Department of Transportation issues new rules to protect airline customers

January 08, 1995|By Newsday

Safety concerns have taken priority lately, but the U.S. Department of Transportation has also initiated a number of actions aimed at strengthening consumer protections for airline travelers.

Here are some details:

* Events packages. Tour operators no longer can accept payment for a package that includes an event ticket unless an actual ticket is available for the purchaser or the operator has a firm contract for the ticket. If operators can't deliver, they must refund the entire tour price within three days. Also, the price of the tour package may not be raised within 10 days of departure. And if the price increases by more than 10 percent, the consumer may cancel and receive a full refund. The rules apply to tours organized for the purpose of attending any sporting, social, religious, educational, cultural, political or other event of a special nature and limited duration and for which admission to the event is advertised as part of the tour.

* On-time performance. From now on, airlines have to include in their monthly on-time performance tallies all flights delayed or canceled for mechanical reasons -- previously excepted from these reports.

* Baggage liability. The department has proposed raising from $1,250 to $1,850 the minimum compensation passengers are entitled to collect when airlines lose or mishandle valuable luggage on domestic trips. If your bag is worth less than that, they can pay you less. But if you can prove it's worth more, they would have to pay you at least $1,850 * Code-sharing. This is a common industry practice in which one airline advertises and sells the services of another as its own, enabling it to market "seamless" service to far-flung points it doesn't fly to itself. Often, however, passengers aren't informed when they buy their tickets that the journey will involve not only a change of planes but a change of airlines at one or more points.

Current rules directly require only U.S. airlines to give reasonable and timely notice of code-sharing arrangements and don't apply directly to travel agents (though they must refrain from unfair or deceptive consumer practices). Under the new rules, carriers and ticket agents would have to provide written notice to each passenger of the identity of the airline providing the transportation.

The new rules on baggage liability and code-sharing are likely to be in place early this year, a department spokesman said.

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