nprm

It’s been almost five years since the Transportation Security Administration quietly began installing its so-called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) — better known as full-body scanners — at airports nationwide. And now the government wants to know what you think of the machines.

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NPRM — Notice of Proposed Rulemaking — is the most important part of American governance that the public has never heard of. In school we all have learned how bills are passed, how the House and Senate must both pass the bill and then the President must sign it before it becomes law. But we don’t learn about the next step — NPRM.

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From a passenger’s point of view, 2012 was on of the most momentous since deregulation. Airline consumers reached more milestones and the Department of Transportation (DOT) put into effect more passenger protections than in the history of the department. Here are a dozen changes for the good for airline consumers.

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This festive holiday season is starting off dismally for consumers. Between mergers that are stripping competition from the airways and delays at DOT that hurt transparency of airline ancillary fees, consumers are getting a dose of coal for Christmas.

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Yesterday, representatives of the Consumer Travel Alliance, Consumers Union, National Consumers League and Consumer Federation of America met with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to discuss the new DOT rulemaking that when released in the next 60-or-so days will create a new set of regulations that will change the passenger-rights landscape more than any government act since deregulation.

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The Department of Transportation (DOT) is in the final throes of staffing a proposed rulemaking and reports are than it is having trouble in bureaucracyland. Let’s hope that the core of consumer protections holds true for the three most important groundbreaking portions of the rulemaking.

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The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) and the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) filed reply comments to those filed by a group of airlines regarding transparency of airline fees. The airline comments are seeking to present the disagreements about a pending Department of Transportation rulemaking that may mandate up-front and clear dislosure of airline fees at the same time as airfares are disclosed as an internal business issue. Both CTA and BTC feel that these are clearly consumer issues.

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The Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed rulemaking (NPRM) has stirred up plenty of controversy. Any time an agency of the government takes up the mantel of consumer protection, business is going to cringe. Ultimately, we know what’s good for customers is normally good for business. But these new proposed regulations are crossing a new line — international borders.

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Yesterday seven U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, commending his leadership and his department’s efforts to protect consumers. In the letter, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), George Lemieux (R-FL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Mark Begich (D-AK) urge LaHood to “continue requiring increased disclosure of ancillary fees on airline tickets as well as facilitating that disclosure by requiring the sharing of fee information by air carriers to travel agents and online travel companies.”

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DOT doesn’t have to figure out exactly how to present the fees. I promise you these fees will find their way into new websites and new travel agent displays in ways that we can not even envision today. That’s the magic of the free market system.

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