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DOT travel announcement and Q&A: October 19, 2016, 10am-12pm PDT

DOT travel announcement and Q&A: October 19, 2016, 10am-12pm PDT

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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:21 am
  #16  
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Originally Posted by Hairbus380 View Post
This. I frequently travel light, without checked bags, and would hate to have those costs bundled into my base fare.
as a British tourist, who visits the USA several times a year (4 States so far in 2016) I obviously have a different view. However, we are having to use a European airline to connect to AA (from DUB) and the complexities of that airline's baggage policies, squeezing cash for an extra 3 kg, or another case, are a complete pain. A basic, reasonable, baggage allowance for all is surely simpler ... with an exemption clause for "Hand Baggae Olny" (HBO) if it is actually hand baggage and not a small suitcase.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:22 am
  #17  
 
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Originally Posted by joshwex90 View Post
When discussing "marketing airline" for on-time stats, does that only apply to UA/DL/AA/AS and their Express/Shuttle/Connection subsidiaries/partners, or does it apply to all code-share arrangements (i.e. UA/LH)?
I think the INTENT from the press release is that only regional-jet carrier partners of US domestic airlines will count: "U.S. airlines will have to 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)".

But I guess it's an intellectually interesting question whether AA7364 (the codeshare version of the direct Qantas flight QF12 JFK-LAX, LAX-SYD) would be included in the on-time statistics for American. I assume not; should it be? It miiiiight be possible to fly that Qantas JFK-LAX sector in combination with a previous or onward AA flight.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:22 am
  #18  
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Originally Posted by FirstInFlight View Post
One of the more interesting issues that has arisen recently is the value placed on a refund when a passenger is downgraded. For example, if I go online today and buy a ticket from DCA to ATL I will see a coach price and a first class price.

Let's say the difference in price is $100 so I decide to splurge and buy the $100 upgraded seat. Then, in a few months when it's actually time to fly, the airline determines that it has oversold first class or changed equipment or for whatever reason it downgrades me to coach.

So, I ask for a refund of the $100 that I paid to upgrade my ticket. But the airline say that the price of my ticket, at flight time, was only $20 less than the price of a first class ticket at flight time. That's because, at flight time all the cheap coach tickets are gone and only Y class coach tickets are available. So the airlines refunds me $20 instead of the $100 that I paid.

When you talk about consumer protection and fairness and transparency - any chance you will address this situation?
I think the issue is bigger than this. When one purchases a first or business class ticket, or eve pays extra to reserve a seat with extra legroom or other special characteristics, one isn't just buying an OPTION to get the better seat if the airline decides to provide it. The customer has already revealed that they prefer to pay the $100 extra for the special seat, so that a downgrade should entitle the passenger to more than just return of the excess fare as they didn't want the cheaper coach ticket or they would have purchased it. Involuntary downgrades should be treated as a form of involuntary denied boarding, with generous compensation, reporting requirements, and penalties to airlines that engage in these practices excessively, beyond normal overbooking practices that are sorted out when some passengers don't show for the flight.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:25 am
  #19  
 
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I have to ask: Is this really addressing the concerns consumers have in the new aviation climate, or addressing issues that aren't as big of concerns to most travelers. In particular:

In regards to pricing bias: Are consumers worried about bias in regards to pricing websites, or are they more concerned with pricing issues such as transparency over what a fare includes in regards to baggage, seat availability, changeability, etc; the ability to find on an airline's websites all available flights versus only showing a partial list of available flights; promoting the availability of more flights being available when in fact only more flights to a hub are available, when you are still limited to the same connecting flight no matter which first segment you choose; advertising low fares when in reality that fare is offered on only one or two flights over a period of several weeks? Or is the real consumer concern the fact that they have little choice and transparency anymore over which airlines they can choose from, and what little difference there is between the big three?

