“Airline Passengers have Rights”

So said Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, today when he announced a new rule that significantly strengthens protections afforded to consumers by establishing a hard time limit of three hours, after which U.S. airlines must allow passengers to deplane from domestic flights. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 864 flights delayed on runways by three or more hours this year through Oct. 30.

In addition, the new rule also requires airlines to provide food and water to passengers within two hours of a delay, keep the lavatories functional and provide medical attention to passengers who may need it. Failure to provide these services can result in fines of $27,500, per passenger, per violation, according to LaHood. Depending on how many passengers are aboard these fines can be mighty hefty.

Some additional requirements –
• Prohibits airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those who do to DOT enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices;
• Requires airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints;
• Requires airlines to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate;
• Requires airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans; and
• Prohibits airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.

The rule would apply to planes with more than 30 seats and goes into effect April, 2010.

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