Ed's Blog

Airline passenger rights reforms finally take off, heading to President's desk

By Ed Mierzwinski
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program

PIRG-backed reforms designed to guarantee that passengers stranded in planes sitting on runways are not treated like cattle have been passed by the House and Senate and are expected to be signed by the president as part of FAA reauthorization (New York Times story). The reforms are largely based on the work of former stranded passenger Kate Hanni and her flyersrights.org campaign for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights (Kate's statement).For several years, the reforms have been championed by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA). Former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL), now President Obama's Secretary of Transportation, has also been a strong champion who implemented tough rules while we waited for Congress. The law largely codifies work that DOT has done and add some new provisions, such as protection for musical instruments (see webvideo "United Breaks Guitars").

Although our request for a statutory 3-hour limit for tarmac delays was not included in the law, which instead bans "excessive delays," the U.S. Department of Transportation had already imposed 3-hour domestic and 4-hour international tarmac delay limits.

DOT has issued some very good rules that largely anticipated the legislation, although the format of this DOT consumer fact sheet could use work.

These two press releases on DOT airline passenger rights are much easier to follow than the fact sheet, although the fact sheet ultimately has more detail.

-- This DOT release from April explains the major new tarmac limits, bumping penalty increases and other air passenger rules implemented under Secretary Ray LaHood's watch.

-- Here is a DOT press release from August that explains the new rights further, including the new fee disclosure rules that took effect a few weeks ago.

Some of the airlines, especially Spirit (Reuters story) have been whining incessantly about laHood's rule on full disclosure of fees. We are ignoring them. You should, too.


Tell your senators to oppose the “Financial CHOICE Act,” which would gut Wall Street reforms and destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as we know it.

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