Deregulation is a tricky topic, and well above the pay grade of a travel blogger. But, when it comes to rules which protect airline passengers or hotel guests from dubious claims, offers and issues, deregulation typically means it’s easier for any of the above to screw travelers, with less oversight over their practices.

In the final months of the Trump administration, efforts to limit the scope of what the Department Of Transportation (DOT) can classify as unfair or deceptive were launched, which would make it harder for consumers to fight back against deceptive or harmful business practices in travel.

The new rulings are now final, and have successfully made it even more difficult for consumers to launch claims, or seek redress when a travel brand, including airlines, hotels and car rental companies act inappropriately. However unlikely, in worst case scenarios, a future DOT could find it acceptable for airlines to…

  • change the fare after you book
  • not disclose fees in an upfront and transparent manner
  • to relax their duty of care when flights are cancelled or delayed

Already, consumers faced fewer rights than many other industries, and even states have little power to deal with travel brands directly, and must instead kick up to the federal level, with the Department of Transportation. According to industry expert Gary Leff, the new midnight ruling…

“serve to tie the hands of future Departments of Transportation who might seek to regulate airline behavior.”

Gary Leff, View From The Wing

Basically, final definitions for what’s unfair or deceptive are incredibly limited now, whereas they were broader, and allowed the DOT to act responsibly. Airlines now have the right, as per the ruling, to request a mini hearing, based on evidence, which makes it harder for the average consumer to make a successful claim, rather than relying on the department to make a somewhat binding ruling.

As defined by the final rule, a practice is “unfair” to consumers if it causes or is likely to cause substantial injury, which is not reasonably avoidable, and the harm is not outweighed by benefits to consumers or competition. The final rule also states that a practice is “deceptive” to consumers if it is likely to mislead a consumer, acting reasonably under the circumstances, with respect to a material matter. A matter is material if it is likely to have affected the consumer’s conduct or decision with respect to a product or service. Proof of intent is not necessary to establish unfairness or deception.

US Department Of Transportation

According to Leff, in a recent article, it could’ve been even worse. Spirit wished for the ruling to effectively state that deceptive business practices didn’t necessarily constitute being deceptive, as long as everyone did it. This is along the lines of excuses used by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, saying “hey, if everyone is being deceptive, it’s ok.”

The Trump administration may be entering its final days in Washington DC, but an age with even more limited opportunity to travelers to stick up for their rights, or protest dubious business practices to the Department Of Transportation is just beginning.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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