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
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
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
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