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.