I used to genuinely enjoy flying on commercial airlines. Being old enough to have flown prior to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, I remember roomy seats, quite a few empty seats, free & decent meals, fully refundable tickets, no-penalty flight changes, relaxed and friendly flight crews, and higher ticket prices.
After deregulation – a liberal-backed idea, by the way – service degraded to the point at which Congress finally passed a “Passenger Bill of Rights” in 2009, later beefing it up in 2010. True, the airlines argued against the Bill of Rights and for policing themselves but since those efforts will only semi-successful, Congress acted.
The enhanced “Passenger Bill of Rights” requires that U. S. carriers: adopt contingency plans for long delays when passengers are stranded in planes on the tarmac, including adequate food, water, medical care and restroom access within 2 hours and deplaning within 3 hours; use their web sites to post their contracts of carriage, contingency plans, customer service plans and flight delays; respond to consumer problems; incur stiff fines for chronically late flights, which are deemed unfair and deceptive; adopt customer service plans and self-audit their compliance; refrain from retroactively materially amending their contracts of carriage in ways having “significant negative implications” for consumers.
While Congress did not specify the contents of U. S. carriers’ customer service plans, the plans must address 12 areas: offering the lowest fare available; notifying consumers of known delays, cancellations, and diversions; delivering baggage on time; allowing reservations to be held or cancelled without penalty for a defined amount of time; providing prompt ticket refunds; properly accommodating disabled and special-needs passengers, including during tarmac
delays; meeting customers’ essential needs during long on-aircraft delays; handling “bumped” passengers with fairness and consistency in the case of oversales; disclosing travel itinerary, cancellation policies, frequent flyer rules, and aircraft configuration; ensuring good customer service from code-share partners; ensuring responsiveness to customer complaints; and identifying the services it provides to mitigate passenger inconveniences resulting from cancellations and misconnects.
Fast forward to December 2014, armed with my “Passenger Bill of Rights,” and I had my worst ever round-trip from New York to Los Angeles. Multiple long delays causing missed connecting flights for myself and many of my fellow passengers, misleading information, no rescheduling until the inevitably missed flight was actually missed, significant rerouting, no compensation, passenger seats so tiny and crammed together that there was a fist fight waiting to happen among already-stressed passengers, insufficient time between rescheduled flights, and lost luggage. What a nightmare! Furthermore, I was assured by other passengers that “all the airlines do it now.” Has the flying experience further degraded to this level in the few months since my last flight?
I’m calling for a beefing up of the beefed up “Passenger Bill of Rights,” particularly regarding these horrific delays, time allotted between flights and space allotted for each passenger. Otherwise, driving is looking very good compared to flying.
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