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New Govt Regulations Too Vague to Help, Say Some Travel Experts

New Regulations Crack Down on Biggest Airline Passenger Complaints 1:28

You could get a better travel experience next time you fly, thanks to a new regulations shared by the Department of Transportation this week.

Among other initiatives, the DOT is increasing the number of carriers required to report information about on-time performance, refund "delayed" baggage; and demonstrate more transparency in online searches.

"Airline passengers deserve to have access to clear and complete information about the airlines they choose to fly and to expect fair and reasonable treatment when they fly," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in a statement Tuesday announcing the new rules.

"These actions will enable passengers to make well-informed decisions when arranging travel, ensure that airlines treat consumers fairly, and give consumers a voice in how airlines are regulated."

An Air Canada passenger walks to catch his plane
REUTERS/Todd Korol

Many of the reporting requirements won't take effect until January 1, 2018. Other rulings, including those that prohibit bias in flight offerings, could go into effect within 60 days.

While it has already ruled that airlines must refund fees for checked bags that are lost, the DOT gave notices that it plans to rule soon on a hot button issue for many travelers: receiving a refund on checked baggage fees when bags are delayed.

When paying a check bag fee, passengers "should expect to receive that baggage in a timely manner," explains a fact sheet on the new rulings. "DOT is issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to require airlines to refund baggage fees when a passenger's luggage is substantially delayed."

While pleased about the changes in many reporting requirements and the fact that "the flying public now has the possibility of better transparency of fees," Kate Hanni, former director and founder of FlyersRights.org, is disappointed in the language DOT is using about refunds for delayed baggage, which currently say baggage fees should be refunded if "substantially delayed" or not delivered in a "timely manner."

"That's useless unless the word 'timely' is defined," said Hanni, "My belief is timely means the bag arrives when you do."

On Tuesday, DOT also said it will examine a practice some airlines use by which they pick and choose which online travel agencies and metasearch engines can display their fares. When they do that, "a consumer's ability to effectively comparison shop is limited and the free market cannot operate," states the Consumer Advocacy group Travelers United.

For its part, Airlines for America, the industry trade organization representing most U.S. airlines, is concerned that air travel costs could go up due to some disclosure provisions of the new ruling.

"Airlines have different business models and must be allowed to continue offering optional services in a manner that makes sense for both their customers and their business," said A4A President and CEO Nicholas Calio in a statement.

"Efforts designed to reregulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy."