Know Your Rights in Private Charter
In 2019, the FAA & Department of Transportation (DOT) released new rules on private charter flights to give more transparency to consumers. The NTSB recommended more robust consumer disclosures to the DOT after a fatal crash was investigated in 2006.
The driving force behind this rule is that passengers must know who is operating their flight to make an informed decision. This allows charter buyers to do their due diligence on evaluating the safety record of an air carrier before flying on the aircraft. For example, when you fly on a major airline but the trip is operator by a regional carrier, it’s disclosed before you buy the seat and on your ticket; the DOT has now extended this same type of protection to private flights as well, and more.
In its recommendation, the NTSB stated, “Many [Part 135 charters] are in fact very safe; however, some are not. Consumers of these on-demand air services have few options for distinguishing air taxis and charters that operate safely from those whose operational and maintenance programs are lacking. Adding to this difficulty for consumers is the fact that the FAA allows certificate holders to conduct operations using several business names, or “dba’s” (‘doing business as’).” This becomes particularly tricky when working with flight aggregator websites or air charter brokers, that arrange flights with certified air carriers on behalf of their clients.
So, what are the required disclosures?
Some are mandatory, and some are available upon request of the buyer, including:
“Before entering a contract for a specific flight or series of flights with charterers, air charter brokers must disclose”:
· “The corporate name of the direct air carrier or direct foreign air carrier in operational control of the aircraft on which the air transportation is to be performed…” (i.e. who is legally-certified to fly the aircraft).
· “The existence or absence of liability insurance held by the air charter broker covering the charterer and passengers and property on the charter flight, and the monetary limits of any such insurance.”
· And more, full reading here.
Most importantly, buyers are permitted to the following information, but this must be requested from the broker:
· “The total cost of the air transportation paid by the charterer to or through the air charter broker;
· “The existence of any fees and their amounts collected by third-parties, if known (or a good faith estimate if not known), including fuel, landing fees, and aircraft parking or hangar fees, for which the charterer will be responsible for paying directly.”
· “If the air charter broker is acting as the agent of the charterer, the air charter broker must disclose the existence of any corporate or business relationship, including a preexisting contract, between the air charter broker and the direct air carrier or direct foreign air carrier that will be in operational control of the flight that may have a bearing on the air charter broker’s selection of the direct carrier that will be in operational control of the flight.” (for example, is the air charter broker receiving kick-backs from the carrier)
· And more, read part 295.24 here.
Refunds: If a flight cannot be conducted, air charter brokers must remit refunds to the charter consumer within 20 days after receiving a complete refund request.
Deceptive practices or unfair methods of competition: The rule lists a number of unfair and deceptive trade practices such as penalties for misrepresenting that the air charter broker is a direct air carrier, and when it is not, as well as misrepresenting kinds of service available, qualifications of pilots or their safety records. Essentially, charter brokers must make is crystal clear to charter buyers that they are providing a value-added service and should not attempt to represent themselves directly or indirectly as an air carrier.
Not sure if you’re working with an air charter broker or an air carrier? You can easily verify certified air carriers or an aircraft tail number through this database. If it’s not on the list, you should ask who is conducting the flight and details about their safety record.
Having an issue with a flight and the DOT rules? You can file a complaint with the DOT and learn more about aviation consumer protection available under DOT rules.