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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 18, 16, 1:27 pm
  #1  
DOT official
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DOT travel announcement and Q&A: October 19, 2016, 10am-12pm PDT

FlyerTalk will host members of the Obama Administration on this thread to discuss new announcements the administration will make today, October 19, 2016, from 10am to 12pm PDT (1pm-3pm Eastern).

Please bookmark this thread and return at that time for this announcement.

To avoid confusion, please do not post to this thread prior to the DOT announcement.

Thank you.

Last edited by IBJoel; Oct 19, 16 at 9:40 am
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:00 am
  #2  
 
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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.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:03 am
  #3  
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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?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:05 am
  #4  
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Hello DOT:

Thanks for being here. Given that this administration has overseen and approved a great deal of consolidation in the airline industry, which has reduced competition and concentrated pricing power in the hands of three increasingly unresponsive megacarriers largely immune to market forces, what levers do you (or the public) have left to incent a less anti-customer, less exploitative / rapacious industry?

I think most would agree that competition, service quality, and corporate responsiveness have all declined precipitously since 2008, and that these are major meta concerns while your announcements today cover small tactical / incremental changes.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:06 am
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Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
(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?
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.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:07 am
  #6  
 
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Hello,

Thank you for making yourselves available today to answer questions. I'd like to start by asking for clarification of the following:

"Protecting Air Travelers with Disabilities: The largest U.S. airlines will be required to report on how often they mishandle wheelchairs."

By "mishandle," do you mean damage? What about passengers (like me) who routinely face airlines that refuse to return gate-checked wheelchairs, or do not do so in a timely manner? These are instances of a chair not being handled properly, relative to the requirements set forth in the Air Carrier Access Act.

Why does it seem as though the DOT only takes enforcement action against airlines for ACAA violations once a story has gained national attention? (i.e. United and the passenger that crawled off a plane at DCA)

In addition to fines, you have the ability to send cease and desist letters regarding disability violations. Why is that not being done in the face of repeated violations?

How many people do you have assigned to investigate ACAA violations in the Air Consumer Protection Division?

Thank you again for your time.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:11 am
  #7  
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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.

This. I frequently travel light, without checked bags, and would hate to have those costs bundled into my base fare.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:12 am
  #8  
 
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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?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:12 am
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Will you make it easier to file claims than the current process? The current process involves noticing your bag is damaged, filing a claim at the airport, emptying out your belongings and then having nothing to carry them in for many airlines. Will you require airlines to have boxes or something else. I have many broken bags that aren't reported just for this reason.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:16 am
  #10  
 
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Hello,

Why has the DOT not established regulation similar to EU 261? EU261/2004 is a regulation establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellations, or long delays of flights.

Currently, everything is mostly up to the airlines discretion (with the exception of long tarmac delays) and they basically do as they please. Why is regulation not established?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:16 am
  #11  
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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)?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:18 am
  #12  
 
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"""The goal of the new regulations is to improve the flyer experience from the moment passengers purchase tickets to the moment they retrieve their luggage."""

Internline Codeshare baggage simplicity.

Currently, DOT rules state that the rules of the First Marketing Carrier or Major Marketing Carrier apply to baggage fees.

So if I book a flight thru Delta to Hawaii, with an inter-island hop before returning, Delta rules should apply. Not according to Hawaiian Airlines. Even though my flight was booked through Delta, paid to Delta and has a Delta flight number: Hawaiian rules apply (according to them). At best, if they go back to Delta rules - apparently, not ALL of the rules apply: only the basic ones as if I'm a first time flyer. No frequent flyer benefits apply, no credit card perks apply.

A different scenario would be when flying with a SkyTeam Partner. Again, Delta marketed, booked, first and major carrier - all baggage should apply evenly, but it doesn't according to their one extra bag of limited weight rule.

But it's different if I fly to Australia. Not a SkyTeam partner, but there is an "alliance" with them that offers "reciprocal frequent flyer benefits". Whereby Delta's website says that when flying with Virgin Australia (on a Delta ticket), then there is a Delta Medallion status matrix that pairs up with Virgin's Velocity plan: "see the Virgin Australia website for details"
Only to go to the Virgin Australia website to find that they say: "If you're flying on a ticket that starts with DL, please see Delta's website, as their baggage rules may apply"

My point is that when I book a ticket through ONE carrier, I should only have to deal with that ONE carriers rules. All baggage conditions and fees should be handled by that ONE carrier. And yet, the current method of disclosure is to point to the other carrier's website - which in turn, points back to the orginating carriers website - with no real resolution or understanding of what facts/rules will be in place when I get to the check in counter.

When I go to a fast food chain and order a meal: I pay ONE price for the hamburger, fries and drink. I don't have to pay additional fees to a potato farmer in Idaho, I don't have to pay royalties to Pepsi and I don't have to find out that I'm limited in my burger patty size because I only paid the special price.

So when I book a interline/codeshare ticket through an airline that happens to have other airlines in the itinerary, that (booking) airline should take care of the extra baggage fees before giving me a price. So that when I get to that other airline's check-in counter, I'm not shocked that I can't check in with the baggage that I started off with without paying another >$200 just to get to my next destination or home.

As of right now, it takes several days to check with the additional airlines as to what baggage rights I have. And even with rules in writing from customer service agents of multiple airlines, I've gotten to the check-in counter and been told completely the opposite.

The rules need to be 100% standardized to the originating carrier: ALL rules, even that of frequent fliers, so that when ANY flyer buys a ticket, through ANY combination of airlines, they know from the point of clicking "Purchase" what the rules through the whole itinerary will be. And then those rules need to be translated down to the check-in counters to improve the travelers flying experience.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:20 am
  #13  
 
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Hello DOT, Thank you for taking the time to be part of the Flyer Talk community today. My question is this. When airlines are fined (heavily) for a tarmac or runway delay of over three hours, why is the fine not redirected to the passengers that had to sit through it? It feels like this is another opportunity for revenue enhancement for the federal government.
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:21 am
  #14  
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DOT - thanks for doing this.

"""The goal of the new regulations is to improve the flyer experience from the moment passengers purchase tickets to the moment they retrieve their luggage."""

I know this is slightly OT but the whole experience from Purchasing a ticket to retrieving luggage is part of the flying experience, that misses the security screen. I know that is not DOT but DHS-TSA etc, but can you share with us if this experience is likely to get an overhaul in the near future please?
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Old Oct 19, 16, 11:21 am
  #15  
 
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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.
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.
schumer box for airline fees would definitely be useful

(ticket cost, carryon baggage cost/size/weight, check-in/oversized baggage cost/size/weight, cancellation fee, seat selection fee, name change fee, other optional fees)

baggage policy (size/weight) might be difficult with codeshare flights



same question I have from laxmillenial about EU261 regulation in USA - is DOT/White house looking at how EU261 protects consumers in Europe (along with it's shortcomings as well)?
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