New airline rules will benefit customers

DECK: Airlines face fines for bumping passengers, stranding them on tarmac

New airline rules introduced April 21 by the Department of Transportation should get off the ground this August, pressuring airlines to increase customer satisfaction.

The rules would require airlines to refund baggage fees for passengers whose luggage had been lost. Airlines would also have to pay more for bumping passengers off of overbooked planes, and higher fees would be imposed for leaving passengers stranded on the tarmac for extended periods of time.

The plan, scheduled to take effect in August, is an altered version of one introduced last summer. It has been lauded by travel agencies and passenger rights proponents, but criticized by airlines, which complained of the possibility of higher ticket fares and more cancelled flights.

But the rules’ purpose is about more than just efficiency, said Ana Garner, an associate professor of journalism and an expert on airplane disasters and passenger safety.

“The DOT is concerned with more than just simply planes getting off the ground,” Garner said. “They’re worried about the relationship between the mode of transportation and the passengers that they’re carrying.”

Nevertheless, Garner said safety remains a high priority, especially when it comes to planes stuck on the runway.

“Having them stuck on planes for long periods of time, you start to have a question of sanitation, asking people to go without food or water,” Garner said. “From a passenger standpoint, this keeps them (away) from health concerns.”

One new rule would fine foreign airlines for keeping passengers on the tarmac for more than four hours, similar to the three-hour limit applied to domestic airlines last summer. Domestic airlines have said last summer’s rules led to preemptive cancellations as they tried to avoid fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.

Much of what the new rules try to do should be taken care of by free market forces, said John McAdams, an associate professor of political science.

“It sounds good, but the simple fact is that airlines do compete on the basis of such things,” McAdams said. “Any airline that gets a reputation of leaving people on the tarmac for an unjustified length of time is likely to get a bad (image).”

McAdams said the fines airlines pay would likely be reflected in higher ticket prices. But Garner contended that any raised prices are completely unnecessary.

“To argue that they have to raise fees because they can no longer keep passengers on the tarmac endlessly is a bit bogus,” she said.

But McAdams maintained a stance of limited government, saying the proper role of government when it comes to regulation is to simply ensure that the people are well-informed.

Paul Wiehagen, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences who frequently flies home to Maryland, had mixed reactions to the news. Wiehagen said he has never been stuck on the tarmac for a long stretch of time, but once was stuck in an airport for fourteen hours.

“In one sense, it streamlines the process, but on the other hand, a lot of times they’re making sure the engine’s running properly during the delays,” Wiehagen said.