Final Report on Airline Customer Service Commitment
Congressional concern over increasing complaints in air travel soared following the January 1999 incident at the Detroit airport in which hundreds of passengers were stuck in planes on snowbound runways for up to 8 hours. Hearings were held in both the House and Senate to discuss the treatment of aviation passengers and specifically the passenger bill of rights. Congress put legislation on hold after 14 major airlines agreed on June 17, 1999 to a customer service commitment pledging to improve air travel. The airlines developed individual customer service plans to implement the Commitment and to cooperate fully in any request from Congress for periodic review of compliance with the Commitment. We were asked by Congress to review the airlines' compliance with the Commitment and were separately asked to examine the increase in flight delays, cancellation and the impact of the Internet on ticket sales. We reported our preliminary results to Congress in June 2000 on implementation of the Airline Customer Service Commitment. In our initial observations and testing, we found the Airlines are making a clear and genuine effort at strengthening the attention paid to customer service, but bottom line results are mixed, and the Airlines have a long way to go in restoring customer confidence. On February 12, we reported our final results to Congress. This report evaluates the extent to which each airline met all provisions under its plan. Further, as required by law, the report includes a comparison of the customer service of ATA airlines with non-ATA member airlines. The Commitment addresses such matters as improved communication with passengers, quoting the lowest available airfare, and meeting passengers essential needs during long on-board delays. However, the Commitment does not directly address underlying reasons for customer dissatisfaction, such as extensive flight delays, baggage not showing up on arrival, long check-in lines, and high fares in certain markets. Until the Airlines, FAA, and others effectively address these areas, we believe there will continue to be discontent among air travelers. The Airlines have also implemented other initiatives to improve customer comfort and convenience. These initiatives include reconfiguring airplanes to increase the room between rows of seats and replacing overhead luggage compartments with large, easier to use bins.