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Passenger protections on flights are changing

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Posted at 4:28 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 16:28:24-05

A jarring incident nearly four years ago aboard a commercial flight revealed a larger issue within airlines.

A doctor was violently removed from a plane when he refused to give up his seat because the airline wanted to make room for employees who needed to fly.

After that, consumer rights groups lobbied for rules and protections to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again.

“We basically laid out a set of proposals saying the burden should be on the airlines, not on the passengers. If you've oversold the flight, if you have 102 passengers and 100 seats, it's up to you to figure out what to do,” said Bill McGee, Aviation Adviser with Consumer Reports.

McGee testified before Congress back in 2017 about changes that needed to happen and says basically nothing happened after. That was until unexpectedly last week, the day after the head of the Department of Transportation resigned, a final new rule was issued.

It prohibits any involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded. It also raises the amount of money passengers must be offered to change their flight.

Depending on the delay time, it starts at nearly $800. More will be paid for mishandled baggage.

And there is no cap on what an airline can pay a passenger who's denied boarding, voluntary or involuntary.

The new rule also makes requirements to notify passengers about oversold flights clearer, something that could still happen today even with fewer people flying.

“So, in fact, what they've done is reduce flight frequencies. So, you know, between two cities, there might have been 10 flights a day and now there are five or certain cities, they're not operating to at all. And so, because of that, what the industry calls the ‘load factors,’ just meaning the percentage of occupied seats, in many cases, they're as high as they were before the pandemic.”

The new airline passenger protection rule takes effect in April.