Department of Transportation Issues New Rule for Air Carriers

Washington DC – December 21, 2009

In announcing a new ruling today intended to “strengthen protections afforded to consumers,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated: “Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly.”

The Consumer Rule establishes a time limit of 3 hours before required deplaning of passengers from domestic flights in the event of a delay on the tarmac.

There are allowances for some security and safety exceptions. For example, if Air traffic Control has advised the Pilot in Command that returning to the terminal would disrupt operations at the airport. US Carriers operating international flights that begin or end in the US must also submit their own proposed time limits for keeping passengers aboard the aircraft in the event of a delay.

Also required of the air carriers, provision of adequate food and safe drinking water to be made available after 2 hours of delay. And access to operational lavatories available at all times during the delay. In addition to those requirements, medical attention is to be provided by the carriers in the event any passenger needs it.

Adoption of this rule is said to be in response to incidents involving Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines and Mesaba Airlines after a nearly six-hour ground delay at Rochester, MN. The three carriers were fined a total of $175,000 for those incidents.

In addition the rule:

• ”Prohibits airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those who do to DOT enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices”;

• ”Requires airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints”;

• ”Requires airlines to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate”;

• ”Requires airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans”; and

• ”Prohibits airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.”

Adoption of todays final rule follows a November 2008 review of public comments proposal. Intent to begin yet another rule making, designed to further strengthen protections for air travelers, was also announced. In an attempt to continue protections to air travelers the DOT wants to require carriers to submit their plans for handling long delays to them for approval. Disclosure of full ticket prices and baggage fees were also mentioned as possible new requirements.

The rule goes into effect 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register. Interested persons may read the rule in its’ entirety at: www.regulations.gov

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