Congressman Brian Higgins announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is revising its policies related to public charter flights in response to hardships felt by consumers when charter operator Direct Air abruptly stopped service in March.  

“Direct Air’s actions left people stranded at the gate, unable to take their long-planned spring break vacations, and many had no recourse,” said Higgins.  “I applaud the DOT for implementing measures to protect consumers and hold carriers accountable.” 
 
Earlier this year Higgins and Rep. Kathy Hochul wrote to Direct Air calling on the company to refund passengers for their cancelled flights and compensate passengers for fees associated with alternate arrangements after people, scheduled to fly Direct Air out of Niagara Falls, NY, were left stranded when the company suspended all of its operations. The Congressmembers also wrote to DOT Secretary LaHood in April asking for an investigation into Direct Air’s closure. 
 
The new rules, which were announced by the DOT and printed in the Federal Register, will go into effect in December.  Under the new guidelines: 
 
  • The Department will reject public charter filings as contrary to the public interest unless they meet specific new conditions.  
     
  • Charter operators will have to retain control of all passenger reservation records and share them with the airline to make it easier to identify and contact passengers regarding cancellations or return flights for stranded passengers.  
     
  • Also, for consumers not paying by cash, operators may continue to accept payment by credit card, which provides protection under laws that allow charges to be removed from a credit card bill if a service is not provided.  Carriers may accept debit cards only where similar protections are afforded to purchasers.  
     
  • Public charter operators may not sell vouchers for future travel that are not associated with specific flights because they are not protected under the charter escrow requirements.  
     
  • Also, to help ensure that escrow funds are being handled properly, the charter operator will have to show that contracts with the airline providing the flights include the full cost of air service.  
 
In October, Higgins & Hochul also commended the DOT for issuing penalties related to the Direct Air shutdown.