On Eve Of Year's Busiest Travel Season, 'Consumer Protection' Panel Recommends No New Protections For The Flying Public
A recently-released report from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection is drawing fire from two non-profit organizations focused on consumer protection, who say the report is "toothless" in that it fails to recommend any new regulations or federal legislation to protect U.S. air travelers from abuses.
Paul Hudson, executive director of the Washington-based Aviation Consumer Action Project, said the report is "embarrassing." "This so-called 'consumer protection report' to the DOT and the Congress helps dogs, but not passengers," he said, adding that the report did not even mention more than 20 reforms recommended by his and other pro-consumer organizations.
The recent report comes as a projected 24 million Americans are preparing to fly on US airlines for the 2012 Thanksgiving holiday. DOT's committee met three times this year and submitted an 8-page report late last month to Congress and to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose department appointed the committee to examine ways to better protect air travelers.
Although the committee heard from more than 30 witnesses during meetings in Washington this year, its only firm recommendation so far is that DOT require airports and airlines to provide "animal relief areas" to service animals such as dogs for the blind. "The committee supports making service animal relief areas a priority," the report says on page 5.
Kate Hanni, president of the 50,000-member FlyersRights.org, said the DOT panel "essentially endorsed the position of the airline industry that regulation is bad and unnecessary and consumer problems are best left to voluntary efforts by the airlines and the marketplace."
FlyersRights.org and the Aviation Consumer Action Project spearheaded the effort that led to the landmark federal law limiting the amount of time airlines can keep passengers on planes while they're on the ground. Both groups testified before the DOT panel but were not represented. The committee's voting members included a senior vice president of Airlines for America, the largest airline trade group, as well as a California airport official and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the chairperson.
Hanni and Hudson called on DOT Secretary LaHood before the end of 2012 to meet with the consumer advocates who didn't serve on the panel and whose recommendations were ignored.