Airlines must “promptly” notify passengers of flight delays under proposed rule

Editor’s note: This is part ten in a series about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. You can read the entire document here (.DOC). Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at Regulationroom.org. The future of air travel depends on it.

If you’ve ever experienced a flight delay — and who hasn’t? — then you know that getting reliable updates from your airline can take an Act of Congress.

Actually, make that a federal rulemaking.

The Transportation Department wants to require airlines to give their passengers information on flight status changes through whatever means they use — including electronic messaging services, flight status tools, departure and arrival boards at airports, and gate attendant announcements — within 30 minutes of when that information either becomes available to the carrier or should have become available to the carrier.

This could dramatically improve the quality of your next delay, although it’s difficult to quantify the improvement, according to the regulatory analysis (PDF).

Why does the government believe this rule is necessary?

It is important to passengers as well as persons dropping passengers off for outbound flights or meeting passenger on incoming flights to be kept informed on a timely basis of delays and/or cancellations affecting their flights in order to avoid unnecessary waits at, or pointless trips to, an airport.

Passengers also need flight status updates as soon as they become available in order to make decisions about alternate travel plans. Carriers recognize the importance of timely and accurate flight information, as evidenced by the fact that many of the largest U.S. carriers promise through their customer service plans to provide passengers all known information about delays and cancellations as soon as they become aware of the issue.

Failures by carriers to provide timely or accurate flight status information not only inconvenience passengers and other members of the public but also can result in additional expenses to those persons.

Seems reasonable. But how to remedy the problem?

The fix would be requiring airlines to promptly notify passengers holding tickets or reservations on one of their flights as well as other interested parties about changes to a flight’s status, including delays and cancellations, which affect the planned operation of the flight by at least 30 minutes. Additional notifications would be required if any such delayed flight was further delayed by 30 minutes or more.

Interestingly, the government also wants to define “promptly.”

By “promptly” we mean that a carrier must provide the required notification regarding the status of a flight as soon as possible but no later than 30 minutes after the carrier becomes aware or should have become aware of a change in the status of the flight due to a delay or cancellation.

The Transportation Department wants feedback from travelers on precisely how to require these changes. Should it force carriers to provide prompt notification of flight status changes and leave it up to them to determine how that notification is provided? Or should they tell them? Also, what’s the best way of notifying customers — an announcement in the boarding area, through a carriers’ site, via carriers’ telephone reservation systems, or through airport displays under carriers’ control?

It probably goes without saying that the more flexibility the government give airlines airlines in implementing this requirement, the worse it will be for customers. If this rulemaking has taught us anything, it’s that airlines need to have everything spelled out for them.

The Rulemaking Series

I’ve written this series of posts in order to help you understand the Transportation Department’s proposed rules and offer the most informed feedback during its commenting period. Please take a moment to read them and then tell the government what you think at Regulationroom.org.

Part 1: New tarmac delay contingency plans — what’s in it for you?

Part 2: Government will require airlines to offer “complete picture” of ground delays

Part 3: New rules would require airlines to meet “minimum” customer service standards

Part 4: Government to airlines: Put it in the contract!

Part 5: New requirements would force international airlines to monitor and respond to passenger complaints

Part 6: Everything you need to know about the new denied boarding compensation rules

Part 7: The truth about the government’s new “full fare” disclosure rule

Part 8: Transportation Department wants airlines to reveal all fees and an airfare — or two

Part 9: New rule: No more price increases after you buy a ticket

Part 10: Airlines must “promptly” notify passengers of flight delays under proposed rule

Part 11: No more lawsuit limits for passengers under proposed government rules

Part 12: The hard facts about the peanuts-on-a-plane rule everyone’s talking about

If you have any feedback on this series, please send me an email. And thanks for reading.

(Photo: sg visuals/Flickr Creative Commons)

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