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New Rules Aim For More Passenger-Friendly Skies

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New Rules Aim For More Passenger-Friendly Skies

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New Rules Aim For More Passenger-Friendly Skies

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Well, new airline regulations take effect today and most travelers will agree they're good. As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, passengers who get involuntarily bumped will be entitled to more compensation and airlines face stiffer penalties for long tarmac delays on international flights.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The new rules are aimed at making flying more convenient and hassle-free, according to the Department of Transportation. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the new passenger protections will, in his words, help ensure that air travelers receive the respect they deserve before, during and after their flight.

Kate Hanni, president of FlyersRights.org, which pushed for the new regulations, gives the government credit for implementing them.

KATE HANNI: This Department of Transportation, I really have to hand it to them. In the first time in history, this DOT has taken on airline passenger issues and really is doing a very good job.

NAYLOR: The new regulations include requiring airlines to refund baggage fees if a traveler's luggage is lost. If a passenger is involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight, the airline will have to pay them up to $1,300, depending on the length of their flight. The top penalty is now $800.

An existing rule, penalizing domestic carriers for keeping passengers onboard during a tarmac delay of three hours or more will now apply to flights at smaller airports. And foreign carriers at US airports will be allowed no more than a four-hour tarmac delay before facing fines.

The airline industry says it's competitive pressures in the marketplace that are making airlines more passenger-friendly, rather than federal rules. Steve Lott is a vice president of the Air Transport Association.

STEVE LOTT: The airline industry is a tremendously competitive industry and customer service is an important way for airlines to differentiate themselves from the competition. So it's this competitive nature of the industry and this customer choice that drives a lot of the customer service improvements. It's not necessarily regulations.

NAYLOR: Consumer groups say even more steps are needed to protect airline passengers. For one thing, Brandon Macsata of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights says airlines should be required to refund baggage fees for delayed luggage, not just lost bags.

BRANDON MACSATA: Let's say your bag shows up four days late. They do not have to refund you for it. If you purchase something which, in this case, you're purchasing your bag to be taken from point A to point B and it shows up not with you on your person, then we simply feel that these fees should be refunded.

NAYLOR: More rules were delayed until next year at the industry's request, which said it needed more time to implement them. They include requiring all taxes and fees to be included in advertised fares and allowing passengers to hold a reservation for up to 24 hours without making a payment. They'll take effect in January.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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