Long process ahead
Transportation officials say the rule is likely to be formally adopted in the fall, with its provisions taking effect 180 days later. Modifications of the final rule can be made based on public comment.
The increased payback for being denied a seat would be welcome news for passengers at a time when bumpings are on the rise as financially strapped airlines cut back on flights and seats.
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In 2009, some 760,000 passengers were bumped—either by choice or involuntarily—more than twice the 360,000 in 2008. The vast majority of those cases were voluntary, with passengers agreeing to accept compensation in return for giving up their seats. In the first quarter of 2010, 18 major airlines reported that 1.73 passengers in 10,000 were denied boarding, up from 1.35 in that quarter of 2009.
The Air Transport Association of America, the trade group representing leading U.S. airlines, declined immediate comment on the proposed new rules.
“The ATA member airlines’ shared goal is to provide a safe, efficient, reliable and economically viable air transportation system consistent with the expectations of their customers, employees and shareholders,” association CEO James C. May said in a prepared statement. “Today’s DOT notice of proposed rulemaking will be evaluated against that standard, with a focus on minimizing potential passenger inconvenience.”
Airfares could rise
George Hobica, president of the consumer group Airfarewatchdog, predicted that airfares will increase if the rules are adopted.
“The additional money airlines will pay for bumping a passenger is not an insignificant amount,” he told the Bulletin, “and they’ll just pass that incremental cost to passengers. But even paying someone $1,300 is not going to make them happy if you can’t get a flight out.”
His advice for avoiding being bumped: Arrive at the departure gate about an hour before your scheduled departure. Late arrivals are usually the first chosen for involuntary bumping. And you can lose your right to any reimbursement if you’re not at the gate within a set time frame (it varies by airline).
Sid Kirchheimer writes about health and consumer issues.