New pat-down procedures at U.S. airports have been all over the news for the past few months. Pat-downs aren't the only new trends in airline travel. Here are a few other airline developments that have made news, and in some cases, have made waves with the traveling public. (For a related reading, see 7 Air Travel Perks That Used To Be Free.)

IN PICTURES: Vacation Savings Tips

Overbooked Flights
Normal airline practice is to overbook flights to offset no-shows, so even a seat reservation doesn't guarantee you'll board your flight. The airline must attempt to find volunteers for a later flight, usually accompanied by the inducement of a flight voucher or cash rebate. If enough volunteers don't come forward, the airline is required to compensate bumped passengers with $400 to $800 depending on the length of the delay or the value of your ticket, whichever is lower. However, you have the power to negotiate your own deal that exceeds the airline's offer.

While the Department of Transportation is exploring increasing the compensation to as much as $1,300, a seat auction may be a better and more efficient way of attracting volunteers. While some airlines will increase the value of the free voucher if there aren't enough takers, other airlines will not. If the auction approach was implemented across the board, it would produce volunteers at free market rates that aren't constrained by outside forces and would likely keep everyone happy.

IN PICTURES: Top 10 Green Industries

Delayed or Canceled Flights
Schedules aren't guaranteed and airlines aren't responsible for bad weather and air traffic delays beyond their control. Each airline sets its own policies for delays and what form of compensation you might receive. There is no federal requirement for airlines to do anything for passengers who experience delays or cancellations.

If an aircraft is stranded on the airport tarmac while awaiting takeoff or after landing, U.S. domestic flights must return to the terminal within a three-hour limit. This limit can be waived by the pilot if there is a security or safety risk with returning to the gate or if air traffic control can't accommodate the return due to ongoing airport operations. International flights must adhere to their own tarmac waiting guidelines.

After two hours, all flights on U.S. airlines must provide food and water to aircraft passengers while still on the tarmac. Working lavatories must be available and medical attention must be provided whenever necessary.

New Baggage Rules
The current rules on baggage count, weight and size vary widely among the airlines. Most allow at least one carry-on bag and one smaller personal item. Some airlines permit one or two checked bags at no additional cost, while others charge for all bags. International flights may subject you to different weight limits when you have a stopover in a foreign airport.

What you can put in your baggage has undergone evolutionary change ever since September 11, 2001. The heaviest restrictions apply to carry-on baggage and the following items are currently prohibited: Many sporting goods, sharp objects, most tools, guns and firearms, explosive and flammable materials, disabling chemicals, martial arts and self-defense items, and other hazardous items. Nonflammable gels, liquids and aerosols are permitted in containers not exceeding 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) in a single, clear, quart-size bag. Medications and baby formulas may exceed these limits but must be personally inspected at security checkpoints. (For more, see 4 Reasons Why Airlines Are Always Struggling.)

Security Screenings
Pat-downs at security checkpoints aren't new, but are more intrusive and aggressive than they were in the past. Whereas screeners previously used the back of their hands to brush for hidden objects, they now use fingers and palms to probe and search sensitive and private areas of the body.

The pat-down is used on passengers who refuse to pass through the new advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners that present a nude image to the screener. They are also used in cases where metal detectors are triggered and detect possible dangerous or prohibited items, or if a person exhibits suspicious behavior. The average operating cost per passenger is approximately $1 per trip through a checkpoint, and a majority of the scanners were funded as part of the economic stimulus bill.

Concerns have surfaced about the potential danger of repeated exposure to the radiation emitted by AIT scanners. The units project low-level X-rays over the body using backscatter technology, and the resulting image is viewed by a TSA official about 50-feet away. According to the TSA, the images are deleted once they are viewed and are not stored or saved. The TSA claims the scans are completely safe and that the exposure is equivalent to the radiation experienced in a two-minute airplane flight at an altitude of 30,000 feet. (For a related reading, see Dead Airlines And What Killed Them.)

Surcharges
In the good old days, you bought your ticket and everything was included. Not anymore. In order to keep ticket prices as low as possible, most airlines are now charging fees for a wide range of a la carte services. The fee for the first checked bag ranges from zero (JetBlue, Southwest) to $25 with several major airlines. For the second checked bag, the fee ranges from zero (Southwest) to $35 for several of the majors.

