Airline customers still have reason to fly off the handle

WASHINGTON: The major airlines fired up their publicity engines

immediately following the release last week of a report by the US

Department of Transportation (DOT) on the state of customer service.



The report, issued by the office of the DOT Inspector General, stated

that while improvements have been made, there is still much work to be

done. 'We continue to find significant shortfalls in reliable and timely

communication with passengers by the airlines about flight delays and

cancellations,' the report said.



The data reflected that one in four flights was cancelled, delayed or

diverted in 2000. In 21% of the observed delays, the airport information

display showed the trip as on time when it was actually 20 minutes late.

Status announcements were inadequate nearly half the time, at 43%.



United, Continental and American Airlines each issued press releases

reacting to the report. The running theme across the industry is

continued resistance to increased government regulation.



Delta Airlines, while it didn't issue a press release, wrote a letter to

the Senate Commerce Committee, signed by its EVP of customer

service.



It endorsed the comments of the report and emphasized an industry,

rather than legislative, solution. 'We believe that the industry can and

should voluntarily implement changes to the current customer service

commitment.'



United cited its adherence to a voluntary customer service agreement

implemented by the airlines in 1999. The agreement emerged as Congress

was considering legislative alternatives, such as developing a

passengers' bill of rights.



'We've continued to evolve our customer service plan throughout its

first year as we've targeted new resources to improve our customers'

experience,' United president Rono Dutta said in a release. 'That

flexibility is just one reason that United, like the industry, favors a

voluntary, industry-wide service plan.'



Continental's press release was headlined, 'Continental Airlines say

company culture, not new laws, is the key to aviation service

excellence.'



American Airlines said it was 'spending millions on technology to notify

customers on their Palm hand-helds or cell phones of flight status.

These are the things that directly touch our customers and we know they

appreciate it.'



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