Lots of Sound, Little Fury in New Department of Transportation Proposed Passenger Rights Rules

Coming out today are a new series of proposed ‘passenger rights’ rules. They’re trumpeted, in the news, and don’t amount to much — though on net I’d score them a mild negative.

The Department of Transportation will require more upfront disclosure of fees for various services on top of ticket pricing.

It’s not at all clear that consumers want this information. Bureaucrats and pundits want consumers to want it. But their behavior suggests that they don’t. And perhaps for good reason — travel booking in a do-it-yourself world is complicated enough that many consumers would face information overload. It’s telling that there have been so few travel portals which bundle this information for easy consumer access. The major online booking site business is fiercely competitive, and yet none of them sees offering this information as a major advantage in improving the customer experience and gaining market share.

Ultimately this probably imposes IT costs on airlines, confuses consumers, all in the name of political grandstanding (“we’re doing something about the fees everyone hates so much”) but I don’t think anyone is made better off by it.

DOT also plans to increase compensation for involuntary denied boarding to $1200.

If the cost of an involuntary denied boarding is higher, it may incentivize airlines to offer more voluntary denied boarding compensation to get passengers to voluntarily give up their seat in an oversold situation. As a passenger, I’m all for bigger bump vouchers (even though I rarely take them these days)!

On the other hand, it may mean less willingness to overbook, fewer last minute full fare ticket sales, that’s bad both for elite passengers using guaranteed availability on sold out flights and even standard full fare paying business travelers, the economic value of whsoe travel is probably higher — not just to the airline but to the economy.

And in the end I probably wouldn’t push the button to impose higher economic costs on airlines that have struggled financially for a decade, even if ‘we don’t like’ the practice of overbooking. Still, I don’t have a strong opinion on $400 vs. $800 vs. $1200, though I prefer that this be a matter of airline marketing and Contract of Carriage language, let a JetbLue market how good they are in this dimension and make it a reason to choose Jetblue over a competitor for instance.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Even with changes to make pricing more ‘clear’ it still won’t clarify much. Ticket pricing will still depend on other charges, so it’s moot in my opinion. When it comes down to it today all I have to do is get to a payment confirmation page online to see what the actual charge is.

  2. While its great that the DOT is raising the caps on IDB compensation, it’s important to remember that these are only caps: if you bought a cheap ticket, it’s still cheap for the airline to bump you. Even worse, DOT isn’t proposing to fix the most abused part of the oversale rule, which allows carriers to prorate your ticket and only compensate you for the remaining portion of the journey. So if you’re on an SFO-IAD-BOS ticket and they get you to IAD, they might base the compensation on only 20% or so of your one-way fare. Yet a four hour delay in IAD has the same effect as a four hour delay in SFO: you still get to Boston late. That’s the piece of the rule that needs to change.

  3. Anything that helps pax compare prices between airlines, before they get to the payment-confirmation page, is good for the pax.

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