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Some airline passenger protections postponed until January

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
Some rules scheduled to go into effect this month won't be implemented until January 2012.
Some rules scheduled to go into effect this month won't be implemented until January 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Airlines won't have to list extra fees in ads until January
  • Department of Transportation granted the extensions
  • More compensation for bumped passengers starts this month
  • Some new rules apply to international airlines

Washington (CNN) -- The federal government is postponing some of the consumer protections scheduled to take effect later this month after airlines and travel agents said they needed more time to implement the changes.

About half the protections will still take effect August 23 as planned. But the Department of Transportation agreed to delay a handful of changes until Jan. 24, 2012, most notably a requirement that airlines disclose the full cost of flights in online and print advertising.

The DOT said it is balancing the desire of consumer to have the changes "as soon as practical" with the capability of the airlines to comply.

Steve Lott of the Air Transport Association, which represents the airlines, said, "The additional time will help our members navigate some of the significant programming and training complexities involved in implementing the new rule."

Kate Hanni, whose group FlyersRights.org championed the changes, said she was disappointed DOT granted the extensions.

"Every time something is to go into effect, they (the airlines) ask for a delay," Hanni said.

Hanni noted domestic tarmac delays dropped to almost zero after the three-hour tarmac rule was adopted in April 2010, but said delays have been "creeping up" in recent months. There were 16 of the lengthy tarmac delays in May and 14 in June, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

In the meantime, Allegiant Air, Spirit Airlines and Southwest Airlines have filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking to have many of the rules overturned, asserting that the DOT rules violate their rights.

The rules being delayed until Jan. 24 are:

-- Airlines must prominently disclose all potential fees on their websites, including fees for baggage, meals, canceling or changing reservations, and advanced or upgraded seating. Also, airlines and ticket agents must include all taxes and fees in every advertised price. This rule was scheduled to take effect in October, but airlines contended they need additional time to reprogram and reconfigure their online search engines to include the new requirements.

-- Airlines must disclose baggage fees on e-ticket confirmations.

-- Airlines must apply the same baggage allowances and fees through a passenger's journey, including segments with interline and code share partners. (The airlines argued that there currently is no central repository for baggage policies and fees, and airlines are working to develop an industry solution.)

-- Airlines are banned from raising prices after the purchase, unless they are due to government-imposed taxes or fees, and only if the passenger is notified and agrees to the potential increase at the time of sale.

-- Airlines are required to provide passengers timely notice of flight delays and cancellations.

-- Airlines must allow reservations to be held at the quoted fare without payment, or canceled without penalty, for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more before a flight's departure date.

These rules will take effect August 23:

-- Passengers involuntarily bumped from flights will be eligible for increased compensation. Currently, passengers can get up to $400 if the airline can get them to their destination within a short period of time (within one to two hours of their originally scheduled arrival time for domestic flights), or up to $800 if they are delayed for a lengthy time. Under the new rule, bumped passengers can get up to $650 or $1,300 respectively. Inflation adjustments will be made to those compensation limits every two years.

-- International flights delayed on U.S. airport tarmacs more than four hours must allow passengers to deplane, with exceptions allowed for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons. (A three-hour rule already exists for domestic flights.)

-- Foreign airlines must post contingency plans for lengthy delays, customer service plans and contracts of carriage on their websites.

-- Airlines must refund any baggage fee if the bag is lost. (Airlines already must compensate passengers for lost, damaged or delayed baggage.)

-- Airlines must post changes in baggage fees on their websites for three months.

-- Airlines must prominently disclose all fees for optional aviation services on their websites.

-- Where refunds are due, airlines must provide prompt refunds of fares and optional fees.

In its Federal Register notice, the DOT also tried to clear up some confusion regarding rules that require airlines to give "specific baggage fee information" on websites, and require carriers to provide "specific charges" on e-ticket confirmations. The rule "does not require passenger-specific information" on e-ticket confirmations, the DOT said. But airlines must provide specific information about fees "so passengers can determine for themselves the fees that would apply to them."