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DOT Urges Public Comment on Passenger Rights RulesJune 3, 2010 By: George Dooley
The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) and the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) were among industry groups who applauded the direction of yesterday's Department of Transportation (DOT) passenger-rights rule. The DOT is also allowing unprecedented direct online public comment on the proposed rules via a web site— www.regulationroom.org— a move that could encourage more consumer friendly decision-making.
The DOT is proposing a wide range of consumer protections ranging from increasing compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped from flights, allowing passengers to make and cancel reservations within 24 hours without penalty. The move could also require full and prominently displayed disclosure of baggage fees as well as refunds and expense reimbursement when bags are not delivered on time, the BTC notes. DOT policy would also require fair price advertising, prohibiting price increases after a ticket is purchased and mandating timely notice of flight status changes.
“DOT Secretary LaHood continues his aggressive efforts on behalf of consumers in supreme style” BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell said. “His proposal is comprehensive and timely and represents smart regulation.”
Mitchell also praised the DOT for its Cornell University website (www.regulationroom.org) for consumers to weigh in on the DOT's proposed rules. Mitchell said the move underscores and reinforces the Secretary belief in participatory rule-making.
While the public can comment on the DOT Docket, Mitchell said it's intimidating for those citizens not used to the process and technology. “The Cornell site is extremely user-friendly and will provide the opportunity for far more travelers to voice their opinions and make it easy for DOT to understand in broad terms the breadth and depth of travelers' concerns and interests,” Mitchell noted.
Mitchell also sees this as a way to open door to better pro consumer policies. “This gives DOT first-hand and unfiltered information from the consumer,” Mitchell told Travel Agent, hoping for more consumer and industry support. “The DOT needs to push its development and engage the industry and press more on this direct online comment opportunity and the issues. All by itself this would have been big news, but it sort of got buried with all the aspects of the proposed rulemaking.”
ARTA also voiced approval for Secretary LaHood and the DOT’s action. The move will protect air passenger rights and require more accountability of carriers. “The announcement today shows aggressiveness in protecting the traveling public,” said ARTA Chairman Barry Richcreek. “Fair treatment is a pretty basic concept and it’s a shame it has to be mandated.”
Mitchell also urged the Secretary to clarify and affirm that Section 399.85 of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requires that all unbundled fare information be shared with global distribution systems and travel management companies.
Mitchell wants corporate travel departments to be assured that they have “timely and transparent access to unbundled offerings at the same time as they are made available on airlines’ web sites.”
To gain public support the Department has partnered with the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative in a pilot project, Regulation Room, designed to improve the public’s ability to understand and participate in this rulemaking through a web-based discussion format. Information on the Regulation Room can be found at www.regulationroom.org. Consumers can comment directly on the issues.
“Fair treatment is a pretty basic concept and it’s a shame it has to be mandated, ” Richcreek noted.
The Air Transport Association (ATA) issued a guarded statement, saying. “The ATA member airlines’ shared goal is to provide a safe, efficient, reliable and economically viable air transportation system consistent with the expectations of their customers, employees and shareholders,” said ATA President and CEO James C. May. “Today’s DOT notice of proposed rulemaking will be evaluated against that standard, with a focus on minimizing potential passenger inconvenience.”
The rules would take effect 180 days after a 60-day public comment period. For more information on the Proposed Rule go to www.regulation.gov and enter docket number, DOT-OST-2010-0140.