DOT Announces New Airline Regulations

The Department of Transportation announced new airline regulations Wednesday meant to benefit travelers. The regulations changed the rules for fees, lost luggage and over-booked flights. Robert Siegel talks with Joshua Mitchell of the Dow Jones News Service about the new rules.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Your bags might get lost. You could still wait on the tarmac for hours, and you may get bumped off of an overbooked flight. But by late summer, you'll be better compensated for those flying inconveniences. The Department of Transportation just introduced new regulations to protect travelers and they go into effect in August.

For example, if you are bumped off an oversold flight, the airline will have to pay you up to $1,300, depending on how long you wait for your makeup flight. Such rules make passengers rejoice and airlines protest.

And here to talk about the new measures and the resulting drama is Josh Mitchell who covers transportation for the Dow Jones Newswire and The Wall Street Journal. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOSH MITCHELL (Reporter, Dow Jones Newswire and The Wall Street Journal): Hi, thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: So, what else will passengers get from airlines? I mentioned compensation, money for being bumped from overbooked flights. What are some other benefits?

Mr. MITCHELL: This would require airlines to promptly notify consumers of delays of 30 minutes or more, as well as cancellations and any diversions. It will also ban post-purchase fare increases. If you are stuck on a tarmac for longer than two hours on an international flight, it would require the airline to provide you with water and food.

SIEGEL: And then there's the revolutionary rule change, which is if the airline says here's the price for a flight to wherever, that's the price. If they advertise it online, that's what you pay.

Mr. MITCHELL: Well, one of the key things here is this takes aim at the additional fee that airlines are increasingly charging for stuff like meals, upgraded seats, baggage. And so, it doesn't limit those fees, but what it does is requires the airlines to more prominently display those fees on their website.

SIEGEL: So if I see an airline advertising a flight for $399 in huge numerals and then an asterisks down below it says subject to additional fees, would they still be able to do that?

Mr. MITCHELL: It's trying to take away some of that fine print, is essentially what it's trying to do. So the baggage fee, for example, let's say you buy a $200 flight to and from D.C. and Florida, if it costs $25 for one bag each way, that's $50 on a $200 price. That's 25 percent of the ticket right there. So it's just trying to make it easier for passengers to be able to see exactly how much they'll be paying by the end of that trip.

SIEGEL: To which the Air Transport Association, the airline industry's trade group says what?

Mr. MITCHELL: First of all, they say that the requirement to include the government fees and the advertised fare does not put them on par with other industries such as the hotel industry. They feel that that's not fair to require that of them.

They have also said that this rule that sets a hard four-hour time limit on being on the tarmac, which basically that means when passengers board the plane, the flight must take off within four hours or else there will be a penalty for the airlines.

That's been a controversial rule in the industry. That rule has applied to flights within the U.S. And that will apply to flights that travel out of the country. And the industry says that could have some unintended consequences. It could prompt airlines to cancel flights if it's coming up close to that four-hour limit as opposed to staying a little bit longer and keeping the flight going, which could just ruin a lot of people's travel plans if that flight is ultimately cancelled.

SIEGEL: Josh Mitchell, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. MITCHELL: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Josh Mitchell covers transportation for The Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones Newswire.

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