WASHINGTON — Citing record delays and a sharp increase in complaints, leading Senate advocates for better airline service are unimpressed with industry efforts to voluntarily resolve consumer problems and plan to introduce legislation today to ensure passenger rights.
"The airlines have had their chance," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in an interview about a yearlong industry initiative to boost service in key areas, including providing information on fares, scheduling and delays.
The industry said it has made progress, with a spokesman calling congressional intervention an unnecessary attempt to "legislate consumer behavior." Others say efforts to build new airports and runways and further modernize the air traffic system should shape the debate.
But Wyden, a sponsor of a passenger rights measure in 1999 that never reached fruition, is confident he now has the support of fellow Senate Commerce Committee members for a "passenger bill of rights."
And, he said, support is building in the full Senate for a bill that would require airlines to provide timely and accurate information to travelers. The bill also would give passengers legal protection for unfair consumer practices.
Wyden's Democratic colleague Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada plans to unveil legislation today to "protect passengers and preserve high-quality air travel," his office said.
Reid said in a prepared statement that one proposal would cover passenger rights and that a second would address fears caused by industry consolidation.
A Transportation Department inspector general's report on airlines' consumer service efforts is due this week. Wyden and other lawmakers would not speculate on specifics of that audit, mandated by Congress, but interim findings released in June were mixed.
Wyden said he would introduce his bill after the inspector general's report is released.
The industry has vigorously defended its consumer project and blamed the weather for most of the delays that caused headaches for air travelers. The industry has said that only 7% of delays are caused by over-scheduling.