How the New Airlines Passenger Bill of Rights Can Help You

Imagine sitting in a tin can, with no air conditioning, strapped in and not able to get up to use the overflowing toilets. After a few too many incidents of passengers not allowed to move, or get off the airplane because the airplane is waiting…sometimes for hours…to take off from the tarmac, finally good news. On April 19, 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) ruled in favor of the Passenger Bill of Rights, a new set of rules that airlines must follow regarding passenger comfort level, transparency of information, the handling of consumer complaints and other quality-of-travel issues.

The Passenger’s Bill of Rights unequivocally states what the airlines must do to help ensure the quality of travel and consumer rights of their passengers.

  • Passenger complaints—must be responded to within 24 hours, and resolved within two weeks
  • Tarmac delays—Have systems in place so that in the event of a long delay, no plane is on the tarmac for more than three hours without being connected to a gate.
  • Notify of delays—Notify passengers of known delays within 10 minutes via public announcement or the plane’s loudspeaker.
  • Food, water and facilities—In the event of a delay, provide passengers with food, water and lavatory facilities.
  • Elderly, disabled or special needs passengers—Be able to move passengers to another gate orr  establish procedures to reunite them with their baggage.
  • Fee transparency—make the lowest fare information, cancellation policies, frequent flyer program requirements, etc. available and update them frequently.
  • Bumped or delayed passengers—Passengers bumped or delayed more than 12 hours will be compensated with 150% of the ticket price.
  • Non-airline advocates—Establish a Passenger Review Committee made up of non-airline advocates who would be able to review and investigate formal complaints.

The new rules are the result of years of grassroots lobbying efforts by the Flyer’s Rights Movement—everyday people tired of feeling taken advantage of by the airlines. FlyersRights.org, the largest consumer advocacy group in the country, was instrumental in the movement. The Passenger’s Bill of Rights also passed because of concerned advocates and willing listeners in the Department of Transportation and U.S. government, including President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood.

Airlines were concerned about the DOT’s new airline restrictions, particularly the Three Hour Rule that requires airlines to release passengers if a plane is stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours.

The concern, according to the airlines, was that the rule would actually cause more cancellations—perhaps to avoid the hassle of disembarking passengers and follow-up complaints. On the contrary, the new rules are showing to improve airline efficiency and reduce cancellations.

For detailed information about the Passenger’s Bill of Rights, go to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement page