While You Weren’t Looking: Revised Airline Policies May Make Flying Better

Four years in the past, David Dao, a 69-year-old Kentucky physician, was forcibly dragged from his seat on a United Airlines flight that was about to depart from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as a result of the airline wished to offer his seat to a transiting crew member. Dr. Dao ended up being carried out on a stretcher. The incident made headlines throughout the nation and folks had been outraged. Cramped seats could also be anticipated by the flying public, however concussions and damaged noses aren’t.

While the nation was distracted by the Washington riots and the continuing pandemic, the skies acquired a bit friendlier for the likes of Dr. Dao. On Jan. 13, the Department of Transportation amended its guidelines to make sure no different passenger has to expertise the ordeal he did.

Once the brand new guidelines take impact, starting on April 21, a ticketed passenger who boards an airplane can’t be involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight.

There are also stricter requirements regarding notifying passengers about oversold flights. Previously, airlines often chose which incentive, such as mileage or travel vouchers, to communicate to volunteers willing to give up their seats. They now must include a cash offer. Specifying this is necessary said Bill McGee, the aviation adviser for the advocacy arm of the nonprofit consumer organization Consumer Reports, because “statistically, most Americans fly less than once a year, even before Covid, so may not be aware of all these rules.”

The maximum liability for lost, pilfered, damaged or delayed baggage was also raised from $3,500 to $3,800.

The new rules were announced during the Trump administration, a few days after Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao resigned in the wake of the riots.

The practice of overbooking, when airlines sell more tickets to a flight than there are seats, stems from an estimation that some passengers will change their plans before the flight and not show up. If too many ticket-holders do arrive at the gate, airlines offer incentives to those who voluntarily give up their seat, and in rarer cases bump passengers involuntarily.

Mr. McGee testified before Congress on this issue four years ago, representing the voice of the consumer. The new rules are important, Mr. McGee said, because they shift the burden of an overbooked flight to the airline from the passenger. “If a carrier operates a flight with 100 seats and they sell 103 tickets,” that’s a business decision, he said. “Now it’s their problem to deal with those extra three tickets, not the passengers’.”

The vast majority of airline passengers are not bumped, and especially now, while most flights are less than full because of the pandemic, the new rules won’t have much of an effect. It is possible that the scenario will present itself, however. Some flights are full despite the decrease in overall passenger numbers, because airlines are operating fewer of them.

As air travel picks up, the new rules will likely affect the airlines more than originally planned, said Helane Becker, the senior research analyst covering airlines at the investment bank Cowen. “When passengers had to pay change fees and rebooking fees, the airlines were somewhat reluctant to overbook because most passengers would show up for their flight,” she said. During the pandemic, airlines have eliminated many of their change and cancellation fees, and passengers, freed from these financial penalties, will be changing plans more often at the last minute. That makes passenger loads for each flight less predictable.

Airlines will need to calculate how to maximize total ticket revenue, Ms. Becker said, weighing the missed income of leaving a seat empty against the chance they may need to pay passengers to move from overbooked flights.

Consumer Reports is ready to present the Biden administration with a list of additional consumer advocacy requests for airline passengers. Among those is securing refunds for airline passengers who canceled travel plans during the pandemic and are being offered only credit toward another flight. Mr. McGee’s organization received thousands of emails from consumers “angry that airlines are getting money from the government, paid for with tax dollars, but weren’t giving refunds to their customers,” he said.

There’s also a need for more complete ticket price transparency, Mr. McGee said. “A family of four that buys tickets for a vacation may get surprised by an extra fee they need to pay to choose seats so they can sit together.” That is not fair, he said. The advocacy group also has concerns about the safety of outsourced airplane maintenance in foreign countries.

Source link Nytimes.com

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