How many times have you punched in all the pertinent information for a flight on your computer, an amazing price pops up and you’re ready to buy ... until you refresh and all the other taxes and fees are added in.


That deal no longer looks so good. And those nasty bag fees are nowhere to be found until you arrive at the airport.

Well, help arrives today in the form of new Department of Transportation regulations requiring airlines and ticket agents  to include all mandatory taxes and fees in published airfares and that they disclose baggage fees to consumers buying tickets.

“Airline passengers have rights, and they should be able to expect fair and reasonable treatment when booking a trip and when they fly,”  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “The new passenger protections taking effect this week are a continuation of our effort to help air travelers receive the respect they deserve.”

That means all advertised pricing must be fully accurate that day, whether it appears on TV, in a newspaper or magazine or an email.

There’s more.

Passengers can now hold a reservation without payment, or cancel a booking without penalty, for 24 hours after the reservation is made, if they make the reservation one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.

In addition, airlines will be required to promptly notify passengers of flight delays of over 30 minutes, as well as flight cancellations and diversions, and they will be prohibited from increasing the price of passengers’ ticket after it is bought.

Those extra layers of consumer protection will mean a few extra steps for travel agents, but what’s good for consumers is eventually good for business as well.

In times of despair, you need reassurance from the folks at the top.

That may explain why cruise line CEOs and other high-ranking executives are making the email rounds, hoping to counteract the impact that the Costa Concordia tragedy is likely to have on cruising’s immediate future.

In emails today from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines, both focused on passenger safety and the extraordinary effort that goes into making their fleets havens of safety.

Royal Caribbean went so far as to release a new “Safety is our business” 
video that reinforces the effort, time and innovation that goes into making these super-sized cities at sea safe. The video opens with CEO Richard Fain saying, "One of the things I treasure started with a mantra early on of safety, security,  is absolutely primary to our mission ... and that's an inbred part of our culture, that has remained in the 40 years since."

Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan discussed the lengthy, arduous route that potential captains must travel before achieving that lofty rank.

“Our captains are experienced seafarers with an average of 33 years at sea,” Sheehan said. “All of our captains come up through the ranks progressing from second officer to first officer and then chief officer up to staff captain before they can become captains.

“On average, it takes 15 years for a Captain to be promoted into that role. We further ensure that our Captains regularly undergo rigorous simulation training on navigation and bridge operations.”

Sheehan also points out that the safety drill is mandatory before every ship sets sail, and that an extensive safety video runs continuously on stateroom televisions should further information be required.

Last week Carnival Corp., parent company of Costa, announced a company wide review of safety procedures to reassure a skeptical public that cruising is safe.

“This tragedy has called into question our company’s safety and emergency response procedures and practices,” said Micky Arison, chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation. “While I have every confidence in the safety of our vessels and the professionalism of our crews, this review will evaluate all practices and procedures to make sure that this kind of accident doesn’t happen again.”

Although most experienced cruisers are aware of the industry’s stellar safety record, the Costa Concordia sinking and subsequent deaths are all about perception. So expect more information and examples from the travel community as they try to salvage current Wave Season sales -  traditionally the most popular time of the year to book a future cruise.


    Alan Whitt is an accomplished travel writer and journalist who has sailed on 34 cruises, visited more than 40 states, many Caribbean islands and several countries.


    January 2012