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Proposed DOT Rules Give Passengers Legal Rights At Last

From From Kaleel

Proposed DOT Rules Give Passengers Legal Rights At Last

With the tarmac meltdown this week of a Virgin Atlantic (a 4-hour delay with fainting passengers) flight still in the news, Travel Law attorney Mark Pestronk could barely contain his enthusiasm for the new proposed Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations: Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections. He calls them “the most important measure that the government has taken for airline passengers in the 72 years since it began regulating airlines.”

Writing in Travel Weekly, the industry publication, Pestronk said mainstream media’s attention is usually focused on more glitzy provisions like the increase in the dollar amount of “denied-boarding compensation,” (being bumped).
But Pestronk says what’s overlooked is the more important fact that, if adopted, the regulations will give passenger the right to sue the airlines in court for violations of the DOT rules, a right passengers never had.

Passengers always had the right to sue airlines for negligence (Torts) but not for violations of DOT regulations that the airlines are being pressured to accept.

It goes something like this,

The Department of Transportation will adopt minimum standards of passenger treatment in 13 areas of service, including tarmac delays, customer service plans, honesty in pricing, etc.

Good as far as it goes, but in an interview, Pestronk points out that what is really a “game changer” is that the airlines must include these standards in their “Contracts of Carriage” and post them on their web sites creating, in effect, verifiable contract between the airline and its passengers or, as we like to believe, its clients.

At the present, passengers have no ability to “enlist the aid of a court in case of injury or loss” in suing airlines in violation of DOT regulations. Only DOT itself can enforce those violations.

But once the regulations are written into an airlines Carriage of Contract, they are committed to honoring them and open to lawsuites if they don’t.

The Department of Transportation, for example, will demand that airlines promise “the lowest fare available” and say exactly what that means in their Contract of Carriage. Before the new rules, if a passenger found a lower fare he could do nothing about it.

Now if a passenger finds a lower fare, then the airline he/she booked on would be in violation of its own “Contract of Carriage,” a breach which could result in a court ordered- refund of the fare difference.

For their parts, the airlines are vigorously opposed to the proposal saying the rules will result in an overwhelming number of small court claims creating financial and operational headaches.

But the airlines are notorious for not wanting to include anything in their Contracts of Carriage that would hold them accountable.

DOT urges the flying public to be part of the conversation by reading and making comments on the proposals at the Regulation Room.

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