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US DOT new rule leaves consumers vulnerable to unfair airline practices

US DOT new rule leaves consumers vulnerable to unfair airline practices
US DOT new rule leaves consumers vulnerable to unfair airline practices
Written by Harry S. Johnson

A new rule issued late last Friday during a holiday weekend by the U.S. Department of Transportation, codifying its longstanding definitions for the terms “unfair” and “deceptive” when the Department uses its statutory authority to prohibit unfair or deceptive practices by airlines or ticket agents, will make it more difficult for the agency to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive airline industry practices, according to Consumer Reports. 

The DOT’s move to restrict its enforcement and rulemaking efforts is particularly troubling since the federal law that deregulated the industry has been interpreted to preempt state laws that protect consumers in such cases.

“The DOT’s claim that this new rule will benefit the public is itself unfair and deceptive,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports. “This rule adds new layers of bureaucracy that will hamper the DOT’s ability to stop airline industry abuses that aggravate travelers.  It’s a last minute gift from the DOT to airline industry lobbyists that will leave consumers more vulnerable to unreasonable flight delays, misleading fare information, and other frustrating industry practices.  We urge the incoming Biden administration to revoke this misguided rule and rededicate the agency to protecting consumers.”

In the past, the DOT has used its authority to put limits on tarmac delays, require compensation for passengers bumped from overbooked flights, and prohibit advertisements that don’t include the full fare that passengers will pay.  The rule issued last week requires the DOT to follow new processes and documentation practices that will make it harder to enforce or strengthen existing regulations or issue new ones.