For the first time since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, an advisory committee mandated by Congress is conducting hearings on the state of aviation consumer protections, according to Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA).
The initial Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protections (ACACP) meeting, which is open to the public, will be held today. The advisory committee is overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
"The committee will 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, " Leocha says.
"This is an historic opportunity to examine the aviation world from the viewpoint of consumers following 30-plus years of airline deregulation," says Leocha. "Aviation is a unique part of Americas 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 a diversity of issues, including: DOTs enforcement of current rules regarding tarmac delays, lost luggage, overbooking, passengers with disabilities, airline codesharing and newly enacted regulations covering full-fare advertising. Other issues include 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 notes.
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 children, he says.
"We want to make sure that the committee has a broad mandate," explains Leocha. He intends to include issues like privacy of travel data being collected by airlines and giant central reservation systems, among them. Rights for aggrieved passengers to bring suit against airlines in state courts rather than face the gauntlet of federal courts is another issue Leocha wants addressed. Better consumer education efforts that might explain airline passenger rights and rules is another CTA goal.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan chairs the advisory committee. In addition to Leocha, other committee members include David Berg, from Airlines for America, the airline representative, and Deborah Ale-Flint, director of aviation at Oakland International Airport, representing airport operators.