DOT finalizes rule defining 'unfair and deceptive practices' by airlines

The policy had been criticized by members of Congress and an airline trade group

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a new policy last week that critics say will make it more difficult for the agency to penalize airlines over deceptive practices, according to reports.

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Under the policy, which had been criticized by members of congress and an airline trade group, the DOT must apply a new standard when considering civil penalties or new regulations on air carriers or travel agents in response to consumer complaints.

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The department announced the policy change last week and acknowledged that it “could translate into the department performing fewer enforcement and rule-making actions” against airlines and could “lengthen the time needed to complete the actions," according to the Los Angeles Times.

On Friday, the department said the new rules provide “greater transparency and predictability on how the department conducts its aviation consumer protection rulemaking and enforcement activities.”

It previously determined on a case-by-case basis if an action was unfair or deceptive, the paper reported.

The National Consumers League, a nonprofit advocacy group, criticized the timing of the move on Saturday, calling it "deeply disappointing."

“The DOT’s decision, at the height of a pandemic, to kneecap its ability to protect millions of travelers from airline abuses is deeply disappointing,” the non-profit organization said in a statement on Saturday morning. “That the department decided to do so on the Friday after Thanksgiving highlights that they hope this terrible decision will be forgotten by Monday.”

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Rep.Katie Porter, a Democrat, said earlier this summer that the rule would “weaken enforcement of airline passenger protections.”

Meanwhile, Airlines for America, a trade group representing major North American airlines, said the proposed rules would “benefit the public by further enhancing the transparency, predictability, and consistency of DOT’s rulemaking and enforcement procedures," Reuters reported.

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Sunday marked the busiest travel day at U.S. airports since March.