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U.S. lawmakers grill airline execs after customer disasters


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U.S. lawmakers grill airline execs after customer disasters

By David Shepardson and Alana Wise

REUTERS

 

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United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz prepares to testify at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on "Oversight of U.S. Airline Customer Service," in the aftermath of the forced removal on April 9 of a passenger from a UAL Chicago flight, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers threatened United Airlines and other carriers on Tuesday with legislation aimed at improving customer service after a passenger was hauled down the aisle of a flight last month.

 

Top airline executives testified to the House of Representatives transportation committee and promised to address customer service failures at the hearing held to consider ways to address passenger frustrations with problems such as overbooking.

 

The industry breathed a sigh of relief after the four-hour hearing, in which lawmakers did not outline any immediate plans for increased oversight on the largely deregulated sector.

 

In April, video went viral on social media of 69-year-old passenger David Dao being dragged from a United flight at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after he refused to give up his seat to make room for crew members.

 

United Chief Executive Oscar Munoz repeatedly apologised at the hearing for the removal of Dao, with whom the airline reached a settlement last week for an undisclosed sum.

 

"In that moment for our customers and our company we failed, and so as CEO, at the end of the day, that is on me," Munoz said. He called the removal the result of a series of system failures and "a mistake of epic proportions. "Munoz was joined at the hearing by United President Scott Kirby and executives from American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

 

American Airlines experienced its own public relations fiasco last month when a passenger video went viral, showing a woman on a plane in tears holding a child in her arms and another at her side after an encounter with a flight attendant over a baby stroller.

 

"Clearly what happened was wrong," said Kerry Philipovitch, the airline's senior vice president of customer experience, at the hearing.

 

Airline stocks rose after the hearing and Delta Air Lines Inc reported a gain in April traffic.

 

On Tuesday, United's stock closed up 5.2 percent, Delta gained 5.4 percent, American added 4.3 percent, and Southwest was up 3.6 percent.

 

Analyst Jim Corridore of CFRA Research said investors were focussing on news of Delta's improved unit revenue and were also relieved that lawmakers did not outline plans for immediate moves to tighten regulations.

 

Many lawmakers fly weekly to and from Washington and during the hearing took the opportunity to recount the frustrations customers routinely face, including complicated booking systems, confusing fees, long waits and unexplained flight delays.

 

"We all know it's a terrible experience," said Representative Michael Capuano, a Democrat from Massachusetts, throwing his arms in the air in frustration. "Some charge fees for baggage, some charge fees for oxygen, who knows?"

 

Bill Shuster, chairman of the House of Representatives' transportation committee, said: "If airlines don't get their act together, we are going to act; it is going to be one size fits all. Seize this opportunity because if you don't, we're going to come, and you're not going to like it."

 

After the hearing, Munoz said the message that change was needed was loud and clear.

 

"I think the sense in the room was one of an admonition to get your collective stuff together," Munoz told reporters at the Capitol. The alternative is to face additional legislation, "which I think is fair," he added.

 

In response to the dragging incident, United has changed its policies by reducing overbooked flights and offering passengers who give up their seats up to $10,000.

 

Airlines have said they routinely overbook flights because a small percentage of passengers do not show up.

 

Delta Air Lines declined to testify. In a statement, the airline said it was working with individual members of Congress on customer service issues.

 

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Amanda Becker in Washington; Writing by Roberta Rampton and Amanda Becker; Editing by Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)

 
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-- © Copyright Reuters 2017-05-03
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The  greed  factor is  always  there. Over  booking on the  basis  of  non show means  a  bonus on direct  seat income. Given that  most  major  airlines bulk sell  seats  to  agents  well prior  to actual flight  date leaves the  loss of  non shows  of those  seats on the  plate of the  agents.

Seats  retained  to be sold  by the  Airline itself are only a loss if those unsold. But  compensated  by the potential to   bung in  extra  airfreight .

If  policy  stated  in  fine print  somewhere declares  that  a  fully  paid  up  customer  who  is seated  on an aircraft can  be  asked  to depart  to allow  another on  is  discriminatory  in the  very  least Unless  it comes  with   very substantial incentive  other  than  being  rendered  injured!

Consumer  rights apply  in  most  industries. 

Why  do   Airlines get to claim an exception ?

 

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50 minutes ago, anotheruser said:

 

It isn't that easy, unless you want the price of tickets to go up substantially. All they have to do is bribe people to give up their spots voluntarily. 

the is the definition of overbooking quote

" You arrive at the airport, pass through security and head to your gate, only to find that your plane is overbooked. Someone -- or several someones -- won't make it onto your flight. Could that someone be you?

An overbooked flight can be a mixed blessing. If you're the type of traveler who loves to reap the rewards of forfeiting your seat, an overbooked plane means a chance to rack up meal coupons and flight vouchers. If not, you could find yourself involuntarily scrambling for an alternate route to Miami London."

screw this policy

 

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Just now, Farang hunter said:

the is the definition of overbooking quote

" You arrive at the airport, pass through security and head to your gate, only to find that your plane is overbooked. Someone -- or several someones -- won't make it onto your flight. Could that someone be you?

An overbooked flight can be a mixed blessing. If you're the type of traveler who loves to reap the rewards of forfeiting your seat, an overbooked plane means a chance to rack up meal coupons and flight vouchers. If not, you could find yourself involuntarily scrambling for an alternate route to Miami London."

screw this policy

 

If you are in your seat you are flying. Seems easy enough to understand.  If you are at the gate you are getting bumped. 

