On October 16, 2016, the US Department of Transportation ("DOT") announced enhanced protections for air travelers as well as actions designed to promote airline competition. This includes Final Rule: Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections III ("Consumer Rule III"), which addresses, inter alia, the following:
- Expanding the number of carriers required to report data: Consumer Rule III reduces the passenger revenue threshold from one percent to .5 percent of domestic scheduled passenger revenue for US carriers required to report information to the DOT about their on-time performance, oversales, and mishandled baggage rates. Additionally, US airlines must report data for flights operated by their domestic code-share partners (i.e., flights by generally smaller, regional airlines that are sold under the brand of the larger airline) in order to make their airline performance reports more complete. This change will apply to flights that occur on or after January 1, 2018. See 14 C.F.R. Parts 234, 244, 250.
- Codeshare disclosure: Consumer Rule III enhances the DOT's code-share disclosure regulation to codify the statutory requirement that carriers and ticket agents must disclose any code-share arrangements on their websites on the first display presented in response to a search of a requested itinerary for each itinerary involving a code-share operation. See 14 C.F.R. Part 257.
- Oversales: Pursuant to Consumer Rule III, if a carrier offers free or reduced rate air transportation as compensation to volunteers, the carrier must disclose all material restrictions, including but not limited to administrative fees, advance purchase or capacity restrictions, and blackout dates applicable to the offer before the passenger decides whether to give up his or her confirmed reserved space on that flight in exchange for the free or reduced rate transportation. See 14 C.F.R. Part 250.
- Prohibiting undisclosed bias by airlines and online ticket agents: These new regulations set forth requirements for the display of flight options by electronic airline information systems that provide air carrier or foreign air carrier schedule, fare, or availability information. This includes, but is not limited to, global distribution systems (GDSs), corporate booking tools, and internet flight search tools, for use by consumers, carriers, ticket agents, and other business entities so as to prevent unfair or deceptive practices in the distribution and sale of air transportation. This part applies to any air carrier, foreign air carrier, or ticket agent that operates an electronic airline information system, e.g., GDS, corporate booking tool, or internet flight search tool, that combines the schedules, fares or availability information of more than one air carrier or foreign air carrier for the distribution or sale in the United States of interstate or foreign air transportation. See 14 C.F.R. Part 256.
The DOT also has issued a final rule that changes the mishandled-baggage data that air carriers are required to report from the number of Mishandled Baggage Reports (MBR) and the number of domestic passenger enplanements to the number of mishandled bags and the number of enplaned bags. This rule requires that reporting of separate statistics for mishandled wheelchairs and scooters used by passengers with disabilities and transported in aircraft cargo compartments. See 14 C.F.R. Part 234.
In addition to these measures, the DOT issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which will address a requirement that airlines refund consumers’ baggage fees when their luggage is substantially delayed. DOT has previously taken steps to require airlines to reimburse bag fees when bags are lost.