Cancelled flights, high change fees, lost baggage — passenger frustration could be the key to improving fliers’ rights. (Photo: ThinkStock/Manuel Faba Ortega)
A big thank you to Bill McGee, at USA Today, whose recent coverage reminded us that passenger rights in the U.S. are still not clearly defined — and need to be. Whereas Europe has clear rules about how airlines have to treat fliers when various snafus happen (delays, cancellations, etc.), America is still woefully behind on this front.
Our own Brittany Jones Cooper experienced this first-hand recently, when her flight was inexplicably canceled for “weather” reasons, when there was not a cloud in sight. As she discussed with consumer advocate and journalist Chris Elliott, airlines sometimes bend the truth about delays and cancellations in order to save money in hotel and meal expenses for stranded passengers.
However, the good news is that McGee, a journalist who used to work as an aircraft dispatcher and an airline operations manger, has identified a potential catalyst for change in the passenger rights fight: anger. As he wrote:
“Consumer advocates and journalists alike are noting that grievances against airlines are rising; the most recent DOT statistics indicate monthly complaints against U.S. carriers increased by more than a third over last year. ‘I would agree that we’ve reached a new level of dissatisfaction,’ says Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, a nonprofit passenger organization.”
McGee traces the increase in anger to the decrease in seat size and legroom, as well as to a series of trust-destroying industry bungles: the corruption scandal of United’s ex-CEO Jeff Smisek, the DOT’s investigation into price gouging by domestic airlines, and the Department of Justice’s investigation into the possible gaming of seat availability as a way to maintain high fares.
On the bright side, McGee sees some glimmers of hope. A few passenger-rights bills have been introduced in Congress, and advocates have been testifying before the DOT’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection. So eventually something could change — especially if the public gets more involved in the fight. His article outlines a few ways fliers can do that:
- File a complaint against an airline with the Department of Transportation.
- Sign your name to various petitions. FlyerRights.org has a few listed on its site, including one about passenger rights and another about airline change fees.
- Use social media to make complaints directly to airlines. This can be an effective way to get solutions to immediate problems, though some airlines are better than others when it comes to responding quickly.
So come on passengers, make your voices heard. This is one case when getting mad could end up being the best way to get even.