Thursday, 15 December 2016

"Are Government Fines Really Improving Air Travel?"

Are Government Fines Really Improving Air Travel? (by Christoher Elliott, Huffington Post, 5 December 2016):

The Department of Transportation fined airlines $4.5 million in 2016 for infractions ranging from lengthy tarmac delays to failing to compensate passengers for lost luggage, almost double last year’s amount and the highest since 2013.

The DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division, which is responsible for ensuring that airlines follow federal regulations, issued 23 consent orders — voluntary agreements worked out between the agency and an airline that generally have the same effect as a court order — in 2016, up from 15 last year….

But it isn’t clear whether these actions are benefitting the passengers they’re supposed to protect. Industry watchers say the numbers don’t tell the full story….

Industry critics are … unhappy with the size of the DOT fines, saying they are not a significant deterrent. Airlines collect about $250 billion in revenue each year for travel to, from and within the United States, which means their DOT fines represent about 0.002 percent of their profits….

Consumer advocates say that while they’re encouraged by this year’s enforcement actions, the DOT has focused on some issues while ignoring others…. More needs to be done to keep them informed, says Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, an advocacy group for air travelers. He thinks that the DOT needs to begin posting some of the rules that deal with lost-luggage compensation and denied-boarding statements at airports, so passengers will know their rights.

“It would keep the airlines honest,” Leocha says.

But would it make air travel any better? It’s hard to tell.

“Given the puny financial settlements, the real test of effectiveness should be whether airlines comply with the promises in these consent agreements,” says consumer advocate Edward Hasbrouck. “But there’s no evidence of DOT follow-up audits of compliance with these consent decrees, or of enhanced penalties for repeat violations — even though violating a consent agreement is contempt of court.”

Sadly, most of what I said in the first year of the Obama Administration about the need for DOT action to protect consumers is still relevant in the final lame-duck days of President Obama’s second term. And with the former owner of a (failed) airline moving into the White House, we can scarcely expect his Administration to sympathize with passengers against airline owners.

Travelers United and other consumer advocates for travellers will need your support more than ever.

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 15 December 2016, 16:11 ( 4:11 PM)
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