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"United CEO to Face Congress Over Mistreatment of Passengers"

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

United CEO to Face Congress Over Mistreatment of Passengers
By Alan Levin 

Airlines are racing to alter policies for passengers bumped from flights as 
consumer groups demand changes in the law and Congress opens the first of two 
hearings prompted by the high-profile incident of police dragging a man off a 
United Airlines flight last month.

American Airlines is more closely monitoring oversold flights and has promised 
not to remove anyone after a plane has already been boarded, Kerry 
Philipovitch, senior vice president for customer experience, said in testimony 
prepared for a House hearing Tuesday.

"While we strive for perfect customer service every day, the reality is the 
system is far from perfect," Philipovitch said. "Nonetheless, when these 
customer service issues occur, we work quickly to fix and learn from them."

Philipovitch will be joined by Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United 
Continental Holdings Inc., three other airline executives and a consumer 
advocate at the hearing Tuesday before the Transportation and Infrastructure 
Committee. Since the United incident, lawmakers have denounced airline 
policies. A senate committee plans to hold a similar hearing on Thursday.

The House panel wants "to find out exactly what happened in these incidents we 
all saw that were terrible incidents," Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a 
Republican from Pennsylvania, told Fox News Tuesday. "What is the airline 
industry doing to change their rules, to change the way they operate? The 
customer demands to be treated with respect."

"If they don't act, then Congress will act," Shuster said.

Airline Consolidation

The situation on United is a symptom of consolidation in the airline industry 
to just four major carriers and Congress needs to enact new passenger 
protections, William McGee, aviation consultant for the nonprofit group 
Consumers Union, said in his prepared testimony.

"We need a consistent, uniform, comprehensive, clearly written set of passenger 
rights for U.S. airlines," McGee said.

Airlines need to disclose their rules and policies to passengers in a clearer 
form than the legalistic so-called contracts of carriage, Representative Peter 
DeFazio, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, said in an interview.

"They need to simplify the contracts of carriage," DeFazio said. "They need to 
be simple language. They need to be transparent. They need to be indexed. 
People need to be notified."

The issue of airline relations with customers burst onto the stage on April 9 
after a passenger was dragged off a United flight in Chicago. The airline 
needed additional seats to make room for crew members who needed to get to 
Louisville, Kentucky, to operate flights the next day, so it bumped the 
passenger. After he declined to leave the plane, police removed him by force.

Videos of the incident taken by other passengers were shown on social media 
sites and television news broadcasts, prompting outrage and forcing the airline 
to issue a series of apologies.

The United passenger, David Dao, 69, reached an undisclosed settlement with the 
airline on Thursday, ending legal action against the carrier. "United has taken 
full responsibility for what happened on Flight 3411 without attempting to 
blame others including the City of Chicago," his attorney, Thomas Demetrio, 
said in a statement.

A physician from the Louisville, Kentucky, area, Dao suffered a concussion, 
fractured nose and two broken teeth as police removed him from his seat.

Since the incident, airlines have scrambled to change policies and offer bumped 
passengers greater compensation, and lawmakers have proposed legislation to 
restrict airline bumping.

"Travelers deserve the peace of mind to know that they will be treated with 
respect and dignity," Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said at a 
press conference at Newark's Liberty International Airport Monday.

Legislation endorsed by Booker and a group of other Senate Democrats would 
prohibit removing passengers after they've boarded a plane, hike the amount of 
compensation airlines have to pay in cases of bumping and requires a government 
study of whether to restrict carriers from selling more seats than are 
available on a plane.

The uproar over airline activities comes as the Department of Transportation 
under President Donald Trump has taken preliminary steps to slow or undo 
consumer-protection rules sought by former President Barack Obama. In March, 
the administration said it was suspending an effort to draft a regulation 
requiring more disclosure of airline fees.
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