- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

President Bush said Tuesday that the federal government would open military air lanes nationwide to commercial airline traffic during the Thanksgiving and Christmas travel seasons this year.

Last year, the Bush administration opened to commercial flights during the holidays two military air lanes that run along the East Coast. Transportation Department officials said they helped reduce airline delays during a heavy travel season.

“We’re expanding that innovation this year,” Mr. Bush said during a speech at Transportation Department headquarters before hundreds of the agency’s employees.

This year, additional routes in the Midwest, Southwest and West will be opened. They include flights to Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The military air lanes typically are used for training exercises by military aircraft. Transportation officials said temporarily using them for commercial flights was unlikely to affect the nation’s military readiness.

Mr. Bush also discussed new rules the Transportation Department plans to implement within the next 30 days. They would increase fines from a maximum of $3,000 to as much as $3,300 against airlines that lose passengers’ baggage.

Airlines also would pay higher fines when consumers make valid complaints, such as for deceptive advertising or excessive delays. The maximum fine for consumer complaints would rise from $25,000 to $27,500.

In addition, the Transportation Department plans to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register Nov. 24 that would require airlines to develop contingency plans for avoiding delays at the nation’s major airports. Airlines would need to develop a unique plan for each airport, depending on different flight characteristics.

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