New US DOT Rules: A Clear Win For Airline Passengers

Passengers in the terminal hall of an airport.
Photo Credit: Connecting Flights Guide via Pexels

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken a major step forward in protecting airline passengers with two new final rules.

These rules target airline practices that have long frustrated travelers: surprise fees and lack of clear refund policies.

Shining a Light on Hidden Costs

The first rule, titled “Protecting Consumers from Surprise Airline Junk Fees,” tackles the issue of unclear pricing.

Airlines will now be required to display fees for carry-on baggage, checked bags (both first and second), flight changes, and cancellations right on the first screen where a flight is offered.

This change addresses a practice that has been a thorn in flyers’ sides for years: airlines separating base fares from optional services.

This strategy often led to sticker shock at checkout, as the true cost of the flight remained hidden until the very last step.

The impact of this practice is clear. The DOT found a staggering 30% increase in baggage fees from 2018 to 2022, far outpacing overall airline revenue growth.

Photo Credit: ACI North America
Photo Credit: ACI North America

Passenger advocacy groups, like FlyersRights, have been fighting against this tactic for years, and this new rule represents a significant victory.

As FlyersRights President Paul Hudson states, “This marks a significant victory in the war against ‘Gotcha Fees’.”

“The airlines argue that they want competition, and this rule provides the transparency that is necessary for that competition.”

“Having critical ancillary fee information available to the consumer on the first page where they can purchase a ticket increases airline competition and the ability to comparison shop.”

Ensuring Fairness in Flight Cancellations and Changes

The second rule focuses on automatic refunds for canceled or significantly changed flights, public health emergencies, and passengers with serious communicable diseases.

Under this rule, airlines must automatically issue refunds for cancellations or significant schedule changes. This is defined as a departure time moved up, or arrival time pushed back by 3 or 6 hours for domestic and international flights, respectively.

The automatic refund applies unless the passenger chooses an alternative flight.

The rule also addresses situations involving public health emergencies and passengers with serious illnesses.

interior of an airport terminal at sunset.
Photo Credit: Wendy Wei via Pexels

In these cases, passengers will be entitled to a transferable travel voucher valid for at least five years. This ensures flexibility for travelers who are unable to fly due to health concerns.

The DOT implemented these rules under its authority to prevent unfair and deceptive practices in the airline industry.

The rules will take effect in phases, with full implementation expected within 18 to 24 months. This signifies a positive shift towards a more transparent and passenger-friendly air travel experience.

About FlyersRights, established in 2007, is the largest airline passenger organization. It provides legal information to passengers, and operates a free hotline for airline passengers 877- FLYERS-6.

The group advocates for passenger rights and interests, represents passengers on the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee dealing with air safety, and maintains a staffed office in Washington, D.C. maintains up to date passenger rights information, available at this link.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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