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

Editor’s note: This is part five 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.

The deeper I wade into the new airline passenger rules, the more I find myself wondering: Why do airlines have to be told to do this?

Take its proposals about responses to consumer problems. In a previous rulemaking, the DOT had to tell U.S. carriers to designate an employee to monitor the effects on passengers of flight delays, flight cancellations, and lengthy tarmac delays and to have input into decisions such as which flights are canceled and which are subject to the longest delays.

The government also now requires U.S. carriers to make available the mailing address and e-mail or web address of the designated department in the airline with which to file a complaint about its scheduled service and to acknowledge receipt of each complaint regarding its scheduled service to the complainant within 30 days of receiving it and to send a substantive response to each complainant within 60 days of receiving it.

Oh, and it even goes so far as to define a complaint. (It’s a “specific written expression of dissatisfaction concerning a difficulty or problem which the person experienced when using or attempting to use an airline’s service,” according to the government.)

Can you believe it?

So here’s what the DOT wants to add to the requirement:

We are proposing to extend these provisions to foreign carriers as the Department believes passengers should also be afforded adequate consumer protection when issues arise with delays or cancellations on flights to and from the U.S. operated by a foreign carrier, and should also have an avenue to file a complaint with a foreign carrier and to expect a timely and substantive response to that complaint.

What says the preliminary regulatory analysis (PDF)?

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Complaints are definitely a problem. And the share of total grievances relating to foreign carriers is higher than the proportion of passengers transported on these airlines. Bear in mind, these are just complaints sent to the DOT. I believe this represents less than one percent of the actual complaints.

Just one little problem: The DOT currently lacks the regulatory authority to require that foreign carriers respond to customer complaints within a specified time frame, according to the analysis.

Oops. Better fix that.

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

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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: Hyougushi/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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