transportation department

Is the government letting airlines off easy? Let’s do the math

The Transportation Department’s latest high-profile fine goes against Comair for violating denied-boarding rules. It’s a big ticket: $275,000, which, while significantly less than the record fine against Spirit Airlines late last year, could be the largest enforcement action for bad bumping practices.

According to the government, an investigation of Comair revealed numerous cases in which the airline failed to solicit volunteers to leave overbooked flights and provide passengers with the appropriate denied boarding compensation.

The DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office also found that Comair had filed inaccurate reports with DOT on the number of passengers involuntarily denied boarding.

Bad Comair!

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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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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 Regulationroom.org. 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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New rule: No more price increases after you buy a ticket

Editor’s note: This is part nine 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.

Here’s a new government rule that might surprise you: It would prohibit post-purchase price increases in air transportation or air tours by carriers and ticket agents.

If you said, “They can do that”? then you’re not alone. That was my initial reaction.

But yes, they can.
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Transportation Department wants airlines to reveal all fees and an airfare — or two

Editor’s note: This is part eight 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.

Last week, we started dissecting the government’s plans to tighten the way in which airlines advertise their fares. But if you continue reading the proposed rulemaking, you’ll discover the Transportation Department wants to go further.

How much further? Well, not only does the government want to require online agencies to display complete prices, but it also has a series of ideas about how a more complete fare might be displayed.

The reason for the rule is simple: People are confused. And they’re paying more than they thought. According to the regulatory analysis (PDF),

In many cases, these passengers would not be aware of the amounts of baggage fees and optional fees charged in the absence of notices on these sites, resulting in them incurring more charges for checked baggage and other optional services than if they had known about the additional costs for these items.

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The truth about the government’s new “full fare” disclosure rule

Editor’s note: This is part seven 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.

When you get a fare quote from an airline or online agency, you should expect to pay that price. Right?

Wrong.

It’s not that the travel industry lies — although it often does — but that quoting a less-than-inclusive ticket price has so many advantages.

For starters, the government doesn’t make you do it. It’s also easier to quote an “unbundled” fare. Plus, it makes you more money ($7.8 billion in airline fees last year, most of it tax-free).

All that could change if the Transportation Department has its way.
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New requirements would force international airlines to monitor and respond to passenger complaints

Editor’s note: This is part five 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.

The deeper I wade into the new airline passenger rules, the more I find myself wondering: Why do airlines have to be told to do this?

Take its proposals about responses to consumer problems. In a previous rulemaking, the DOT had to tell U.S. carriers to designate an employee to monitor the effects on passengers of flight delays, flight cancellations, and lengthy tarmac delays and to have input into decisions such as which flights are canceled and which are subject to the longest delays.
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Government to airlines: Put it in the contract!

Editor’s note: This is part four in a series of posts about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at Regulationroom.org. The future of air travel depends on it.

Talk is cheap.

That’s the gist of the part of the latest government rulemaking that is likely to give airlines the biggest headache. Instead of just “strongly encouraging” the airlines to adopt customer service plans, the government wants them to put it in their contracts of carriage, the legal agreement between them and their customers.

It’s about time.
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Maybe the dog ate Falcon Air’s homework

From time to time, a consent order crosses my desk that’s just too funny to not write about. Like today’s ruling (PDF) against Falcon Air Express, a Miami-based airline whose claim to fame is running a wet T-shirt contest on a charter flight to Mexico.

This time Falcon is in trouble for the less glamorous sin of failing to file its paperwork on time. According to the Transportation Department,

Falcon Air failed to file in a timely manner certain financial reports with the Department for half of 2007, all of 2008, and all of 2009, despite numerous warning notices from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

In April 2010, only after being contacted by the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (Enforcement Office), did Falcon Air file all the delinquent reports with BTS.

Talk about tardy.
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Transportation Department steps up efforts in aviation consumer protection

Attention, air travelers: The government has your back.

The Transportation Department’s airline cops have written big tickets in recent months, including a $375,000 fine against Spirit Airlines for, among other things, failing to comply with denied-boarding compensation rules, and a $600,000 fine against an online travel company called Ultimate Fares, for advertising violations.

“Aviation consumer protection is one of my top priorities, and we are taking a fresh look at the industry from that perspective,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told me recently.
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The truth about those controversial $10 holiday airfare charges

xmasLast week, several airlines added a $10 “miscellaneous” charge for flights on on Nov. 29, Jan. 2 and 3. — those are the peak travel days after Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The news sent the travel blogosphere into something of a frenzy. My colleague Janice Hough this morning predicted the “holiday surcharge” was only the beginning of a new fee orgy.

Rather than devote an entire post to criticizing the airline industry for yet another poorly-conceived idea, I thought it would be a good idea to ask the Transportation Department, which regulates a significant part of the airline industry, what it makes of the new fees.
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Why I don’t support a Passengers Bill of Rights

demonstrationI’m on record as supporting a Passengers Bill of Rights. But today I’m changing my vote.

I don’t want a Bill of Rights — in particular, I don’t back a proposed provision in the FAA Reauthorization Bill that would force airlines to return to the gate after a three-hour wait.

Why?
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Continental Airlines faces $27,500 fine in tarmac stranding incident

ejetThe Transportation Department this morning a sent a letter to Continental Airlines inquiring into the circumstances of its recent Continental/Express Jet flight 2816 extended delay. So what’s next? I asked Transportation Department spokesman Bill Mosley.

You’ve sent a letter to Continental, asking for details on the ExpressJet Airlines flight 2816 tarmac delay. What kind of sanctions are available to the department for keeping passengers on a plane for nine hours?

If the airline has violated its contract of carriage or customer service commitments, DOT could pursue enforcement action alleging that the carrier engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of 49 U.S.C 41712. If violations are proven, the carrier would be subject to a cease and desist order and civil penalties of up to $27,500 per violation.
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Which airline kept passengers trapped on the tarmac nearly six hours?

blueThat would be JetBlue Airways, according to the latest Transportation Department figures.

Flight 12 from New York to Syracuse was delayed on the tarmac 328 minutes on June 26, which makes it the tarmac delay winner — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say loser — of the month.

The overall number of flights with excessive delays remains small. In June, which is the most recent month for which numbers are available, .0499 percent of scheduled flights had tarmac delays of three hours or more, up from .0064 percent the previous month. There were 42 flights with tarmac delays of four hours or more in June.

Here’s the breakdown:
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