US orders better consumer protection for air travel

US officials unveiled new rules Wednesday aimed at giving better protection and compensation to airline passengers for lost bags, overbooking and flight delays.

"Airline passengers have a right to be treated fairly," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in announcing the new rules.

"It's just common sense that if an airline loses your bag or you get bumped from a flight because it was oversold, you should be reimbursed. The additional passenger protections we're announcing today will help make sure air travelers are treated with the respect they deserve."

The regulations to take effect in August will require airlines to reimburse passengers for bag fees if their bags are lost, provide consumers involuntarily bumped from flights with greater compensation, expand the current ban on lengthy tarmac delays, and disclose hidden fees.

The rule also required US airlines to provide basic services such as access to lavatories and water in the event of extended tarmac delays.

The new rules will double the amount of money passengers are eligible to be compensated for in the event they are involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight. At present bumped passengers are entitled to cash up to $400 if the airline can get them to the destination in a short period of time. That will increase to $800.

For those facing longer delays, the maximum compensation will increase from $650 to $1,300 and be indexed for inflation.

The rules on tarmac delays come after a series of complaints by passengers on international flights operated by foreign carriers in New York during the December 2010 blizzard.

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