterday issued a rare rebuttal, in which it called the study “questionable.”

The numbers used by the consultants, it said, were “far too narrow” to yield defensible conclusions about future airline trends. “Further,” it added, “the data reported in May 2010 does not support the industry consultants’ claims about rising numbers of airline cancellations.”

Surely the analysts must have known they were stretching things a little when they based their conclusions on one month of cancellation data. So why do it?

Maybe it was the money.
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How to turn customers into critics? It’s in the fine print

As a lawyer, Sam Wyrick is no stranger to fine print. So when Spirit Airlines canceled his flight during its recent strike, he did what any respectable attorney would do: He read Spirit’s contract of carriage, the legal agreement between the airline and its passengers.

Unfortunately, so had the airline employee he dealt with. And Spirit apparently interpreted its own contract very differently.

“Two Spirit representatives — one on the ground at LaGuardia and one at a call center, had said if Spirit canceled our flight, we would be called and rebooked, on another airline if necessary,” he remembers.

But after it notified him that his flight to Myrtle Beach, S.C., was grounded, the airline changed its tune. It offered him a flight credit and a $100 voucher. (Never mind that Section 9.2 of Spirit’s contract suggests it owes him a refund.)
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Airline passengers get a chance to be heard on proposed regulations

If you’ve ever complained about air travel — and who hasn’t? — then here’s your best chance in a generation to do something about it.

Tell the government what you think of its proposed new passenger rights rules. You can do it right now, thanks to a new project called Regulation Room.

There’s a lot to comment about. The rules cover everything from tarmac delays to peanuts. If adopted, they could change the way Americans fly more than any single regulation since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978.
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“Every on-time departure, every bag and every customer interaction really counts”

US Airways ranked number one in on-time performance, baggage handling and customer satisfaction among the major network carriers for May, according to the latest Transportation Department report — a rare trifecta. It’s even more impressive, considering that just a few years ago, the airline consistently ranked near the bottom of the list. I asked Kerry Hester, the airline’s vice president for reservations and customer service planning, to shed some light on the numbers, and what they mean to passengers. You can read a related interview about US Airways fixation on numbers with Robert Isom here.

How did you do it?

Our employees did it. I am very proud of my 31,000 colleagues who have worked hard to run a safe and reliable airline, while focusing on taking great care of our customers. They deserve the credit for achieving this important milestone.

OK. How did they do it?

This was a significant achievement for us that only a handful of other airlines have shared in the past decade. It has taken a lot of hard work to get to this point, but we’ve done it by institutionalizing a culture where our employees understand that every on-time departure, every bag and every customer interaction really counts.

We beat United in on-time performance by just a half percentage point, and bettered Continental by just 10 bags and eight complaints. Simply put, every contact that we have with our customers really makes a difference.

Leading the industry in on-time departures is the key to our success, and we do it without padding our schedule like some other airlines do. Our Express partners also contributed to these results, with record-setting performances in April in on-time departures, on-time arrivals, and completion factor (the percent of scheduled departures that actually departed during the daily schedule) followed by strong results in each of these measures again in May.
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The hard facts about the peanuts-on-a-plane rule everyone’s talking about

Editor’s note: This is part twelve 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 The future of air travel depends on it.

Ban peanuts? Really?

That’s the first reaction I get when I mention the final, and perhaps the most ridiculed, of the Transportation Department’s proposed new rules. Seriously — why would the government do away with peanuts on a plane?

The regulatory analysis (PDF) I’ve referred to throughout this series of posts doesn’t even address this contentious issue.
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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 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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