Airline passengers frustrated by inconsistencies in how carriers advertise their fares will get some relief next month when a new federal rule kicks in requiring that all government taxes and fees be included in the stated price.
That means customers searching online for the best fare won't have to click through to fine print that boosts the final price. Airlines still will be allowed to list optional charges separately, such as baggage, seat assignment and reservation change fees.
The new rule, part of the second phase of a package of federal airline passenger protections enacted this year, is set to take effect Jan. 24.
The new regulations "will help ensure that air travelers receive the respect they deserve before, during and after their flight," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in announcing the changes earlier this year.
Additional measures slated to take effect next month include:
-- A requirement that airlines disclose baggage fees at the time of booking. Airlines already must post baggage fees on websites. Now, passengers will automatically see the fees when they buy a ticket online.
-- A requirement that travelers making a reservation at least a week in advance be allowed to hold the reservation without payment, or to cancel it without penalty, for 24 hours. The rule "allows passengers shopping for a ticket to keep shopping for a while to see if (they) find something better," said Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Mosley. Many airlines already allow a 24-hour hold.
-- A ban on increasing the price of a ticket after its purchase. "It does happen from time to time," Mosley said. "Now airlines won't be able to do that."
-- A requirement that passengers receive prompt notification about cancellations, diversions or delays of over 30 minutes. Notification must be provided within 30 minutes of the carrier becoming aware of the change.
Airlines are asking for a one-year delay for implementing two other rules, citing technical problems. Those measures are requirements that the same baggage allowances and fees apply throughout a passenger's trip, and that baggage fees be disclosed on e-ticket confirmations.
The DOT will respond to the request before Jan. 24, Mosley said.
Next month's changes come on the heels of other passenger protections that took effect in August.
One is a requirement that airlines refund baggage fees if bags are lost. That's on top of a long-standing requirement that carriers compensate passengers for reasonable expenses from lost, damaged or delayed luggage.
Other rules implemented in August require airlines to prominently disclose all optional fees on their websites, and to double the cash compensation for people involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight. Passengers are now entitled to four times the one-way ticket price, up to $1,300, for long delays in getting to their original destination. For short delays, customers get double the one-way ticket price, up to $650.
In addition, the department extended the three-hour limit on tarmac delays to include small airports, and adopted a four-hour limit for international flights.
Exceptions are allowed for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.
Carriers also must ensure that passengers stuck on a plane are provided with food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and necessary medical treatment.
(Contact Patricia Sabatini at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)