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U.S. says air carriers need to give better service

November 23, 2006|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. airline industry needs to do a better job of providing timely information about flight delays and in handling bumped passengers, an internal government watchdog said on the eve of one of the country's busiest travel periods.

The Transportation Department's inspector general issued a report to Congress, made public Wednesday, that highlights several industrywide shortcomings in customer service.

In a review of the operations at 14 large U.S. airlines, including AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, JetBlue Airways Corp., Northwest Airlines Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc., the inspector general found that carriers needed improvement in:

* Giving passengers accurate and timely information about delays and cancellations;

* Training employees who assist passengers with disabilities;

* Explaining to frequent fliers the rules and restrictions governing redemptions, and;

* Compensating passengers who agree to give up seats on overbooked flights.

The review was requested by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in June 2005. A similar review was conducted in 1999 at a time when the U.S. economy was booming and the nation's aviation system was extremely strained.

Since then, the airline industry has undergone significant changes wrought by the downturn that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. Many carriers are reporting profits, despite high fuel prices, in part because of cutbacks in flying capacity that have enabled them to raise fares.

The inspector general's report comes just one day before Thanksgiving, when an estimated 38.3 million people will travel 50 miles or more, according to the American Automobile Assn.

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