United States lawmakers are threatening airlines, suggesting they will take legislative action if they do not take steps to improve their customer service policies. The move comes in the wake of numerous incidents on airlines, including fights and a customer being physically dragged out of a United Airlines plane in April.
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United, and Alaska Airlines were all questioned by members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday this week. Representatives from the companies were asked questions about their customer service policies and general business practice, in the first congressional hearing since the United incident.
Chairman Bill Shuster, Republican from Pennsylvania, said that if changes have not been implemented by the time of the next hearing, the airline companies “won’t like the outcome.” He said that if lawmakers act, it will be a “one-size-fits-all” policy for all airlines in the United States.
During an interview with The Hill on Monday this week, Shuster went on to say that he hopes to leave the oversight hearing with a better understanding about how Congress could or should intervene. He said he intends to use this new understanding to shape his work on an upcoming piece of legislation, which he called a “must-pass” bill.
Representative Elizabeth Etsy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said that unless she and other lawmakers are able to “guarantee” that customers are being put first by the airlines, then we are going to see more “booking and bumping” policies being scrutinized and changed through the law. Lawmakers are suggesting that they would target these policies, and strengthen protections for the consumer.
Since the United incident, which saw a 69-year-old doctor being physically dragged from a plane (and breaking his nose in the process), there has been pushback against airline policy. United has said that when not enough people volunteer to give up their seat when on an overbooked flight, passengers are chosen at random for removal. The CEO of United, Oscar Munoz, has defended the company’s practice of overbooking flights and bumping some customers off when there is no room.
Munoz says that the overbooking and bumping policy allows the airline to accommodate their passengers when malfunctions occur. He referenced a recent incident that occurred in Dubai, where his company was able to get passengers on a cancelled flight to get back home sooner. By overselling flights, airlines are also able to compensate customers in the event of people cancelling their booking, meaning the company doesn’t lose money on flights.
United has already apologized for what it calls a “horrible failure,” and says it now plans to offer improved compensation to those who volunteer to give up their seats. They will no longer remove any passengers once they have boarded their flight, too. This means that airline personnel will have to make arrangements regarding overbooking an hour before departure, hopefully preventing further incidents.