Government says airline bumping rules could be revised

By | July 9th, 2007

Here’s your chance to let the government know how you’d change the rules on airline oversales — better known as bumping. The U.S. Department of Transportation is asking for for public comments on possible rule changes. You can go to its Web site tomorrow, type in the docket number OST-01-9325, and leave your comments.

The timing couldn’t be better. Or worse, if you’re an air carrier. Airlines are doing a lot of bumping this summer, as flights are running at capacity levels. And passengers are fed up with it.

Currently, an airline must first ask for volunteers who are willing to give up their seats in return for compensation offered by the airline. The airline may bump passengers involuntarily if not enough of them volunteer, and these passengers are eligible for cash compensation in most circumstances.

The compensation isn’t much (the rules were first adopted back in 1962). If the airline can arrange alternate transportation scheduled to arrive at the passenger’s destination within two hours of the planned arrival time of the oversold flight (or four hours on international flights) the compensation is the amount of the fare to the passenger’s destination with a $200 maximum, according to the Transportation Department.

If the airline can’t meet these deadlines, the amount of compensation doubles, with a $400 maximum. These payments are in addition to the value of the passenger’s ticket, which the passenger can use for alternate transportation or have refunded if not used.

The government is considering several possible changes. Among them:

» Increasing the $200 compensation limit to $624 and the $400 limit to $1,248.

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» Increasing the compensation limits to $290 and $580, respectively.

» Doubling the compensation limits to $400 and $800.

» Eliminating all compensation limits and making compensation equal to the value of the ticket with the payment doubling for longer delays.

» Leaving the current limits in place.

The government is also asking for comments on other possible changes to the bumping rule, such as extending the rule to aircraft having 30 to 60 seats, which are not currently covered, and clarifying the criteria airlines may use in deciding the order in which passengers will be bumped.

Needless to say, everyone who reads this should cast their vote for a sensible rule change. Oversales are a shameful airline industry practice that should be discouraged by the government. The EU has already made significant changes to its bumping rule, as I noted in a recent column.

It’s time for us to do the same here in the States.

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