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CNN Today

Major U.S. Airlines Launch 'Customer First' Plan; Internet Sites Allow Consumers to Post Service Complaints

Aired January 19, 2000 - 1:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: If you're a frequent flier, you may know the major airlines have launched a voluntary plan to be a little more responsive to your needs and frustrations. Then again, you may not have noticed.

CNN travel correspondent Kalin Thomas-Samuel has our progress report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KALIN THOMAS-SAMUEL, CNN TRAVEL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Air Transport Association says fewer complaints are just one of the positive result since the major U.S. air carriers launched the "customers first" plan.

DAVID FUSCUS, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: Airlines across the board have been working very hard to improve the experience of flyers out there. We think that, in the long run, this is going to be very good for passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was flying, actually, right before Christmas and I did notice a change -- a slight change, but, I mean, it's a change for the better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have been better, when you're on the planes, letting you know what's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, if that's an improvement in airline service, I'm missing the boat somewhere. In fact, next time I should take the boat. I probably would have been here faster.

THOMAS-SAMUEL: Here are some of the ways airlines are implementing the "customers first" plan: Delta has installed monitors to give passengers more information in the gate area; and this week, United Airlines announced a service to inform customers about flight delays and cancellations through e-mail, cell phones and pagers.

One of the first carriers to put the plan to the test was Northwest Airlines. On December 26, passengers bound for Washington, D.C. sat on the runway in Minneapolis-St. Paul for more than three hours. The flight was then canceled. And though Northwest sent each customer an apology letter and a voucher for a free ticket, many passengers said that wasn't enough. (on camera): Passenger rights advocates say this voluntary plan is only a temporary fix. They say what's really needed is a more permanent solution from Congress.

KENDALL WARREN, PASSENGERRIGHTS.COM: The legislation that would address these customer service issues and would put into law and would mandate the airlines -- that the airlines follow these practices would absolutely be good.

THOMAS-SAMUEL (voice-over): There is a passenger rights bill pending in Congress. But in the meantime, the airlines are responsible for monitoring the success of the "customers first" plan. The Department of Transportation wants to hear what travelers have to say so it started a Web site for passengers, asking for specific information on problems such as finding the lowest fares and dealing with overbooked flights.

Kalin Thomas-Samuel, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: Now, more about those on-line complaint for the Department of Transportation: Joining us from the CNN Interactive newsroom, Allison Tom with more about that -- Allison.

ALLISON TOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Lou.

Well, U.S. government as well as travel industry organizations want to hear what consumers have to say in regards to their experiences with the airlines. There are a number of resources on the Internet. We're going to show you a few of them that might be of most assistance for consumers who want to file a complaint or and/or get information in regards to passenger rights.

The first site is the U.S. government department -- the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general Web site. This site here will allow consumers to file a complaint in regards to overbooking problems as well as ticket price problems that they may have as well.

We'll show you the form right here. And if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you can see the information that you need to put on this particular page. Things that are important: your name, as well as the flight information. Those are all things that you have to have, as well as any specifics -- we're going to scroll down some more -- in regards to comments that you have to have. This will be really helpful in determining what the problem might be as well as how the airlines might handle it.

Now, a lot of the information that's used on these particular Web sites will be used to figure out whether or not there will need to be some sort of passenger rights legislation in the future.

Another site that you go to if you have some other problems that don't pertain to any of those two issues is the U.S. Department of Transportation site here. You can find a number of different resources, as well as filing a complaint. And they also offer a number of airline consumer contacts that you might find especially helpful. So all the information is right here. Most of these are the 10 major airlines in the United States.

If you're looking for other resources, Biztraveler.org will offer a lot of consumers that information in regards to knowing what your rights are as well as filing a complaint. And they also offer some specific information here as to where you can go for assistance. Again, this form is very similar to the Department of Transportation's that we showed you earlier. Fill out all the specific information in regards to your complaint, the airline that you were on, as well as the flight information that you have.

The difference between this particular Web site and the DOT's is that they will essentially help you out in regards to filing the complaint with the particular airline, as well as with the Department of Transportation.

And last but not least, we have one other site here, which is Passengerrights.com. This site offers, again, a number of resources for you. And of particular importance is that they have all the different airline policies. So, for instance, if you want to find out what a specific airline is that you're traveling on, you can select the company -- so we'll say, for instance, British Airways -- and you can also select a particular rule; for instance, if they have free baggage allowances. They'll give you a description here as to what the policy is.

Now, the three main things that you really need to remember when filing any complaints is that you should file it directly with the airline or the company that you're having a problem with. If you're looking for any type of resolution, you should also follow up to find out what the status is of your particular complaint.

And last but not least, if you do anything on the Internet, be sure that you know what the privacy policy statements are so that you know what your information will be used for.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Allison, did I hear you say that the Department of Transportation's complaints will be used by the Congress in helping them decide whether this bill pending before the Congress now, the passenger bill of rights, will be passed or not?

TOM: That's correct. They are using this information. It's merely an unscientific information that they're collecting. They want to hear from consumers firsthand what their experiences are. Once they have that information, they will present that to Congress to show them: Here are some concrete examples of consumers that are having problems with the airline industry.

WATERS: All right.

Allison Tom at CNN Interactive.

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