Passing a bill through Congress is not enough — passengers need delayed checked-bag-fee refund rules from DOT, too.
Most Americans don’t realize that getting a bill passed through Congress (already a major accomplishment) is not enough. The executive department responsible for writing the regulations defining the legislation still must do its part before the laws can be enforced. Consumers still do not have delayed checked-bag-fee refund rules from DOT.
The Department of Transportation has been asleep at the switch. First, they did nothing during the last six months of the Obama administration about delayed checked-bag-fee refund rules from DOT. The Trump administration was AWOL for its entire administration. And now, despite dozens of letters from consumer advocates and congressmen, the Biden administration had done nothing. A notice of proposed rulemaking was issued a year ago, but nothing concrete has happened. Consumers and airline passengers are waiting and waiting.
Passengers are tired of being charged fees for services that are not rendered. Where is DOT?
The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act passed Congress and was signed into law in July 2016 — consumer provisions have been ignored.
This law gave the Department of Transportation (DOT) one year to develop rules requiring fee refunds for delayed luggage. Specifically, the law required DOT to adopt rules requiring the airlines to issue prompt baggage fee refunds. when checked luggage is not delivered within 12 hours after the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours after the arrival of an international flight. Travelers United responded to the rulemaking petition saying that bags should be delivered to passengers upon arrival at the destination airport. There should be no grace periods.
By statute, the DOT was required to take final action on both of these regulations no later than one year after enactment of the bill – or July 16, 2017. Unfortunately, DOT did not finalize a regulation by the deadline.
The pre-COVID summer travel seasons of 2017 to 2019 were some of the busiest on record. Now post-pandemic, we have one of the strongest summer travel seasons. And no new rules after two years of this administration’s DOT.
Enter the heart of the 2017 summer travel season, each further day of delay caused substantial consumer harm. According to DOT statistics, the top 13 U.S. carriers collected almost $4.2 billion in ancillary baggage fees. This works out to approximately $11.4 million in checked baggage fees per day. And, even assuming that only two percent of paid checked baggage is not delivered within the deadlines, that amounts to almost $229,000 in refunds that consumers are not receiving every day this rule is delayed. This amount of baggage fees collected increased every year until 2019.
These figures do not include other costs to passengers by not having their belongings arrive with their flight.
Until rules are written, airlines keep all fees even when not providing the service for which they are paid. DOT should be ashamed.
Because of the meltdown of the aviation system, checked-bag-fee refund rules are now raising Senate ire and public and media discussion. Finally, there may be some real action from our congressmen and DOT. The international aviation system allows airlines to abuse passengers and keep monies collected.
Congress passed a law requiring airlines to issue prompt fee refunds for delayed bags. Then Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) asked to know why it was taking so long for the administration to act. In that letter, Sen. Bill Nelson asked DOT to act. That was 2017.
Recently, DOT issued a rulemaking in July 2021 regarding changing the regulations around delayed checked-bag-fee refund rules. That is about the last time that Congress has mentioned this part of consumer protections included in the 2016 FAA Bill. Now, it has been another year, and consumers are still waiting for regulations. Airlines must refund checked-bag-fees paid for no customer service. Airlines should be accountable for their actions.
Today, a year after the NPRM was issued to deal with delayed checked-bag-fee refund rules from DOT, Travelers United echoes Sen. Nelson’s (D-FL) question. Where are the regulations required to be instituted six years ago? Why is DOT still dragging its feet?
Today’s DOT Delayed Baggage Rule (From DOT website)
- Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed – subject to the maximum liability limits, ($3,800). SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS.
- Airlines are not allowed to set an arbitrary daily amount for interim expenses. For example, an airline cannot have a policy that they will reimburse a passenger up to only $50 for each day that a passenger’s bag is delayed.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 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.