Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Travel Agents

Travel Agents Could Have a Say in New Rules For Passengers

12 months ago

Travel agents could bring a real-world perspective to complex rules shaping the protection of air travel passengers, as part of a modernization proposal for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) watchdog for aviation consumer protection.

The Modernization Act (H.R. 3780) would see the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (ACPAC) membership include a dedicated travel agency seat to the advisory body. The bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), John Garamendi (D-CA), Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Julia Brownley (D-CA) on Thursday, 1 June. 

The five most recent ACPAC meetings, starting in December 2021, have centered around two major DOT regulatory proposals on ticket refunds and transparency in airline fees – crucial to business operations of travel agencies, whatever their final forms take. 

“Roughly half of all airline tickets in the U.S. are sold through the agency channel. Giving these small business owners, 70 percent of whom are women, an elevated voice in the DOT regulatory process will help the Department meet its consumer protection mission,” said Zane Kerby, CEO and president of the American Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA). 

Travel agents provide valuable insights through real-world impacts of complex proposals pending before DOT, currently missing from ACPAC’s process, added Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president.

In its current form, ACPAC membership consists of one representative each of U.S. airlines, consumer groups, airports and state or local governments.  

Airlines

U.S. Unveils New Airline Customer Service Portal

2 years ago

Air travelers in the U.S. now have a one-stop shop when it comes to knowing what airlines will provide them with in the event of a lengthy flight delay or cancellation.

The new Airline Customer Service Dashboard by the Department of Transportation is designed to “ensure the traveling public has easy access” to airline commitments in the event of a disrupted trip, the regulator said Thursday. The commitments, which are largely a list of existing airline policies compiled together in one place, only apply to “controllable” events, or one where the airline is at fault, for example staff shortages.

(DOT)

“Passengers deserve transparency and clarity on what to expect from an airline when there is a cancelation or disruption,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “This dashboard collects that information in one place so travelers can easily understand their rights, compare airline practices, and make informed decisions.”

For example, if a travelers flight is delayed more than three hours due to a mechanical problem with the aircraft, the dashboard shows that they are guaranteed a meal voucher on almost all major airlines except Allegiant Air. However, if their flight is cancelled, only American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and United Airlines will rebook them on another carrier.

“Carriers welcome opportunities to simplify travel policies, clarify existing practices and increase transparency for travelers,” a spokesperson for trade group Airlines for America said.

The new dashboard follows a spike in flight delays and cancellations earlier this year that resulted in a blame game between airlines and authorities. While acknowledging their own staffing issues, airlines have claimed that air traffic control staffing has exacerbated the situation while the DOT has argued that the situation is primarily the fault airlines and weather. Whatever the reason, the regulator has moved to improve airline passenger protections, including a new rule that would guarantee cash refunds.

View the Airline Customer Service Dashboard

Airlines

U.S. Wants to Ensure Flyers Get Refunds For Cancelled, Delayed Flights

2 years ago

U.S. authorities want to make it easier for air travelers to get a refund when their flight is cancelled or significantly delayed.

A new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation would define the specific instances where a traveler is entitled to a refund. While a cancellation is seemingly self-explanatory, a delay of more than three hours for U.S. domestic flights or more than six hours for international flights entitles a traveler to a refund, the regulator said Wednesday. In addition, refunds are guaranteed if the arrival or departure airport is changed, the number of connections increased, or the aircraft changed to one with a “significant downgrade” in the service level.

“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably. This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

The improved protections follow a surge in refund issues during the pandemic. The number of refund-related complaints jumped nearly 67-fold to 105,292 from January 2020 to June 2021, from 1,574 in 2019, according to the DOT.

Most airlines dropped change or refund fees and restrictions during the pandemic but, in many cases, travelers faced challenges getting a cash refund versus a voucher. The issues were more pronounced with foreign carriers, which are subject to the DOT’s new rules. In recent months, some airlines have reinstituted ticket change and cancellation restrictions, especially for the cheapest fare classes.

The DOT will hold a public meeting on the proposed rules on August 22, and the public comment period is open for 90 days.

Tags: dot, refunds

Airlines

Spirit Airlines Wins More Newark Flights After More Than 2 Year Fight

2 years ago

Spirit Airlines’ two-and-a-half year saga to expand at Newark Liberty International Airport has a happy ending. Late on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the discounter 16 peak “runway timings” — in short, rights to takeoff and land at an airport during a given hour — that Spirit sued for in December 2019.

The DOT said the award of the timings, which were only available to budget airlines, would boost “low-cost service options” and improve competition at the New York City-area airport. Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways also sought the takeoff and landing rights, according to the regulator.

(Friscocali/Flickr)

Newark is a major hub for United Airlines, which operates more than 70 percent of all flights at the airport. The timings were previously used by Southwest Airlines until the carrier ended flights to Newark in 2019. And Southwest acquired them in 2010 as a condition of United’s merger with Continental Airlines.

The award comes amid a three-way war of words between JetBlue, Spirit, and United over congestion at Newark. JetBlue and Spirit blame United, and the Federal Aviation Administration, for over scheduling the already congested airport, whereas United has repeatedly made the argument that its much smaller competitors were the problem. In June, United cut its schedule at Newark by roughly 50 daily flights from July 1 through the end of the summer to combat delays.

In an interesting twist, the DOT may need to re-award the timings if JetBlue wins its hostile bid for Spirit. The former carrier has pledged to divest all of Spirit’s assets in Boston and New York — including Newark — if shareholders approve its plan over a competing proposal from Frontier Airlines. Spirit shareholders vote on the Frontier proposal Friday.

Airlines

Norman Mineta, Transportation Secretary on 9/11, Dies at 90

2 years ago

Norman Y. Mineta, the Transportation Secretary who closed the U.S. airspace and ordered the grounding of 4,000 planes in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has died. He was 90 years old.

Mineta died at his home in Edgewater, Md., of a heart ailment, John Flaherty, his former chief of staff, said.

Mineta, a first-generation Japanese American, began his public career in local politics in California. In 1971, he became the first Asian American elected to represent a major American city, San Jose, his native city and the second-largest in California. In 1974, he began a 10-term congressional career, representing Silicon Valley.

During his time in Congress, Mineta was instrumental in getting the U.S. government to apologize and award reparations to Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. This was personal for Mineta: When he was 10 years old, he and his family were sent from California to an internment camp in Wyoming. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Americans of Japanese descent interned in February 1942, two months after the Japanese bombarded Pearl Harbor.

After his tenure in Congress and a subsequent stint in the private sector, Mineta served briefly as Commerce Secretary in the Clinton administration, the first Asian American to serve in that role. President George W. Bush tapped him to be Transportation Secretary, the sole Democrat in Bush’s cabinet.

Mineta acted decisively after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He and then-FAA Administrator Jane Garvey took the unprecedented step of closing the U.S. airspace, forcing the grounding of more than 4,000 aircraft, and requiring planes in the air to land immediately, at the closest airport. The airspace remained closed for more than two days, a period which has not been repeated since.

Mineta led the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and oversaw the security protocols that endure to this day. A civil rights activist, Mineta famously opposed racial profiling by the new TSA in its security checks at airports. The TSA was created by an act of Congress in November 2001 and eventually was folded into the new Homeland Security Department.

In 2001, his hometown renamed its airport the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in recognition of his service to the city.

Norman Mineta was born on Nov. 12, 1931, in San Jose. After the war, he returned to California and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1953. He is survived by his wife Danealia, four sons, and 11 grandchildren.