In regards to baggage, is the concern that baggage is not ending up at the final destination, or that passengers are loosing access to their luggage due to cancelled flights and misconnects?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:26 am
  #20  
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Originally Posted by SAT Lawyer View Post
Thanks to the DOT for the time that will be spent today discussing consumer protections for air travelers. I would appreciate it if the DOT would shed insight on the following:

In 2011, the DOT implemented a strong consumer protection rule that prohibited airlines from trying to increase the cost of air transportation after a ticket had been purchased and issued. 14 C.F.R. 399.88. In 2012, the DOT clarified that Section 399.88 protected consumers who had purchased and confirmed tickets from claims by the airline that the fare was mistakenly priced too low, thereby disallowing airlines from voiding tickets that had been issued on what essentially amounted to cases of seller’s remorse:
Unfortunately, on May 8, 2015, the DOT announced that, as a matter of prosecutorial discretion, it was going to suspend enforcement of Section 399.88 with respect to fares sold by an airline that the airline later claimed to be mistaken, except that it would require the seller of air transportation to make whole a consumer who had incurred reasonable, actual, and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses in reliance on the ticket purchase. This was a disappointing development to many of us consumers because it eroded and watered down what had previously been a strong, clear, and consumer-friendly regulation. In its May 8, 2015 announcement, the DOT indicated:
Can you provide an update as to the status of the DOT issuing a final rule regarding mistaken fares? Does the DOT intend to restore Section 399.88, as originally written and interpreted by the DOT, before its enforcement was suspended? If not, does the DOT at least intend to impose a requirement on sellers of air transportation that they must notify passengers that they are claiming mistake for which they are seeking to cancel the ticket that was purchased and issued within a fixed period of time – for example, the corresponding 24-hour period of time that consumers often are afforded to cancel their own ticket purchases without penalty – or else the DOT will require them to honor those tickets?
In response to SAT Lawyer (1:03pm):

The issue of “mistaken fares” will be addressed in a upcoming rulemaking. Please refer to the DOT significant rulemaking agenda for the latest schedule, item #81.
https://www.transportation.gov/regul...nt-rulemakings

Last edited by IBJoel; Oct 19, 16 at 2:06 pm
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:27 am
  #21  
 
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Regarding protecting air travelers with disabilities, are there any plans to get airlines to get their inflight entertainment systems captioned? Non-US airlines are significantly ahead of the curve on this.

The requirement to caption TVs in certain airports in the US is a step in a right direction.

Finally, for many deaf passengers needing to resolve issues that cannot be done on the airline's website (for example, to price up a certain fare-type to re-arranging a paid ticket to complaints) - the only avenue is via telephone, I would like to see some sort of internet text-based access to airlines' telephone centres for those who are deaf.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:29 am
  #22  
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A simple regulation that I'd like to see is to require that all tickets purchased in the USA include a full statement of fare rules, for all fares that are part of the ticket. This could easily be done as a PDF attachment to the emailed ticket receipt.

Currently, about half of the time the fare rules aren't available on the airline's website when I purchase tickets and there is no way to retrieve them after purchase without paying for a subscription service such as ExpertFlyer. If I need to change my ticket, I have no way to verify that the phone agent's claims about my fare rules and their interpretations are indeed correct.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:31 am
  #23  
 
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Is there anything in the works to address passenger abuse of the emotional support animal rules and allows the airlines a little more latitude in dealing with ESAs that seem likely to be disruptive to air crew and other passengers?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:32 am
  #24  
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Originally Posted by Cloudship View Post
...is the real consumer concern the fact that they have little choice and transparency anymore over which airlines they can choose from, and what little difference there is between the big three?
I agree that owing to the virtual territory-dividing oligopoly DOJ has enabled, these little niche transparency moves are of very limited value. Most travelers aren't buying SFO-NYC, with all sorts of nonstop competition. They are going GFK-BGR or LNK-PSP, so they effectively only have one airline to choose from.

