DOT Requires Taxes, Fees Be Included in Advertised Prices
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The Department of Transportation (DOT) officially, finally, unveiled a series of consumer protections rules aimed at increasing transparency and fairness in the airline industry. The rules were proposed last June and won't take effect for 120 days.
Here are the main components of the new rules:
•Airlines must refund bag fees paid for bags that are lost in transit. Note that the rule stipulates bags that are lost, not delayed. That the DOT decided to exclude delayed bags from this provision is probably the most disappointing aspect of the rules. Bag fees ostensibly cover the shipping cost of your luggage. In many retail situations, customers with delayed shipments are often compensated with refunds or vouchers, in what seems like an obvious "make it right" scenario. Not so here. Worse, the definition of "lost" is left ambiguous, and presumably to the airlines' discretion. It can take days and even weeks for an airline to qualify a bag as lost, meaning passengers will have to be patient if they want their $25 back. And as the DOT notes, "Airlines are already required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses for loss, damage or delay in the carriage of passenger baggage." So this strikes me as a "why bother?"
•Full-fare advertising or bust. Advertised fares will include all mandatory taxes and fees, meaning the price you see is the price you'll pay (prior to tacking on ancillary charges, such as bag fees). This rule applies to any ticket seller, whether it's the airline, an online travel agent, or a human travel agent. Travel agents will also have to disclose bag fee information both before and after the consumer purchases their ticket. The agency had proposed a dual-price system, where one fare included mandatory taxes and another included taxes plus some basic ancillary fees, but this model was deemed too cumbersome to be useful (rightly, I'd say) and was dispatched.
•Bag fee changes on airline homepages for three months. The DOT did follow through on its proposal to require carriers to, in its own words, "promptly and prominently disclose any increase in its fees for carry-on or checked baggage and any change in the checked baggage allowance for a passenger on the carrier’s homepage." The notice should be obvious and remain in place for three months, and the rule also applies to foreign carriers that advertise or sell air tickets in the U.S.
•Web page for all ancillary fees. Similarly, The DOT will require carriers to create "one central webpage on their website, linked from the carrier’s homepage, which lists all ancillary fees." That's all ancillary fees. Currently, most airlines have their fees scattered all over their websites, making it nearly impossible to track them all down in an efficient manner.
•Compensation for bumping gets a bump. The new rules increase the minimum denied boarding compensation limits to $650 for short flights and $1,300 for longer flights, or 200%/400% of the one-way fare, whichever is smaller. The rules will apply to "zero fare" tickets, such as award flights, which are currently exempt from compensation requirements. The DOT will also adjust for inflation every two years.