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Government expands air passengers' rights

April 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The government is instituting new passenger protection rules to make sure airlines treat travelers fairly.

The next time you board a flight, the U.S. Department of Transportation hopes you'll have less to gripe about as it expands the Passenger Bill of Rights.

They're changing a tarmac-delay rule to prohibit airlines from holding passengers on stranded international flights for longer than four hours.

The new rules also require airlines to refund bag fees if they lose customers' luggage, to include fees and taxes in advertised prices on their websites, and to pay passengers more if they get bumped from oversold flights. Currently, bumped passengers are entitled to another ticket valued up to $400, but the new rule ups that amount to $650.

Airlines last year bumped 65,000 passengers, and about 681,000 passengers voluntarily gave up their seats.

Transportation officials said they decided to change the tarmac delay rule after passengers were stranded on planes during last December's blizzards in the East Coast.

Airlines that break the new rules could be fined up to $27,000 per passenger. Airline trade groups say the threat of penalties may force them to cancel international flights if there is a chance of a very long delay.

Passengers flying out of Los Angeles International Airport said the government's new rules make sense.

"I think it's appropriate to be fair to the travelers because it's a lot of challenges that we deal with while we travel. I'm a frequent traveler for business, so I think it is appropriate that they think about particularly wait time, sitting on the tarmacs," said traveler Francine Lawrence from Rancho Cucamonga.

However, some passengers say the new rules are just common sense.

"We have to have a 'Bill of Rights' to tell them to do their job correctly. Yeah, of course if you're on the tarmac for four hours, they're not required to give you a pee break? Who wasn't giving people a pee break?" said passenger Brad Williams.

Traveler Jose Villapando said he likes the new full disclosure policy online, after a previous bad experience with one airline.

"I was just thinking that I can bring like any carry-on bag, but then when I got there, they had told me that it was too much and they automatically charged my credit card without me knowing," Villapando said.

Airlines also will be required to provide food, water, working toilets and medical care after two hours.

The new rules will be implemented at the end of August.