How does DOT engineer more consumer responsiveness among airlines when DOJ-approved consolidation has made consumer responsiveness a non-issue?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:34 am
  #25  
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Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
Thanks for sharing your time with us. Can you please spell out how today's proposed changes will improve competition between the remaining airlines?

The DOT press release says that these changes will "relieve undue burden on competition". But it's non-obvious how the specific changes pinpointed in the press release relate to competition between carriers.

From the frequent traveler's perspective, the Obama administration's legacy is one of customer-unfriendly mergers leading to a slowly eroding consumer experience. Airline share prices are up, but that's cold comfort for people who have to buy tickets instead of stock. It might help shake the feeling that federal regulators have shepherded a decade of oligopolistic progress if we could better understand how these rule changes are meant to improve consumers' available choices.

Domestic travelers see that in a market with less competition, everything seems to be getting worse — from withering frequent-flyer programs to shrunken, oligopolistic "capacity-discipline" schedules to expansion of high-density seating in domestic markets to sky-high peak-season fares that surge even as industry costs retreat.

If anything, it seems like recent DOT activity has hurt competition, rather than helping it, which is why I'm wondering how these changes will reverse the trend. An October 2016 ProPublica feature story chronicled how the DOT and DOJ were roundly outclassed and outmaneuvered by merging companies which promised pro-consumer improvements and then delivered essentially the opposite, with no penalty for lying (https://www.propublica.org/article/a...ying-antitrust). Today's press release doesn't seem to give any hint that if another two airlines wanted to merge (or if the remaining airlines wanted to coordinate some additional passenger-unfriendly change), that the DOT or DOJ or any agency would be effective in providing any consumer protection at all -- which is a gap I'd like to understand.

To be specific about the question:

(1) I'm struggling to understand how requiring baggage fee refunds for delayed baggage, demanding that smaller airlines report passenger service metrics to the DOT, retooling passenger service metrics to attribute regional carriers' performance to the affiliated mainline carrier, increasing reporting requirements about baggage, increasing reporting requirements about mishandled wheelchairs, or adding members to an advisory committee will have any effect on competition. What is the link?

(2) And I'm also not sure how forcing airlines and OTAs to change the way they market flights ("prohibited from biasing on behalf of certain airlines how they present available flights for purchase without disclosing this bias") will affect competition -- can you explain how you think this change will affect the fact that the vast majority of city pairs are served nonstop by one or at most two airlines who typically maintain monopoly or duopoly pricing power in the market?

(3) And I also see that the DOT is considering a rule that would prevent airlines from hiding inventory, fare information, and schedule information from "online travel sites". (I know you guys mean "Southwest shouldn't be able to hide its prices from Expedia!" but in my heart of hearts I'm hoping you end up doing something great and publish a rule that means "Delta shouldn't be able to hide from ExpertFlyer".) Is this coming rule change designed to be pro-competition? How?

(4) Finally I'm not sure whether the proposed "explore whether we should require airlines to be more transparent about unbundling" experiment is meant to affect competition. Is it? How?

Thanks for your time. I'm really interested in understanding how the DOT believes these changes will accomplish their stated objectives.
In reply to mehrdeg (1:00pm):

(1) The Department’s new actions make airline performance more transparent to consumers. We believe that giving passengers better information will empower them to make informed decisions and increase competition.

(2) And I'm also not sure how forcing airlines and OTAs to change the way they market flights ("prohibited from biasing on behalf of certain airlines how they present available flights for purchase without disclosing this bias") will affect competition -- can you explain how you think this change will affect the fact that the vast majority of city pairs are served nonstop by one or at most two airlines who typically maintain monopoly or duopoly pricing power in the market?

The rule does not require a particular format for marketing flights. It prohibits airlines and online travel websites from displaying an airline’s flights in a biased manner for or against certain carriers unless that bias is disclosed. Search results can still be organized by price, departure time, flight duration, or whatever parameters a consumer may choose. The only change is that when those search results are displayed, the airlines offering the flights must be listed in a neutral order. Or, if the display ranks a particular airline’s flights higher (or lower) than other airlines, that fact must be disclosed.

