February 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 2000 Current Issue
February 2000 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel

By Sarah J.F. Braley


Hoping to avoid federal pro-passenger laws, carriers issue a voluntary pledge

With storms brewing on Capitol Hill, threatening legislation of passenger rights, the airline members of the Air Transport Association worked with members of Congress to develop a 12-point Airline Customer Service Commitment, which all the major carriers have agreed to honor.

The commitment went into effect on Dec. 15 with the following promises.

  • Airlines will offer the lowest fare available through their telephone reservations systems.
  • Airlines will notify customers of known delays, cancellations and diversions.
  • Carriers will make every “reasonable” effort to return checked bags within 24 hours and will attempt to reach any customer whose unclaimed, checked luggage contains contact information.
  • The airlines will support an increase in the baggage liability limit. The day before the Airline Customer Service Commitment went into effect, the Department of Transportation announced that passengers are entitled to increased compensation when bags are lost, damaged or delayed. The previous figure, set in 1984, was $1,250; the limit has now doubled to $2,500.
  • Customers will be able to hold a telephone reservation without payment for up to 24 hours. Or, at the carrier’s discretion, travelers will be able to cancel a reservation without penalty within 24 hours, allowing them to check for lower fares elsewhere.
  • The airlines will provide refunds within seven days for eligible tickets purchased by credit card, 20 days for those purchased with cash.
  • Airlines will properly accommodate passengers with disabilities and special needs.
  • Carriers will meet customers’ essential needs during long on-aircraft delays, which should prevent situations like the one during a January 1999 snowstorm in Detroit when hundreds of Northwest Airlines’ passengers were trapped on airport taxiways for up to eight hours.
  • Bumped passengers will be handled with fairness and consistency.
  • Each airline will disclose to its customers changes in aircraft; cancellation policies involving failure to use flight-segment coupons; rules, restrictions and an annual report on frequent flyer redemptions; and, upon request, information regarding aircraft configuration, including seat size and pitch.
  • The airlines will ensure good customer service from their code-share partners.
  • Carriers will be more responsive to customer complaints, responding to all written complaints within 60 days.
  • The full text of the commitment is available at the ATA’s Web site, www.air-transport.org.

    Do these promises go far enough? No, says Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who co-sponsored the now-tabled Airline Passenger Fairness Act with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last spring.

    “Rather than doing anything concrete and enforceable to help passengers, this PR blitz by the airlines is nothing but lofty-sounding rhetoric,” says Sen. Wyden, adding that if passenger complaints continue, an act like the APFA could be reintroduced.

    Appropriate reaction.The Mayo Clinic’s Web site, the Health Oasis, provides information on food allergies and travel (www.mayohealth.org/mayo/9911/htm/foodallergies.htm),. The page lists tips for avoiding problems on the road and provides links to related sites.

    Smoke out. With an average of 95 percent of guests asking for nonsmoking rooms, San Francisco’s Hotel Vintage Court has gone smokeless. Beginning Jan. 1, all rooms and public areas became nonsmoking. For those who want to light up, a semi-enclosed smoking zone has been set up outside the hotel.

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