Why don’t airlines want passengers to know their rights?

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Last month at the Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protections, I started a discussion about displaying posters at airports informing passengers of their rights. Amazingly, both the airlines and the airports have no interest in new ways to tell passengers their rights.

In Europe, airports are working together with the European Union (EU) central government to find creative ways to display these posters. A poster with the headline, “Baggage Lost?” can be found displayed in the baggage areas of many European airports. Another poster asking, “Flight Cancelled?” is displayed in boarding areas and throughout the airports.

These posters don’t describe all passenger rights. They just remind passengers that they have rights and provide quick links to the specific rules and regulations.

Also, the European program spans all aspects of travel from airlines to trains to buses to ferries.

During the discussions, I had arranged for one of the European Union executives responsible for the poster program in Europe to speak via video link with the committee (one of the first public interactions between our DOT and its EU counterpart). He outlined the evolution of the EU approach and how effective it has been in informing passengers on all means of transportation of the rules and the citizens’ rights.

U.S. airports and airline wouldn’t accept any of the EU reasoning.

I expected the airlines to be against any information that would hinder their ability to prey on passengers’ ignorance of rules and regulations, but I thought that airports, municipal entities for the most part, would jump at the chance to help their customers. It wasn’t meant to be.

The airlines immediately trotted out their assertions that passengers know all the rights they need to know. Everything is clearly stated in their contracts of carriage and complaints are going down, not up. The airlines proudly pointed to the fact that lost baggage claims have dropped dramatically since 2008 (more on that later). Hence, no passenger needs any more information than they already have. The airlines have your back.

The airports were concerned that they might lose advertising space, add to the clutter of the airport, confuse passengers and upset a cozy relationship with what they see as their real customer, the airlines.

Ah, the lengths to which the aviation industry will go to deny explanation of rights to passengers. My disappointment with the airline and airport attitudes was palpable. I really found their attitudes hard to believe, let alone understand.

In exasperation, I asked my fellow committee member, the Chief Counsel for Airlines for America, the association representing the airlines on our committee, if, after his statement noting that passengers are already informed enough of their rights, “How much is the regulatory compensation for lost baggage on domestic flights?”

He did not know the answer. Obviously, passengers can use more education and information than that provided by the airlines. After, I described the positive reaction from an airport manager in the Washington, DC, area to this proposal, Airport Councils International, one of the national organizations representing airports across the country, their representative noted, “Perhaps the airport manager you spoke with was misinformed?”

Finally, back to the dramatic improvement in baggage handling since 2008 by the airlines — 2008 was the year that major airlines began instituting baggage fees and fewer passengers have been checking baggage since. These statistics are based on baggage lost per 1,000 passengers, not baggage lost per number of bags checked. Hence, when fewer passengers check bags, airline statistics will naturally improve. Their argument is bogus and insults all travelers.

Our government should recognize that passing bills and formulating regulations is only half of their responsibility. The other half is notifying the citizens of those rules when they come into effect.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    “U.S. airports and airline wouldn’t accept any of the EU reasoning.”

    The arrogance of American Exceptionalism once again on display. This country is long past due for a comeuppance.

  • Trudy Richardson

    I was a travel agent for 35 years and have nothing good to say about American airlines. Their greed has gone over the top and we recognized that in the early years of my profession. I always tried to teach my clients about their rights with airlines, cruises, or tour operators. I have had clients call me We told the government that airlines would go insane with rates, charges, and penalties if they were deregulated. They did not listen. When the airlines were coming out with Frequent Travel Awards we told them it would cause them major problems and unhappy travelers, they did not listen, we told them we would not pay fees to issue airline tickets they said no problem we can do it ourselves. Now I ask you; Do you think they are doing a good job? Do they give you price alternatives on other airlines when you are purchasing a ticket? Do they care if they are late or have a mechanical problem, Do they do a good job of getting to you quickly when there are cancellations because of weather or emergency? Are they polite? Have their rates skyrocketed? Have you been able to use your Frequent Travel Awards with no complications or additional costs.

    I fly only as far as an international gateway when I am going out of the country because I prefer to fly international carriers. There is the whole thing in a nutshell. It is not pleasant to fly now. The flight attendants are over worked and underpaid so they are not always smiling and cheerful. The still serve real food on a long flight and some even on a short flight. I would choose another way to travel but unless it is a slow boat there is no other way to travel to across the water locations.

    If the public continues to act like sheep and do as they say then expect it to get worse. If you want to travel and enjoy the trip and not dread the travel part when you leave then you need to speak up and tell them you don’t like their behavior. Complain a lot because the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil. Squeak!

  • dcta

    Well, I think a consumer protection group that focuses on travel should perhaps be taking on the job of educating the public about their rights.

  • JLM276

    While I don’t always agree with Charlie, in this case he is right.

    Lisa Simeone, above, is correct. Why does the US always feel compelled to re-invent the wheel, then take decades and billions of dollars to make it round enough to function

  • dcta

    I still think that consumer advocacy groups should, as part of their raison d’etre should be engaged in education campaigns. I wold expect such groups (at least those raising funds to support their programs) to be taking ad space in airports, etc.