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Government report card on airline customer service due Monday

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Transportation releases its "Final Report on Airline Customer Service" on Monday, a detailed assessment of how well the airline industry has met a series of commitments to improve conditions for air travelers.

The audit was conducted by the DOT's Office of Inspector General. It was the largest in the office's 23-year history, with 10 percent of its staff devoted to the project.

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Congressional concern over air travel complaints soared after the January 1999 incident at Detroit's Metro Airport in which hundreds of passengers were stuck in planes on snowbound runways for up to eight hours or longer. Hearings that followed in both the House and Senate discussed the treatment of air passengers and a proposed "Passenger Bill of Rights."

Congress put legislation on hold after the 14 major airlines represented by the Air Transport Association (ATA) agreed in June 1999 to a 12-point customer service commitment pledging to improve air travel.

Among the points to which they agreed: offer the lowest fare available to customers, support an increase in the baggage liability limit, meet customers' essential needs during long on-aircraft delays, and handle bumped passengers with fairness and consistency.

The Senate Commerce Committee asked the Inspector General's office to conduct the review, looking at each airline's customer service plan and evaluating the extent to which each carrier met its commitments under the plan.

The final report is also expected to include recommendations for improving accountability and enforcement of the consumer protections.

To complete the report, the staff from the Inspector General's office visited reservation centers, airline facilities and the corporate offices of the 17 airlines it studied. Staffers reviewed mishandled baggage claims, reviewed compensation given to bumped passengers, and observed the treatment of disabled travelers.

Congress also asked the office to examine the reasons for increasing flight delays. The Federal Aviation Administration reported flight delays increased 58 per cent between 1995 and 1999, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported a 68 per cent increase in cancellations.

For the first 11 months of 2000, more than one in four domestic flights were delayed, canceled, or diverted.

The most recent assessment of air travel came February 1, when the DOT released its Air Travel Consumer Report for 2000. It found airlines had an overall on-time record of 72.6 per cent, the worst rate for any year since 1995, when data began to be collected.



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RELATED SITES:
U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Air Travel Consumer Report Index
Welcome to the FAA
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. DOT
U.S. House of Representatives: Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

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