ABC’s Lisa Stark reports from Washington:
With as much fanfare as an outgoing President can muster, George Bush showed up eight minutes early to the Department Of Transportation today and before hundreds of employees announced what the government will do to make the skies smoother for the holidays.
1. Open military airspace – The Controller’s union is already noting that despite the military airspace last year, there were more delays for Thanksgiving travelers in 2007 than in 2006, when there was no military airspace open on a wholesale basis.
2. More money for lost bags – This goes into effect in time for Christmas travelers. If the airlines lose your bag, the maximum penalty will increase from $3000 to $3300.
3. More money for violating consumer rights – Again in time for Christmas. If the airline doesn’t fess up on hidden fees (fuel surcharges, etc) or violates consumer protection rights, consumers will be able to collect as much as $27,500 — up from $25,000.
PASSENGER RIGHTS DURING LONG TARMAC DELAYS The Department Of Transportation today will propose a rule that would require airlines to set up airport specific plans to deal with long tarmac delays. The rule will not have a hard and fast time for when an airplane would have to return to the gate. DOT says a one size fits all rule would actually make things worse for passengers. This is a proposed rule — it will obviously spill over into the next administration.
MODERNIZING AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL The President today signed an executive order to make modernizing air traffic control a top federal priority and putting the Secretary of Transportation in charge of making sure this gets done. This is the effort to move to satellite based navigation.
BEST JOKE Mr. Bush began by thanking all the DOT workers for their fabulous efforts. The president said " You have done a terrific job. For the past 8 years I have not seen a traffic jam, waited for a flight, or a had a lost bag."
SECOND BEST LINE "I know that a lot of folks in our country think about transportation a lot, particularly, this time of year," Bush said. "You know, one way to look at it is, they’re saying, ‘Will traveling home for the holidays be, "It’s a Wonderful Life", or will it be "The Nightmare Before Christmas"?’"
Last Thanksgiving the government used military airspace off the East Coast. Approximately 600 planes a day took advantage of that. This year, they will reopen that East Coast space, as well as military airspace over Los Angeles, Phoenix, and over the Rockies (for East-West flights). Mr. Bush called it a move to "expand the Thanksgiving express lanes."