The airlines are further padding revenues by charging for additional bags, overweight bags, and oversized bags. You might also pay an additional fee for meals, snacks, beverages, pet travel, an unaccompanied minor and preferred seat selection. Some airlines have also upped the mileage requirements for frequent flier redemptions. (To learn more, see The Industry Handbook: The Airline Industry.)

The Bottom Line
While there has been much controversy over many of the changes to air travel, it doesn't seem to be having a negative effect on the bottom lines of the major airlines. Profits for the first nine months of 2010 for U.S. airlines exceeded $7 billion, topping the full-year profits for every year going back to 1999. Load factors were consistently high all year and reached 86.9% in July, a record for that month.

Data for the entire year promises to be very positive as the last quarter saw airports jammed with passengers throughout the holiday season. That's quite a recovery from just two years ago when a loss of $5.5 billion was booked as demand fell off a cliff and oil surged to almost $150 per barrel.

For the latest financial news, check out Water Cooler Finance: You're Never Too Old To Work.

Related Articles
  1. Savings

    How Volatile Exchange Rates Affect Your Vacation

    Those ever-changing fluctuations can make a difference in anything from your hotel room to an ATM transaction.
  2. Investing

    Luxury Youth Hostels the Future for Hotel Chains?

    Youth hostels are a section of the hospitality industry that has largely been ignored by the big hotel companies, but which could help them win future customers.
  3. Personal Finance

    Finding Cheap Airline Tickets: An Insider’s Guide

    If understanding airline pricing feels like decoding riddles, arm yourself with these six simple strategies to land the best value ticket available online.
  4. Credit & Loans

    Travel Tips: Avoid Exchange Rate Headaches

    How to avoid the most common issues and hassles raised by exchange rates while traveling abroad.
  5. Personal Finance

    JetSuite Simplifies Private Jet Rental

    Chartering your own plane just got a bit more affordable.
  6. Personal Finance

    Best Ways to Exchange Currency

    How to avoid fees and get the best deal for your dollar.
  7. Fundamental Analysis

    Bet on this U.S. Automaker for Long-Term Gains

    Ford holds a stronger technical position than General Motors and also pays a consistent dividend. This combination could mean greater 3-to-5-year returns.
  8. Budgeting

    Debit vs. Credit Card: Which Is Better for Booking a Hotel?

    When booking a hotel it might be your best choice to use a credit card rather than a debit card.
  9. Budgeting

    The Best Credit Cards for Travel Insurance

    There are several credit cards that offer travel protection insurance if a scheduled trip is delayed or canceled.
  10. Investing

    The Top 3 Most Profitable Mid-Priced Hotels

    American hotels recently released earnings. Here's a look at three of the most profitable mid-sized hotels.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Transferable Points Programs

    With transferable points programs, customers earn points by using ...
  2. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

    A service of the U.S. Department of State that lets U.S. citizens ...
  3. NEXUS

    A Trusted Traveler Program that allows pre-screened U.S. and ...
  4. Global Entry

    A U.S. program giving pre-approved travelers a faster Customs ...
  5. SENTRI

    This U.S. program grants pre-approved travelers access to a faster ...
  6. TSA PreCheck

    This program allows travelers deemed low-risk by the Transportation ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What are the main factors that drive share prices in the railroads sector?

    Several factors drive the railroad industry and railroad company stock prices. As with most businesses, some factors can ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How does seasonality affect the railroads sector?

    Seasonal factors impact the railroad industry in a number of ways and in relation to both income and expenditures. Seasonal ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are the most popular mutual funds that give exposure to the railroads sector?

    The railroad industry makes up nearly half of North American freight transportation from city to city and can provide dependable ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Is the railroads sector appropriate for a growth investor?

    The railroads sector is a subset of the transportation sector, which is a group of stocks that relates to the transportation ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the average profit margin for a company in the railroads sector?

    When examining average profit margins for companies in the railroad industry, it is important to consider both net profit ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the average price-to-book ratio in the railroads sector?

    Railroads generally have solid price-to-book, or P/B, ratios a bit above the 2.0 level; these levels are considered "good" ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!