(3) The Department issued a Request for Information regarding the effects and implications of airline practices that restrict the distribution or display of airline flight information by online travel agencies or metasearch entities that operate flight search tools in response President Obama’s Executive Order to Spur Competition. The Department is seeking comments from all the stakeholders to advance the Department’s understanding of market dynamics.

With that said, Southwest has an uncommon business model because it sells its tickets directly to consumers and not through online travel entities. While we have heard concerns from members of Congress and from online ticket agents and metasearch sites about how airlines that sell through third parties restrict access to certain fare and schedule information, no one has suggested that Southwest should be required to change its business model.

(4) Finally I'm not sure whether the proposed "explore whether we should require airlines to be more transparent about unbundling" experiment is meant to affect competition. Is it? How?

We believe that the more information consumers have about flight options, the more they are empowered to identify the best and most convenient flight options for their travel, and that in turn will increase completion as airlines work to provide the best options to consumers.

Last edited by IBJoel; Oct 19, 16 at 2:11 pm
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:35 am
  #26  
 
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DOT

I would like to know how an Airline can take your money for a ticket or tickets and if your plans change the change fee wipes out $1600.00 and there is no value left.

Are there any plans to address this?

Where I come from they call that theft.

They keep the money and in return the consumer get's absolutely nothing.

Where is the consumer protection and fairness for the public?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:37 am
  #27  
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Originally Posted by thejaredhuang View Post
I would also like clarification about this. It is already widely known that there are baggage fees and for some airlines fees to check in at the airport. By incorporating all of these fees into a ticket price, wouldn't that just increase the price the average consumer sees? Most people know how to avoid fees when they travel. A much simpler and quicker solution would be to post a guide on how to check for certain fees (e.g. baggage, boarding pass, etc) instead of creating an committee to try to force airlines to incorporate fees into the base fare.

A la carte is how the world is shifting, don't try to fight it. For example people are starting to bundle their cable TV and picking channels a la carte.
In response to thejaredhuang (1:06pm):

The Department is not opposed to unbundling fares. The Department is focusing on transparency of fares and fees that have been unbundled.

Last edited by IBJoel; Oct 19, 16 at 2:36 pm
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:37 am
  #28  
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Based on what was included in the press announcement, I see two missing areas that affect passenger health, safety, convenience, and comfort:

There should be uniform rules regarding customers of size. If they encroach on another passenger's space, they should be required to purchase a second seat. If no such seat is available, the customer of size (and not the other passenger having the misfortune to have been assigned a seat next to the customer of size) should be required to be offloaded.

Similarly, there should be uniform rules regarding emotional support animals as instances of outrageous abuse seem to be growing. Require carriers to transport these animals as the pets they really are and don't permit them to be handled in some grey area between pets and genuine trained service animals. Specifically, don't permit emotional support ducks, pigs, horses, rodents, etc. or even large dogs to be lose in airline cabins during flight. If the supposed emotional support animal cannot fit into a normally sized underseat carrier or does not belong to a species that the airline is willing to handle as a pet, then the animal should be relegated to the cargo hold.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:38 am
  #29  
 
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Has the DOT considered any regulations about in-fight passenger experience? Specifically, requiring more legroom and seat width, and also requiring meals on flights of a certain length?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:38 am
  #30  
 
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DOT - thanks for doing this.

I regularly notice situations where an airline knows that departure/arrival information is outdated but is clearly delaying communicating it to passengers.

Airlines may have a reason to do so -- they might know that there is a delay, but not the precise length -- but I think most passengers would prefer an announcement like "there is a delay of at least X minutes but we don't know the exact length yet" to no announcement at all.

When a flight is 5 minutes from scheduled departure, the inbound aircraft has not yet arrived, it is clear that the airline has know of a delay for some time but communicated nothing.

Is there anything in implemented rules, rules in progress, or matters under study, that addresses this or other such situations?

Thanks.
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