Washington to discuss air passenger rights

The initial Advisory Committee meeting on Aviation Consumer Protections (ACACP) will be held in Washington, DC, Thursday, June 28.

Washington to discuss air passenger rights

The initial Advisory Committee meeting on Aviation Consumer Protections (ACACP) will be held in Washington, DC, Thursday, June 28. The Advisory Committee, overseen by the US Department of Transportation (DOT), will reportedly “examine some of the recent dramatic changes in aviation consumer protections as a result of bankruptcies, low-fare start-ups, burgeoning airline fees, confusing codeshares, and questionable international airline alliance antitrust immunity.”

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Some are calling tomorrow’s meeting called historic, as it marks the first time since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978 that an Advisory Committee mandated by Congress is conducting hearings on the state of aviation consumer protections.

Consumer Travel Alliance, a non-profit organization that represents a wide variety of passenger interests in Washington, has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Advisory Committee and is said to play a pivotal role. Charlie Leocha, Director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, has been tapped to provide the “air travelers” voice in tomorrow’s proceedings.

“This is an historic opportunity to examine the aviation world from the viewpoint of consumers following 30-plus years of airline deregulation,” Charlie Leocha said, “Aviation is a unique part of America’s economy where the rulemakers at the DOT not only write the rules but serve as the sole judge and jury for most violations.”

In this first session, ACACP committee members will review DOT’s enforcement of current rules regarding tarmac delays, lost luggage, overbooking, passengers with disabilities, airline codesharing, and newly-enacted regulations covering full-fare advertising, the new 24-hour-grace period, and flight-specific baggage disclosures on flight itineraries required after airfares have been purchased.

Representatives of consumer groups, business travelers, travel agencies, travel organizations, the airports, and airlines will each have an opportunity to discuss consumer protections and where those regulations need to be strengthened.

Leocha said well-known issues for consumers and business travelers are the failure of airlines to adequately disclose baggage and seat-reservation fees and family complaints about being forced to pay hefty extra fees to sit with their young toddlers, but there are other major issues that need to be addressed.

“We want to make sure that the committee has a broad mandate,” Leocha added. He said he intends to include issues like privacy of travel data being collected by airlines and giant central reservation systems, rights for aggrieved passengers to bring suit against airlines in state courts rather than face the gauntlet of federal courts, and better consumer education efforts that might explain airline passenger rights and rules.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan chairs the Advisory Committee, and David Berg, from Airlines for America, will serve as the airline representative; Deborah Ale-Flint, Director of Aviation at Oakland International Airport, will be representing airport operators.

The meeting is open to the public. Those interested in attending the meeting, may register by contacting Lynora Simmons Kendale at Lynora.SimmonsKendale@dot.gov.