- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Passengers who get bumped from overbooked flights will soon be eligible to receive twice as much compensation from U.S. airlines.

Travelers forced onto another flight that takes them to their domestic destination more than two hours after their original arrival time will be paid the full price of their fare up to $800, under a new Transportation Department rule that goes into effect next month.

The agency also announced several initiatives yesterday intended to decrease air travel delays that stem from congested New York-area airports. The plans include:

• Reroute planes through Canadian air space to avoid summer storms.

• Open a second westbound route for aircraft.

• Auction some existing airline slots at LaGuardia Airport.

While meant to provide some financial relief to passengers, the rule could wind up raising fares. Groups representing both large and regional carriers blanched at the decision and said their members may have no choice but to bump up ticket prices and end service to smaller cities.

If bumped passengers arrive less than two hours after their original arrival time, the new compensation limit for domestic flights is $400, according to the new rule.

The arrival time limit is four hours for international flights, and the amount of the payments is in addition to the value of the passenger’s ticket, which can be used for alternate transportation or be refunded if unused.

The new bumped fliers rule also applies to more planes, covering most aircraft that carry more than 30 passengers instead of 60.

“It’s hard to compensate for a missed family occasion or business opportunity, but this rule will ensure flyers are more fairly reimbursed for their inconvenience,” Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said in a statement.

The previous $200 and $400 limits had not been raised since 1978.

Regional planes are now covered by the rules.

More than 31 percent of commercial flights in the U.S. arrived late, were canceled or diverted in February, according to government data released earlier this month, and last year’s on-time arrival results were the second worst in history. Part of the reason is that airlines are replacing big planes with smaller ones in an effort to fly with fewer empty seats.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the nation’s largest carriers, and the Regional Airline Association both submitted comments opposing parts of the new rule.

“This administration … is tone deaf to the incredible challenges this industry is going through right now,” including record fuel prices and the fact that four small carriers have sought bankruptcy protection in recent weeks amid a recession, said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association. “This is not the time to be monkeying around with experiments.”

The new bumped-passenger fees will make it harder for airlines to justify serving small- and medium-sized communities based on their remote locations, airport facilities and other factors. “They’re making it harder, not easier, for people to travel,” Mr. Cohen said.

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