Feds launch new webpage to inform travelers of flying rights

Feds launch new webpage to inform travelers of flying rights
© Greg Nash

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has launched a new webpage to help travelers better know their rights while flying.

The page, housed under the DOT’s website, comes about a week after videos emerged of a passenger on a United Airlines flight being violently pulled out of his seat and dragged from the aircraft to make room for airline employees.

The incident stirred an international uproar over airlines' treatment of passengers and prompted calls for congressional hearings.

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The DOT page, titled “Got Flights? Know Your Rights”, features nine topics that deal directly with consumer issues. They include tarmac delays, flights cancellations or delays, reservations and ticketing, refunds, accessibility, lost or damaged baggage, and bumping and oversales.

One of the options takes customers to a webpage where they can file an air travel complaint with the department. Another leads passengers to an existing DOT travel guide that details the public’s flying rights.

The United incident has put a spotlight on airlines' overbooking and bumping policies, which are not uncommon or illegal, though problems are typically figured out prior to boarding.

Airlines often overbook flights in order to compensate for “no shows.” When that happens, federal rules require airlines to first offer volunteers compensation in exchange for giving up their seats.

Anyone bumped against their will may be entitled to compensation, with a requirement of up to $1,350, and must be given a written statement detailing their rights and explaining how the airline decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't.

But the DOT, which is reviewing the latest incident to ensure United complied with all consumer protection rules, said it’s ultimately up to the airlines to set their own policies.

Customers agree to these policies whenever they book a ticket and thus agree to an airline’s “contract of carriage,” which may allow a host of other conditions under which a customer can be denied travel.

Some members in Congress are also pushing for new safeguards for travelers.  

Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Dems urge Sessions to reject AT&T-Time Warner merger Democrats tout suit on Trump’s foreign business connections MORE (D-Conn.), for example, has been working on legislation since last Congress to create a new “bill of rights” for airline passengers.

The last major effort, which was implemented under the Obama administration, requires airlines to deplane passengers after a domestic flight has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. Airlines must also ensure adequate food and water is given to customers if an aircraft has been delayed on the tarmac for two hours.

Blumenthal’s update may address cancellation fees, baggage fees, seat sizes, electronic cigarette use, evacuation procedures and airline competition.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)also  is crafting new legislation that would prohibit airlines from forcibly removing passengers from flights to make room for other customers after they have already boarded the plane.

“It is outrageous that airlines can bodily remove passengers after boarding rather than providing appropriate incentives to encourage volunteers,” Van Hollen said in a letter to colleagues urging support for his bill.