The Dept of
Transportation's Revenge on the Airlines? Part 1 -
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
Is this what the DoT did?
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
www.regulations.gov website - search for docket
DOT-OST-2010-0140 if you wish to see them in their glorious
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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27 Apr 2011, last update
28 Nov 2012
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