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CU presses for air travel improvements

December 15, 2010

Consumers Union Presses for Air Travel Improvements as Committee Makes Recommendations to Dept. of Transportation

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee today presented its final recommendations to DOT about how to address the needs, challenges, and opportunities facing the U.S. aviation industry. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is receiving these recommendations to improve air transportation at a meeting at DOT headquarters.
William J. McGee, travel and aviation consultant to Consumers Union, is the sole consumer representative on the 19-member committee, which was formed in May 2010. Consumers Union is the independent, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine and ConsumerReports.org.
Among the panel’s recommendations is a proposal by Consumers Union to enhance efforts to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of flying with young children in their laps, rather than seating them in child restraint systems. Safety experts have long raised concerns about infants and toddlers flying in adults’ laps on airplanes. The committee is asking DOT to update the economic and safety data around this issue and consider a rulemaking to require adults to purchase seats for children under 2. If this requirement were to go into effect, Consumers Union would strongly urge airlines to offer discounts on seats for children under 2.
“As parents we wouldn’t think of putting babies and toddlers in our laps when we ride in cars,” McGee said. “We should always put our children in child restraint systems, whether we’re in a plane or a car. There are real and inherent dangers to flying with ‘lap children.’ The dangers aren’t limited to emergency situations. Common occurrences of turbulence can hurt or even kill children under two when they aren’t in a safety restraint system.”
In addition to the committee’s recommendations, Consumers Union has been urging DOT to improve airline passengers’ rights. DOT recently issued a notice for a proposed rulemaking on passenger rights issues, which includes consideration of proposals for banning post-purchase price increases, increasing denied-boarding compensation for bumped passengers, and expanding contingency plans for tarmac delays. While Consumers Union supports these initiatives and commends Secretary LaHood for moving forward on them, the organization is urging the Secretary to take additional steps, such as provide further transparency on ancillary fees for baggage and other airline services; provide additional transparency on codeshared flights, particularly regional and commuter service; enhance disclosure of airline contracts of carriage; and improve reporting of consumer air travel statistics.
“The airlines raked in more than $4 billion in fee revenue in the first 9 months of this year,” McGee said. “Many of these fees are hidden or confusing to travelers. Consumers deserve to know the real costs of their air travel.”
The committee is not making formal recommendations on airline maintenance, but Consumers Union is filing supplementary comments with the Transport Workers Union and the Association of Flight Attendants on the issue of Federal Aviation Administration oversight of outsourced airline maintenance. Consumers Union remains concerned that the dramatic spike in maintenance outsourcing in recent years has strained FAA resources and potentially poses a threat to the nation’s stellar commercial aviation safety record.
Media contact: David Butler, 202-462-6262