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Progress and Remaining Challenges in Reducing Flight Delays and Improving Airline Customer Service

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On May 20, the Inspector General testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation on progress and remaining challenges with the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to reduce flight delays and improve airline customer service. The Inspector General stated that the air traveler experience in 2008 improved over 2007 with fewer flight delays and a drop in consumer complaints. However, the Inspector General noted that these improvements were primarily driven by flight cutbacks that airlines implemented in the face of last year’s unprecedented fuel prices and onset of the global economic downturn. Also, despite the overall decrease in airline delays, high levels of delay continued at some larger, congested airports, which can affect flights throughout the National Airspace System. Although the current delay statistics and customer service trends look favorable, history shows that traffic will rebound given the intrinsic value of air transport to the Nation’s livelihood. FAA now has an opportunity to strategically position itself for a rebound in air travel. Absent changes, rising air travel will increase the number of delays and cancellations as well as air traveler dissatisfaction. The Inspector General highlighted key actions needed from DOT and FAA. These include: reevaluating the 77 initiatives for delay reduction in the New York area recommended by DOT’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee; continuing to pursue short–term initiatives that can boost capacity and reduce delays systemwide before completion of FAA’s longer term solution to congestion and delays–the Next Generation Air Transportation System, targeted for 2018; and finalizing a rulemaking to enhance airline passenger protections.