Post basic passenger travel rights at airports. Don’t protect the airlines.
The call to action is simple — DOT should tell us basic passenger travel rights where compensation is involved. Don’t make airline passengers dig through page after page of government regulation. Passengers should not have to guess what regulations are. Don’t allow airlines to mislead travelers. Do the right thing.
This is not a big or difficult request. It doesn’t require any new legislation. The Secretary of Transportation could protect millions of passengers within a handful of months. The Transportation Secretary must 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. Why is the Department of Transportation (DOT) keeping these rights hard-to-find? Why isn’t DOT taking advantage of laws already passed to let passengers know their rights?
DOT’s regulations come as three basic passenger travel rights. Each promises compensation to travelers.
- 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.
- When a passenger is bumped off a flight, they are 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 put up posters in airports. In baggage carousel areas posters explain passenger compensation when luggage is lost, delayed, or damaged. Some posters inform passengers of compensation when flights are delayed. Others explain the denied boarding compensation rules that come into play when travelers are “bumped” from overbooked flights.
The European-spearheaded passenger notification effort has been a rousing success
Passenger rights posters are found in virtually every airport in Europe. They are displayed where they do the most good — in baggage carousel areas and at boarding gates.
In the USA, these kinds of public notifications informing passengers of basic passenger travel rights are lacking. Why are DOT’s regulations not publicized at airports?
- The DOT has not required airports to post these kinds of notices for passengers. However, the law passed by Congress allows publication of DOT’s regulations so passengers know the rules.
- Airports care more about airlines than they do about their passengers. Fliers fund airport operation through passenger facility charges and that makes airport construction possible through municipal bonds.
- Airlines are loath to tell passengers their rights. They would rather bargain with ignorant travelers than face an informed passenger.
There is really no excuse
The DOT has the power under legislation to require airports to display public service announcements about basic passenger travel rights. When the Secretary of Transportation deems notifications in the public interest, the law says it must be done. This has been a part of every air travel appropriation bill for longer than the past decade. It has been ignored by DOT every year since it was included in the funding bills.
DOT has the power to require that airlines notify passengers of their rights.
DOT mandates that airlines tell passengers about code-share flights on their Internet ticket purchase programs and on boarding passes. Airlines should tell fliers information about their passenger travel rights. It would keep the airlines honest and make DOT’s enforcement far easier. Hundreds of thousands of travelers’ eyes looking for compliance are far more effective than a dozen or so on an annual “airport inspection.”
A recent DOT reported fines imposed during this past year. Virtually every airline checked for compliance with passenger notifications and accurate rule disclosure was found to be lacking. It is time for a change.
On ticket itineraries and on computer-generated boarding passes the following should be included.
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 a presentation showing that posters can be put up at airports or shown on video displays. This can be done for almost no cost to the government. Production of these customer service posters can be subsidized by advertisers. And they can be displayed as other public service announcements are displayed throughout airports across the country.
Not informing passengers of their rights is simply unfair. The solutions are easy. They are championed by consumers and consumer advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. Only airlines stand to gain from uninformed passengers. It’s time to inform travelers and DOT 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.