New government rule would require airlines to refund baggage fees

Here’s some good news about airline baggage fees.

U.S. airlines must refund a customer’s baggage fee if that person’s luggage is “substantially delayed,” though that term wasn’t defined. That’s probably the most consumer-friendly change of the new rules, which were announced today by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT already requires airlines to reimburse consumers for checked bag fees if luggage is lost or damaged. And some airlines already offer baggage fee refunds or other financial aid if luggage is significantly delayed.

“The travel community is grateful that the administration continues to shine a light on many of the more frustrating issues that ail the air travel experience in the U.S.,” said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

But trade group Airlines for America warned that some parts of the new regulations could end up hurting consumers by driving up the cost of air travel.

Here are some of the other proposed rules:

  • Travelers with disabilities: The largest U.S. airlines would have to report how often they mishandle wheelchairs.
  • Sales bias: Online travel-booking sites would have to disclose any bias toward certain airlines in how they offer flights to consumers based on financial arrangements with those airlines.
  • Airline data: The DOT would require U.S. carriers to report information on their on-time performance, mishandled baggage and complaint rates not only for themselves but for their smaller, regional carriers.
  • Baggage: In addition to reporting the total number of mishandled bags, airlines will have to report the total number of checked bags instead of the overall number of travelers. This is a more apples-to-apples measure of the odds that a bag will be mistreated.

The DOT said it’s investigating “potentially unfair business practices” by some airlines that prevent online travel sites from listing all of their fare and flight options.

The regulations are part of efforts by the Obama administration over the last eight years to provide better consumer protections for air travelers. President Barack Obama posted some comments today about the new rules on his Facebook page (see below).

The DOT expects over 700 million American passengers to board 9 million U.S. airline flights this year.