Airlines promise new steps to improve service
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Buffeted by passenger complaints and pressure from Congress, the nation's 14 largest airlines promised Wednesday to take additional steps to improve customer service.
The steps include putting commitments previously agreed to as voluntary into their contracts of carriage, giving them the force of law. The airlines also said they will ensure that customers buying tickets are aware of the lowest fare available.
"Today's announcement reaffirms our continued commitment to our passengers to improve the air travel experience," said Air Transport Association President Carol Hallett. ATA airlines handle more than 95 percent of all the passenger traffic in the United States.
The announcement preceded a scheduled hearing on airline service Thursday before the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee.
A spokesman with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General called the announcement a move in the right direction, and said he looked forward to more details. The office called for changes in a report released last month.
The airlines' announcement is their second major overture to customers in the past two years. In 1999, the airlines announced 12 voluntary commitments after a wave of bad publicity. In one incident, hundreds of passengers were stuck on planes on snowbound Detroit runways.
Those commitments included taking care of passengers' needs during long on-aircraft delays, offering the lowest fares available, notifying customers of known delays and cancellations, and on-time baggage delivery.
Three airlines put all 12 commitments into their contracts of carriage, while others put only some or none.
Response to DOT report
Last month, the inspector general reported that the airlines were making progress in meeting the commitments, but added that the commitments did not directly address a chief concern -- flight delays and cancellations.
After the report was released, several members of Congress reintroduced bills to force airlines to change their practices.
Wednesday's announcement by the airlines is a direct response to the inspector general's report, and evidently is intended to again stave off legislation.
In a written statement, Hallett said airlines collectively have spent more than $3 billion to improve customer service and that "given these positive developments, attempts to legislate a one-size-fits-all solution to customer service should be viewed cautiously."
Ensuring information for passengers
The ATA announcement says its 14 member airlines will:
-- Take steps to ensure that customers are aware of the lowest fare available when purchasing tickets at airport ticket counters and airline ticket offices.
-- Work to ensure that passengers can determine if their flights are on time, delayed or canceled before they depart for the airport.
-- Commit additional efforts to ensuring that passengers' concerns are heard and addressed, particularly those with special needs and disabilities.
-- Form a task force including representatives of airlines, airports and the Federal Aviation Administration to review and make recommendations that will help ensure airport display monitors and other information customers receive are accurate and timely.
-- Establish performance measurement systems to comply with their respective plans.
In addition, Hallett said, airlines are willing to work to reduce chronic delays and cancellations, but she added that many delays are beyond the airlines' control.
The ATA said it will ask the Transportation Department to review other matters sought by the inspector general, including the compensation airlines must give to passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding, and issues involving damaged bags.
Airlines vow to improve consumer service
Air Transport Association
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