Your Airline Is Trying To Eliminate The Rules That Protect You

an airport with airplanes on the runway

Many of the protections US-based airlines offer to customers are actually mandated by the Department of Transportation.  For example, your ability to cancel and get a full refund on your airline ticket when departing/arriving the US within 24 hours.  The DOT has stepped in over the years to mandate compensation when you’re trapped on a plane too long.  You also have the DOT to thank for enforcement of compensation if you’re involuntarily denied boarding or your bags are lost.  The airlines are trying to change that.

I know the airlines don’t like many of these rules.  Under the new administration they’re making an attempt to dramatically re-write consumer protections.  Reading Scott McCartney’s Wall Street Journal article this week opened my eyes to exactly how much they’re trying to change.  Note, a good deal of the WSJ content is behind a paywall.  If you bump into it, try performing a search on the title of the article (An End To Airline Red Tape-Or Consumer Protection?).  Here’s a small sample of what the airlines are attempting to revise:

Carriers also have asked DOT to scrap the 24-hour grace period for a full refund when buying a ticket—you’d pay a change fee even if you realized right away you booked the wrong date or made a mistake in the passenger name. They want to eliminate a rule that requires them to honor tickets sold for “mistake fares,” and they’re asking for freedom to charge fees for wheelchair service.

They also want to reintroduce bias in travel agency search results, so one airline might pay to dominate the first page of available options you see, and drop requirements to show on-time and cancellation data with flights.

Wow.  That’s a lot to chew on there.  I understand the concern with “mistake fares”.  It’s about the only legitimate one I see here.  The rest of it is just hogwash.  Did the airline really incur $200 worth of damage (the normal cancellation fee after 24 hours) if you cancel a ticket a few minutes after you book it?

Yes, That Airline

Surely, this isn’t all US-based airlines, right?  My favorite airline isn’t trying to screw me, you say?  Maybe not. But, the list of member airlines at Airlines For America (one of the groups spearheading these changes) is pretty broad:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines

In United Airlines’ case, they must not have thought that Airlines For America had the issue covered appropriately:

Airlines for America, the industry’s lobbying group, filed 222 pages of comments. United Airlines added 50 pages of its own. There’s no telling when or if the DOT will put through changes.

The Final Two Pennies

I’m generally a fan of free markets, less government regulation.  However, the reality is that most people who fly in the US only do it once or twice a year.  I book dozens of airline tickets a year.  I’ve become familiar with the systems.  Changes aren’t as likely to trip me up as the average person.

That’s the point of regulation, to keep unsuspecting customers from getting abused by a company.  I can see the argument for why an airline should be able to pay a travel website to list their flights more prominently than their competitors, even if they’re not cheapest.  That really only holds water if consumers actually know that’s the case.

Joe and Jane Public are used to online travel agencies showing them the lowest price. Having a preferred airline at the top of search results is different from a company paying Google for an ad at the top of search results.

Fewer government regulations is likely a good thing for the airlines.  It’s also a slippery slope when it comes to protecting consumers.

The post Your Airline Is Trying To Eliminate The Rules That Protect You was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. I’ve booked wrong dates and airports through misreading, typos, incorrect memory, and wrong assumptions. The 24 hour rule has saved me each of these times. I understand customers reserving and cancelling close to the date of the flight would affect uncertainty for the airlines, but I hope it would stay for flights booked way ahead of time, at least for modifications.

  2. As I understand it, the airlines propose replacing their foregone Emotional Support Animal revenue (caused by abuse of the system) with charging for wheelchair service for the legitimately disabled. Crazy.

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