New baggage reporting rules will protect passengers and handicapped mobility devices. 


baggage reporting rulesThe Department of Transportation (DOT) has just released its final baggage reporting rules on Airline Reporting of Data on Mishandled Baggage, Wheelchairs, and Scooters. It may not sound like much, but these new rules are the end of a very long, step-by-step process to change the previous system that provided misleading statistics about an airline’s handling of checked baggage and that provided no data for mobility device damages. Travelers United was one of the main protagonists in the efforts over the past seven years.

The former DOT statistics actually rewarded airlines for bad baggage service

The British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli is famously credited with the phrase: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The expression has been around almost as long as the word statistics (first coined in 1749, for those wondering). The old DOT statistics provided a perfect example of false statistics reporting. And though the statistics were clearly faulty, they were repeated over and over by the airlines and media to demonstrate that airline checked-baggage service was improving.

Baggage statistics will be based on the number of checked bags.

The new baggage reporting rules will require that lost bag statistics be reported based on the number of bags checked, not based on passengers enplaned. When airlines began charging for checked baggage, they actually encouraged passengers to not check baggage. The former DOT reporting rules meant that fewer checked bags per 1,000 passengers translated to a lower mishandled baggage rate. Hence, an airline that prior to charging $25 (now $30) for the first checked bag would show an “improvement” in baggage handling statistics when fewer bags were checked. Rather than telling the truth, the old reporting rules allowed the statistics to tell a lie. Plus, the reporting rules allowed lost baggage claims to be aggregated, making the mishandled-baggage statistics appear even more favorable to the airlines.

The truth be told, fewer bags were being checked, making it seem that baggage handling was improving when it was not. Plus, airlines such as Southwest Airlines that did not charge for baggage showed almost no improvement because the numbers of checked bags per 1,000 passengers remained constant.

Baggage statistics will be reported for the entire airline, including its regional codeshare flights.

Click here to subscribeThe new rule also requires airlines to report their statistics as an entire airline, including their codeshare regional carriers. Under the former rules, airlines were allowed to split their reporting between the mainline carrier and their regional carriers. The last airline to handle baggage or to take the final non-delivery complaint was saddled with the mishandled baggage report.

With almost half of the network carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines serving their routes with codeshare regional partners, their mainline statistics always appeared far better than the statistics of their regional carriers. For instance, when American Airlines was rated with good baggage handling statistics, their American Eagle regional carrier was always one of the worst airlines for mishandled baggage. The new rules will provide passengers with a more informative set of data.

The rule also requires airlines to report separate statistics for mishandled wheelchairs and scooters.

For the first time, airlines are now responsible for reporting damage to mobility devices such as wheelchairs and scooters. This important group of statistics is amazingly important to the handicapped passengers. When their motorized wheelchair or electric scooter is damaged, their mobility is stopped. They cannot go anywhere without being carried or finding a way to get their mobility device repaired. The new DOT rules will force airlines to maintain records of how they handle their mobility devices.

The number of airlines required to report these statistics to DOT has been increased to 12.

These airlines are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Envoy Air, ExpressJet Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, SkyWest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines.

These DOT checked-baggage reporting changes will take place at the beginning of 2019.

This is excerpted from the DOT document, Airline Reporting of Data on Mishandled Baggage, Wheelchairs, and Scooters. Note that the battle to change these reporting rules started back in 2011 and were published by DOT in 2016. Change comes slowly in Washington, DC, even with simple commonsense changes. (The rule formatting has been changed to make it more understandable to passengers.)

On November 2, 2016, the Department published a final rule in the Federal Register titled “Reporting of Data for Mishandled Baggage and Wheelchairs and Scooters Transported in Aircraft Cargo Compartments.” 81 FR 76300.

This November 2 final rule changed the methodology that airlines are required to use in reporting to the Department their mishandled baggage data, from the number of mishandled baggage reports (MBRs) filed with the airline and the number of domestic passenger enplanements to the number of mishandled bags and the number of enplaned bags.1

The rule also requires airlines to report separate statistics for mishandled wheelchairs and scooters.

On November 3, 2016, the Department published another final rule titled “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections III,”81 FR 76826, that, among other things, lowered the reporting carrier threshold for mishandled baggage from at least 1 percent of domestic scheduled passenger revenues to at least 0.5 percent. The November 3 final rule further requires reporting carriers that market domestic scheduled codeshare flights to file separate mishandled baggage data for codeshare flights that carry only one U.S. carrier’s code. In March 2017, the Department provided that carriers would be required to comply with the changes to mishandled baggage reporting requirements made by these two final rules with respect to air transportation occurring on or after January 1, 2019. See 82 FR 14437 (March 21, 2017); 82 FR 14604 (March 22, 2017).

1 … Under the new methodology, airlines report the number of bags that were mishandled as opposed to the number of MBRs filed by passengers. Also, today, airlines report the number of passenger enplanements. Under the new methodology, U.S. airlines will report the number of checked bags enplaned (including bags checked at the gate and “valet” bags) rather than the number of passenger enplanements.

Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash