Airline customer service commitments — are they worthless?

Are airline customer service commitments worthless?

customer service commitmentsEvery airline has a customer service commitment. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires it. But, DOT refrained from making these customer service commitments a part of the contract of carriage. In other words, an airline customer service commitment does not have the force of law. Airlines cannot be held liable for any violation of their printed “commitment.”

Back in the early 2000s, Travelers United worked closely with DOT to require the current customer service commitments. We also tried to require that airlines make their commitments part of their contracts of carriage. However, at that time, consumer advocates lost the battle. Airlines were forced to include a customer service commitment. But they were not required, under contract law, to abide by their commitment. It was only a partial victory for Travelers United and consumers.

Irritated by hotel resort fees?Following DOT’s spectacular PR production of the airline delay and cancellation matrix, it is time to revisit airline customer service commitments. Congress and DOT should take another look and require that fundamental customer service commitments are enforceable by law rather than at the convenience of the airlines.

Here are links to the customer service commitments of the five largest US airlines

Alaska Airlines Customer Service Commitment
American Airlines Customer Service Plan
Delta Air Lines Customer Commitment
United Airlines Customer Commitment
Southwest Airlines Customer Service Commitment

The DOT rule changes issued in 2011 required airlines to add important elements to their customer service commitments.

  • Lost bags and bag fees — Increased the compensation to $3,800 (today after the consumer price index raises) for lost, damaged, and delayed checked baggage. If the baggage is lost, the rule requires airlines to refund the checked-baggage fees as well.
  • Disclosure of additional fees — Here, Travelers United did not get what it sought — full disclosure of fees at all points of sale. DOT mandated that airlines link to their ancillary fees from their website homepage.  A subsequent rulemaking that has not been completed is reexamining this issue.
  • Bumping (denied boarding) — DOT doubled compensation and added inflation adjustments. One- to two-hour delay compensation increased to $675 and delays of more than two hours received compensation of up to $1,550. (These are the current compensation amounts after inflation adjustments.)
  • Tarmac delay rules — Expanded to foreign carriers.
  • 24-hour rule — Rule allows passengers to cancel reservations without penalty for 24 hours from booking when flights are booked a week before departure.
  • Passenger notifications — Requires airlines to promptly notify consumers of delays of over 30 minutes, as well as cancellations and diversions. This notification must occur in the boarding gate area, on a carrier’s telephone reservation system, and its website.
  • No post-purchase fare increases — Fare can only go up in the case of government-imposed taxes or fees, and only if the passenger is notified of and agrees to the potential increase at the time of sale.

These commitments are not a part of the official contract of carriage

These changes that came into force in 2012 with the publication of the second Passenger Protection rulemaking are all controlled and enforced by DOT. They have not been made part of the contract of carriage or the official contract with passengers. Delta Air Lines did make their customer service commitment a part of their contract of carriage. They are the only airline that has really committed to customer service.

Other customer commitments published by airlines do not have the force of law. They are published with an understood “best efforts” disclaimer.

Join UsTake a moment to see what service commitments your airline is making to you. The airlines strive to fulfill these commitments, but if they fail, an apology and a few frequent flier miles are all most passengers will get in compensation.

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