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Late Planes and Lost Baggage: Airlines Ranked Low in Customer Satisfaction by New Study

Aired April 10, 2000 - 1:08 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: The commercial airlines in the United States have been on notice for at least a year that the flying public is greatly dissatisfied with their performance. So has anything changed in that year? University researchers say yes, by most criteria the flying experience is getting worse.

We get details now from CNN's Carl Rochelle who joins us from Washington.

Carl, what's going on?

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, it's this report. It's the annual report that's put out, the Airline Quality Rating 2000, that's this year's rating. And the officials who put this out say that complaints were up 130 percent over last year, that almost everything is worse. The only thing that's a little bit better is mishandled baggage, and they said that's .08 percent improvement which statistically is insignificant. But in other areas everything was down, that is: on-time performance and getting bumped off of airline flights.

And they also rate the top 10 airlines by their book. Number one on their category was Southwest Airlines and number two was Continental, followed by Delta, Northwest, and Alaska Airways. Now US Airways, which was number one last year, plunged to sixth place in 1999, followed by American, America West, Trans World, and for the second year in a row, United Airlines was in last place.

Well, we went out to close-in National Airport to talk to some passengers this morning, to see if they agreed that service from airlines isn't all it ought to be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's obvious that the airlines are getting more crowded, the schedules more crowded, and it just seems like it's being more and more difficult to be able to get from A to B, that's for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once we went to Europe, and my husband was, for a whole week, with no clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't like the way that you get packed in, like basically into a plane. Taking a bus is actually more comfortable now a days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE: Now airline traffic is up, there's no question about that, and also, profits for airlines are up. And one of the researchers said that the airlines should be putting those profits into getting better service for passengers, but really isn't doing that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRENT BOWEN, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA: They haven't come back. They haven't come back from the times when they were not making money and they were offering bad service. Now they are making money and they're still, as a whole, not offering good service. So what are they doing? They are keeping the money. They are keeping the money that allows them to offer good service.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE: Now the Air Transport Association calls some of those figures statistically insignificant. They say they're only talking to a small number of the complainers, a small number of the people who fly, who are making the complaints, and they defend that. They say that they are moving forward on trying to improve the industry itself but only started in the last couple of weeks of last year. So, they haven't been able to move forward in that period where they took a significant look at them last year.

Congress did consider passing an airline passenger's bill of rights last year, considered it, but did not take any action on it. This group is calling for another airline passenger act -- Lou.

WATERS: Will this give impetus to that, these complaints?

ROCHELLE: I'm sure it will. All of the complaints, every time the complaints go up, you know, one of the things that is really significant, Lou, is passenger traffic is growing by leaps and bounds. And if you've been in the airport, and I know you fly, like I do, a lot, you see that the flights are crowded, the airports are crowded, and they're trying --- everybody is trying to get to the same place at the same time and there's going to be some backups in there. So, yes, and passengers are ultimately, probably going to go to Congress and ask them to take some steps if the airline industry doesn't do it for them. The airline industry says they are trying to do it now, Lou.

WATERS: All right, Carl Rochelle in Washington.

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