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Airline Rules on Checked Bags and Wheelchairs Delayed

If you've ever been separated from your checked luggage—or worse, your checked wheelchair—you might wish the government would do something about the problem.

Last year, the government did, finalizing a new rule that would shed some light on how well airlines handle checked bags and wheelchairs. And this year, the Department of Transportation, at the request of the major U.S. airlines, undid it—at least for now.

The consumer protection rules will eventually require airlines to report new information on mishandled bags and wheelchairs. They were set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

But Airlines for America, the trade association representing most U.S. airlines, contends that more time is needed to comply with the law. With agreement from new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the rule will instead go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, giving airlines an additional year to implement it.


Airlines now report the number of mishandled bags for every 1,000 passengers, an inaccurate measure since many passengers don't check bags at all. The rule will change the reporting standard to the number of mishandled bags out of the total number checked, a clearer measure of airline performance.

Data on mishandled wheelchairs, which are sometimes severely damaged in the plane's cargo hold, is currently reported to the Department of Transportation in the same category with checked luggage. This lack of transparency gives wheelchair users no way of determining the level of confidence they should have when turning over expensive mobility equipment to the airlines. Once the new rule takes effect, airlines will be required to report damage to wheelchairs in a separate category for the first time.

These consumer-friendly rules are designed to provide transparency to passengers. Now it looks like things will remain murky for another year.