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MONDAY BUSINESS : TRAVEL BRIEFCASE

Refund fees for lost bags?

September 27, 2010|Hugo Martin

In the 12-month period that ended in June, the nation's top 10 airlines collected more than $3.1 billion in baggage fees.

So it's no surprise the airline industry opposes a move by the U.S. Department of Transportation to mandate that all airlines offer refunds of the fees when bags are lost or delayed.

What's interesting are objections raised by the Air Transport Assn., which represents most of the nation's largest airlines.

In comments filed with the federal agency last week, the association said each airline should have the choice of offering a refund, depending on competition in the marketplace.

Only a few airlines, including Alaska Airlines, now offer automatic refunds if a bag is lost or delayed. Most major airlines will consider refunding your bag fee -- only after you file a claim, and the refund usually comes in the form of a discount on future travel.

The airline group also said it opposed the refund idea because a government mandate like this would raise fares for everyone, including people who don't check bags. And it said a refund wouldn't work because the requirement for "timely delivered" bags is a "subjective standard" and would "not account for varying conditions."

The DOT said it hadn't included a definition of a timely delivered bag, leaving that up to the airlines and the public to suggest.

Traveler Daniel Cope of New York submitted a comment to the DOT suggesting that passengers get a refund if a bag is not delivered to the luggage carousel within one hour of the aircraft arriving at the gate. "Furthermore," he added, "a bag not making a connection with a passenger should not be an excuse. If a passenger can make the connection, this is proof that the bag could have made the connection as well."

The comment period for the proposed rule and other passenger protection policies ended Thursday. The DOT hopes to adopt a rule by spring.

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Airline obeys rule and is fined

Six months ago, the Department of Transportation began to enforce a new rule that allows the agency to fine airlines that leave passengers stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours.

Since the law took effect, a handful of planes have been reported as stuck beyond that limit, but the DOT has not yet fined any carrier.

However, the DOT fined United Airlines $12,000 last week for reporting a three-hour delay that turned out not to be a violation.

The case dates from May 26, when four United planes were stuck on the tarmac at Colorado Springs Airport because of bad weather. The United crews gave passengers food and water after two hours and offered them the option of getting off the planes after three hours, as required by the new rule.

But because the planes sat on the tarmac more than three hours, United reported the incident as a possible violation. The DOT concluded that it was not, and fined United for prompting an unnecessary investigation.

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Free drinks at airport lounges

If high fees and long delays at airports are get- ting you down, American Airlines has an offer for you: Starting Oct. 1, most drinks at the Admirals Club lounges will be on the house.

Beer, house wine and "brand liquors" will be complimentary at the domestic lounges, but you must pay for premium wines and liquors.

Club membership costs as much as $500 a year or $50 for a one-day pass.

American isn't the first airline to give away booze at its airport lounges. Free drinks are also offered at most Delta Sky Club and US Airways Club lounges, among others.

Although the offer is indefinite, an American Airline spokesman noted that the bartenders reserve the right to cut you off.

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

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