A knowledgeable passenger is the airlines’ best passenger.
The call to action is simple — the airlines should tell passengers their airline travel rights where compensation is involved. Don’t make airline passengers dig through page after page of government regulation. Don’t make passengers guess.
If boarded passengers knew they could get $1,350 apiece in cash if they agreed to involuntary denied boarding there would have been a stampede. For some inexplicable reason, some airlines do not allow their gate agents to offer more than $800 in airline scrip. However, airlines must give every passenger prevented from boarding involuntarily their airline travel rights dealing with involuntary denied boarding compensation. That paper would tell passengers that they are due up to $1,350 in cash, not airline scrip.
This is not a big or difficult request. It doesn’t require any new legislation. The airlines do agree to this as an industrywide change that the United Airlines incident produced. If the airlines agreed, the Secretary of Transportation almost immediately could protect millions of passengers. Even without airline cooperation, the Secretary can choose to put the traveling public benefits in front of those of airlines.
Plus, these compensation rights only affect travelers in less than a handful of cases, especially when it comes to denied boarding compensation. Why are airlines and the Department of Transportation (DOT) keeping these rights under cover? Airlines, until this last week, may have been reluctant to set themselves up for what may be big payments. However, DOT is the protector of the flying public, not the protector of the airline industry. Why isn’t DOT taking advantage of laws already passed to let passengers know their rights?
With cooperation of the airlines, these airline passenger rights can become common knowledge.
- Whenever luggage is lost, damaged, or delayed, passengers are by regulation eligible for up to $3,500 per passenger in compensation for domestic flights and about $1,600 for international flights.
- A passenger bumped off a flight is eligible for up to $1,350 in cash.
- When international flights are delayed passengers are eligible for compensation depending on the airline they are flying and their destination.
In Europe, the government has asked airports to voluntarily put up posters in baggage carousel areas explaining to passengers that if luggage is lost, delayed or damaged that they have rights. Other posters near jetways inform passengers of compensation for delayed flights. And, yet others explain the denied boarding compensation rules that come into play when travelers are “bumped” from overbooked flights.
This European-spearheaded effort has been a rousing success. Posters are found in virtually every airport and displayed where they do the most good — in baggage carousel areas and at boarding gates. The effort works. Europeans know airline travel rights.
Here in the USA, passengers can have these same kinds of public notifications.
There is really no excuse.
The DOT has the power under legislation to require airports to display public service announcements that the Secretary of Transportation deems in the public interest — explaining airline travel rights. This has been a part of every air travel appropriations bill for the past decade.
DOT has the power to require that airlines notify passengers of their airline travel rights. DOT already mandates that airlines tell passengers about code-share flights on their Internet ticket purchase programs and on boarding passes. Airlines should be required to tell passengers information about their traveler rights. It would keep the airlines honest and make DOT’s enforcement far easier — hundreds of thousands of traveler eyes looking for compliance are far more effective than a dozen or so on an annual “airport inspection.”
The recent report about consent orders imposed during this past year shows that virtually every airline checked for compliance with passenger notifications and accurate rule disclosure was found to be lacking. It is time for a change.
As simple a notice as this two-sentence sample would do it on ticket itineraries and on computer-generated boarding passes.
Passengers can claim up to $3,500 compensation in cases of lost, damaged, or delayed checked baggage, up to $1,350 in cash for denied boarding compensation, and other compensation for delayed international flights. File complaints with DOT at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm
Travelers United has already prepared a presentation showing that posters can be put up at airlines or shown on video displays at virtually no cost to the government. Production of these customer service posters can be subsidized by advertisers and they can be displayed as many other public service announcements are displayed throughout airports across the country.
Not informing passengers of their rights is simply unfair. The solution is easy. If airlines are truly contrite about their customer service failures, they should agree to these posters, videos, and notifications. Plus, airlines stand to gain from uninformed passengers. It’s time to inform travelers and the airlines should lead the charge.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.