The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has implemented new rules to benefit airline passengers, on or before January 26, 2012. Generally the new rules improve the customer's treatment for flight delays or cancellations, baggage service and airline reservations, plus makes sure all fees are transparent to the customer when quoted. This refers to travel agent quoted airfares as well, whether it is a single airfare, air with a cruise, or air inclusive tour. These new rules are important for travel agents to review, as there may need to be adjustments in agent selling techniques, updates in automation and more.
An overview of the new rules include:
- If a reservation is made more than 7 days in advance with an airline, the reservation must be held for the quoted price for 24 hours without cancellation or price increase. This rule does not apply to ticket agents.
- The airfare must be advertised with the full airfare. Air carriers may still exclude government taxes and fees that are imposed on a per passenger basis. If the ticket is being "paid" with frequent flyer miles, passengers must be quoted the amount of miles plus any dollar amount of extra fees applied to the transaction.
- Tickets cannot be quoted as "one-way," when they must be purchased as a "round trip" ticket.
- Tickets must be refunded promptly, including all fees, in the case of an oversale situation or cancelled flight.
- Notification of reason for flight delay must be relayed every 30 minutes to passengers waiting to board a flight.
- Foreign and U.S. air carriers cannot be held on the tarmac for more than four hours for international flights, and three hours for domestic flights, without allowing passengers to deplane, except for few exceptions. Those planes with over 30 passengers must have a contingency plan for tarmac delay.
- Food and water must be provided after two hours on the tarmac without an opportunity to deplane.
- Airlines must have mishandled or lost luggage delivered within 24 hours, and return baggage fees promptly for lost luggage.
- The minimum denied boarding compensation limit is now $650 or 200% of the one-way airfare, whichever is smaller.
- Cancellation policies, plane configuration, lavatory information, and frequent flyer rules must be posted on the airline website.
- If passengers are offered denied boarding compensation on a volunteer basis, they are to be made aware of all restrictions for use of the vouchers in lieu of cash.
- Any change to baggage fees and allowances must be posted on the website homepage for three months, including free baggage allowance.
- Airlines must include on e-ticket confirmations the free baggage allowance and any baggage fee for the first and second bag, plus any carry-on fees. Ticket agents must include hyperlink to the baggage information.
- The same baggage allowances and fees must remain the same throughout the airline journey.
- If a tour operator, cruise line or travel agency is advertising a price including air, they must specify from what city the price is good for, and may differ from other gateway cities.
- If an airfare for a segment of the airline trip is quoted, it must include taxes and fees, or otherwise wait and quote the entire ticket price.
- Post-purchase price increases for airline tickets are banned, with exception of government-imposed fees or taxes when passengers were notified at time of sale of possible increase of tax and fees. This includes baggage fees and fuel surcharges.
- Itinerary changes must be relayed to the passenger within 30 minutes of the change, for flights within seven days of departure. For other schedule changes for flights over seven days before flight departure, passenger should be informed in a timely manner, with a 48 hour time frame as a reference.
- Airlines must post information concerning where to file complaints about their scheduled air service on e-ticket confirmations.
- Optional products or services cannot be quoted in the price of the airfare, such as cancellation insurance, must be quoted separately. On line booking tools cannot "pre check" products like insurance. Instead customers must "opt in" and check for the extra product or service.
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), is a good source for information about necessary changes agents should make, or answers to necessary questions agents may have. The changes are very in depth, and are a welcome measure for airline passengers. Travel agents must be held aware of all the changes to help their passengers and protect themselves and their business.
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