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In April 2011 the DoT announced some broad extensions of its consumer protection rules, which it discussed in detail in a 213 page document.

Much of the document is devoted to setting out summaries of comments it had received, either for or against its new rules.  Some of the cited airline arguments seem specious in the extreme.

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The Dept of Transportation's Revenge on the Airlines?  Part 1 - Introduction

Did the DoT quote the stupidest airline arguments to embarrass the airlines?

Sometimes the best way to embarrass someone is simply to quote their comments to a broader audience.

Is this what the DoT did?

Part of a series on being bumped from flights, see the other articles in this series listed on the right.



In its final rule notice, the Department of Transportation devotes about 165 pages to discussing the submissions it received from the airlines and other affected groups.

Reading their summaries of the arguments put forward by airlines (who - surprise, surprise, generally opposed additional consumer protection measures) may make your blood boil.  How could the airlines be so specious and offer such thin nonsense in an attempt to support untenable objections?

One wonders - was the DoT having a little fun, and maybe even getting a little revenge - by including so many of these ridiculous airline comments into their official rule pronouncement?

The Evolution and Extension of Passenger Rights

After years (or probably decades) of growing public unhappiness with airlines and their customer service and compensation polices, the DoT acted in 2009, and on 30 December 2009 announced some new obligations on airlines, primarily to do with not leaving passengers stuck on a plane on the ground.

These obligations applied to larger sized planes operated by domestic (not foreign) carriers, and the penalty provisions kicked in after three hours of ground hold for either departing or arriving flights.

Depending on who you listen to and believe, this legislation was either a tremendous success or an appalling disaster.  Supporters of the legislation point to a collapse in the number of flights stuck on the ground - for the first ten months of the new regulations, there were only 16 reported cases of greater than three hour delays, compared to 664 for the ten months immediately prior.

Those opposed to the legislation say that the risk of being fined for holding passengers on a delayed plane has lead to a massive increase in cancelled flights, and opponents of the legislation suggest that we'd rather be stuck on a plane indefinitely than find our flight completely cancelled.

The truth probably lies somewhere inbetween.  The reality is that whereas formerly airlines could imprison passengers on their planes without fear of any consequence, and sometimes may have deliberately chosen to do so rather than risk losing passengers who could instead walk over to another airline's gate and fly with the competitor; airlines now must experience a consequence of flight problems.

This consequence can be in the form of a potential DoT fine, or alternatively in the form of operational costs to the airline of cancelling a flight and ending up with out of position planes and crew and angry passengers.

Neither outcome is a positive one, and so the airlines now have new financial pressure acting on them to avoid delaying flights indefinitely on the ground.  Bravo.

The 2009 regulations marked a cautious 'toe in the water' by a newly active DoT, and at the time they indicated that they viewed this as the first rather than final step in making airlines more accountable for passenger comfort and compensation.

During 2010 the DoT promulgated additional proposed regulations and invited comments.  They received over 2100 submissions - the vast majority of which were to do with a proposal regarding peanut allergies, and which also generated an unusual number of comments on our blog.

Amusingly, it transpired, shortly after the peanut issue was aired, that the DoT did not have the authority to consider a peanut ban, and so that part of the proposed new regulations was not considered further.

 After going through the comment periods, and then considering and acting on the comments received, on 20 April 2011 the DoT published the resulting regulations that are generally due to take effect 120 days (four months) later - ie mid August 2011.

Announcing the New Regulations

As is normal in such situations, the DoT published a formal statement of what their new rules would comprise, (clicking this link will open up a PDF of their statement in a new window) and why/how they decided on the rules so adopted.

As is also normal in such situations, the DoT quoted from some of the submissions it had received, both for and against the rules, so as to clearly show the range of opinions received and views about the rules.  The individual submissions can also be viewed as well through the website - search for docket DOT-OST-2010-0140 if you wish to see them in their glorious totality.

But, of course, few of us will choose to read carefully through all the submissions.  As it is, just a summary of the submissions received takes up much of 165 pages in the DoT's formal statement.

Their commentary runs from about page 8 to page 173 of the PDF linked above.

The chances are you might not even wish to read 165 pages of material.  And so, for your reading pleasure, I've in turn summarized the DoT's summary, taking out 'the best of the best' - or, more accurately, the worst of the worst - the most egregious examples of the airlines doing anything and everything possible to avoid accepting additional liability for treating us, their fare paying passengers, in something halfway close to a fair and decent manner.

Can you read through their protestations with a straight face?  If you don't turn apoplectic with rage, you'll probably burst out laughing, repeatedly, at the nonsense they put forward in a hope, possibly, that 'bullshit baffles brains'.

Kudos to the DoT for standing firm on most points and refusing to accept their airlines' claims at face value.

How Did the DoT Choose Which Comments to Feature?

How even handed was the DoT in selecting the comments to feature in its 165 pages of discussion?

And, equally to the point, were the ridiculous protestations by the airlines the very best the airlines could offer?

One is left with a delightful thought that perhaps the DoT obtained some pleasure in exposing the perfidy in the airlines' statements for all to see.

Please read on to part 2 which quotes what the airlines said in desperate attempts to dissuade the DoT from passing its new proposed regulations.

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Originally published 27 Apr 2011, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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