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New Rules Protecting U.S. Airline Passengers Start Today

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - 09:24 AM

Airplanes wait to take off fro JFK Airport (photo by ATIS547 via Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation's latest set of "flier protection" rules go into effect today.

The department can now impose large fines on international flights that wait on the tarmac more than four hours. Airlines will also have to clearly display fees charged on everything from checking a bag to reserving a seat to buying food. And a passenger can expect higher compensation from an airline that loses his luggage or involuntarily bumps her from a flight.

New York's airports, in particular, played a dubious role as a catalyst to the crack-down on long delays before take-off. In 2007, 154 flights were stuck on a runway at JFK Airport for more than three hours. Two-thirds of all long waits in the country happened at one of the metropolitan area's three major airports.

Then, in 2010, the U.S. DOT began fining domestic airlines for those delays and the numbers plummeted. Now the department will do the same for international flights.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, applauded the change. He also agreed with airlines being forced to clearly display all their charges to online ticket buyers. His is one of several consumer groups that say buying a ticket online means digging deep into an airline's website to understand what fees it charges.

"They've had their fees buried on screen four, five and six, or just before you get ready to take your credit card out," Mitchell said.

Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association (an airline trade association), said airlines strive to communicate clearly with passengers. "Airlines already have made many service improvements and many of the regulations going into affect formalize procedures already in place," Lott said.

In January, airlines will face even more rules, including notifying passengers at the boarding gate if their flight is delayed or cancelled.

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