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well I am not type of traveler who loves to reap the rewards of forfeiting my seat to rack up meal coupons and flight vouchers.   when I book my flight I like to be on my way to my destination please.

Edited by Farang hunter
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2 hours ago, anotheruser said:

 

It isn't that easy, unless you want the price of tickets to go up substantially. All they have to do is bribe people to give up their spots voluntarily. 

Er, there are only so many seats on a plane. If they are all sold - not oversold - the airline has presumably made its profit. If not, they need to improve their mathematics and economics, not pass it onto passengers as a wholly unacceptable policy.

 

If someone fails to turn up without adequate notice having been given, and without adequate reason (which should be covered by insurance, anyway), that is their loss. Frankly, there is invariably somebody (likely more than one) on standby. And less passengers does mean less weight.

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2 hours ago, anotheruser said:

If you are in your seat you are flying. Seems easy enough to understand.  If you are at the gate you are getting bumped. 

'If you are in your seat you are flying.' You are? Seems United didn't get the memo.

Edited by Jonmarleesco
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Just now, Jonmarleesco said:

Er, there are only so many seats on a plane. If they are all sold - not oversold - the airline has presumably made its profit. If not, they need to improve their mathematics and economics, not pass it onto passengers as a wholly unacceptable policy.

 

If someone fails to turn up without adequate notice having been given, and without adequate reason (which should be covered by insurance, anyway), that is their loss. Frankly, there is invariably somebody (likely more than one) on standby. And less passengers does mean less weight.

As I said if you are already on the plane and in a seat they can no longer drag you out. If you are not on the plane then you have to put up with how it is. The airline can no longer drag people screaming and kicking out of their seats.

 

If they now have to offer $10,000 at the gate that will solve the problem. How many people here can honestly say they would refuse that kind of money?

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Just now, Jonmarleesco said:

'If you are in your seat you are flying.' You are? Seems United didn't get the memo.

They got it now. Estimates of their settlement estimate they may have had to give the passenger they assaulted more than 10 million dollars. It is an "undisclosed"  amount and normally that's huge.

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I am not sure what people do not understand about the fact that over bookings will be handled before people are on the plane. That is the mistake UA made is to force somebody off the plane. Same scenario plays out in the gate area this doesn't happen.

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That flight was NOT overbooked until the last 20 minutes when the airline decided to get 4 of their crew onto that flight by kicking off 4 regular customers. The airline can force passengers off by law and they did.

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15 hours ago, anotheruser said:

 

It isn't that easy, unless you want the price of tickets to go up substantially. All they have to do is bribe people to give up their spots voluntarily. 

Why would the price of tickets go up? The airlines have already sold the seat and taken the money. This is just the airlines trying to make extra money by selling the seats twice; extra gravy for them. It has no bearing on the initial ticket price.

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10 minutes ago, UnkleMoooose said:

Why would the price of tickets go up? The airlines have already sold the seat and taken the money. This is just the airlines trying to make extra money by selling the seats twice; extra gravy for them. It has no bearing on the initial ticket price.

The airlines counted on that "extra" gravy for revenue. If they no longer can do so they will pass the cost on.

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14 hours ago, Farang hunter said:

the is the definition of overbooking quote

" You arrive at the airport, pass through security and head to your gate, only to find that your plane is overbooked. Someone -- or several someones -- won't make it onto your flight. Could that someone be you?

An overbooked flight can be a mixed blessing. If you're the type of traveler who loves to reap the rewards of forfeiting your seat, an overbooked plane means a chance to rack up meal coupons and flight vouchers. If not, you could find yourself involuntarily scrambling for an alternate route to Miami London."

screw this policy

 

If all the passengers are offered anything close to $10,000 to take the next flight, it seems likely that more than the required number will be happy to accept the offer.

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38 minutes ago, UnkleMoooose said:

Why would the price of tickets go up? The airlines have already sold the seat and taken the money. This is just the airlines trying to make extra money by selling the seats twice; extra gravy for them. It has no bearing on the initial ticket price.

 

Unless you have a refundable ticket.  It's a lot less common today than it was in years past.  But if you avoid the lowest tranche of airfares, you may have the option of changing your flight.  If you do that, your seat will be empty and the airline made nothing on that empty seat- unless they overbooked.  My company has a policy where we get refundable tickets when we travel for the company, as do lots of individuals.

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11 minutes ago, dick dasterdly said:

If all the passengers are offered anything close to $10,000 to take the next flight, it seems likely that more than the required number will be happy to accept the offer.

Yup and then the airline will just pass that cost on to the rest of us. Isn't capitalism fun? :)

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12 minutes ago, dick dasterdly said:

If all the passengers are offered anything close to $10,000 to take the next flight, it seems likely that more than the required number will be happy to accept the offer.

 

That will be good news to some of my cohorts who deliberately choose flights that are generally overbooked, specifically so they stand a good chance of getting bumped and compensated.  

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42 minutes ago, anotheruser said:

Yup and then the airline will just pass that cost on to the rest of us. Isn't capitalism fun? :)

Except overbooking causing a problem doesn't happen very often (hasten to add, as far as I know!), and when the problem arises the bribe offered probably doesn't need to reach $10,000 to attract the required number of passengers to take the next flight.

 

In short, I think the amount involved will be negligible.

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6 hours ago, IAMHERE said:

That flight was NOT overbooked until the last 20 minutes when the airline decided to get 4 of their crew onto that flight by kicking off 4 regular customers. The airline can force passengers off by law and they did.

The CEO has made it clear that they won't make that (very expensive) mistake again :laugh:!

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