Early reviews mixed for airlines' passenger rights plan
January 19, 2000
Web posted at: 1:11 p.m. EST (1811 GMT)
From Kalin Thomas-Samuel
CNN Travel Now Correspondent
(CNN) -- The voluntary passenger rights plan instituted by the major U.S. airlines a little more than a month ago is getting mixed reviews.
The Air Transport Association (ATA), an airlines trade group, says there have been fewer complaints since the "Customers First" plan was launched.
"Airlines across the board have been working very hard to improve the experience of fliers out there," says David Fuscus, an ATA spokesman. "We think that in the long run, this is going to be very good for passengers."
Under the plan, carriers have pledged to respond to complaints faster, provide on-time baggage delivery, increase the baggage liability limit to $2,500 per bag, offer the lowest fares available and give more information on delays and cancellations.
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Some passengers say they've noticed a change for the better since the plan began in mid-December. "I have not had any problems since December 15 with the airlines I've been traveling with," one customer says.
"I've noticed a difference," another notes. "In Tokyo on a flight, they compensated us for a late takeoff because of repairs to the plane."
Not everyone is echoing those sentiments.
Passengers aboard a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Washington on December 26 sat on the runway at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for more than three hours. The flight was then canceled.
Although the carrier sent each customer an apology letter and a voucher for a free ticket, many of them said that wasn't enough.
Meanwhile, United Airlines, the largest U.S. carrier, announced a new service on Tuesday to inform customers about gate information through e-mail, cell phones and pagers.
Passenger rights advocates like Randall Warren, co-founder of PassengerRights.com, say the voluntary plan is only a temporary fix. He says lawmakers should push forward with a passenger rights bill pending in Congress.
"Legislation that would address these customer service issues and ... mandate that these airlines would follow these practices would be good," Warren says.
Currently, the airlines are responsible for monitoring the success of the "Customers First" plan.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General (OIG) says it will review how the customer service plan is being implemented. To help with that task, OIG has started a Web site that asks passengers for feedback on problems such as finding the lowest fares and dealing with overbooked flights. The department also has a site dedicated to general air travel service problems.