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Consumer-rights advocates criticize U.S. DOT’s consumer protection report

Nov 23, 2012 12:10 am

Skift Take

This is really a story of battling consumer groups and sour grapes. Hanni had lobbied hard to get appointed to the committee seat that ultimately went to Charlie Leocha, so its hard to see her group’s criticism as legit.

— Jason Clampet

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Two pro-consumer groups, FlyersRights.org and Aviation Consumer Action Project, today blasted a newly released report from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection for issuing a toothless report that fails to recommend any new regulations or federal legislation to protect US air travelers from abuses.

Paul Hudson, executive director of the Washington-based Aviation Consumer Action Project, said the report is embarrassing. “This so-called ‘consumer protection report’ to the DOT and the Congress helps dogs, but not passengers,” Hudson said. He said the report did not even mention more than 20 reforms recommended by his and other pro-consumer organizations.

The recent report comes as a projected 24 million Americans are preparing to fly on US airlines for the 2012 Thanksgiving holiday. DOT’s committee met three times this year and submitted an 8-page report late last month to Congress and to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose department appointed the committee to examine ways to better protect air travelers. Although the committee heard from more than 30 witnesses during meetings in Washington this year, its only firm recommendation so far is that DOT require airports and airlines to provide “animal relief areas” to service animals such as dogs for the blind. “The committee supports making service animal relief areas a priority,” the report says on page 5.

Kate Hanni, president of the 50,000-member FlyersRights.org, said the DOT panel “essentially endorsed the position of the airline industry that regulation is bad and unnecessary and consumer problems are best left to voluntary efforts by the airlines and the marketplace.” FlyersRights.org and the Aviation Consumer Action Project spearheaded the effort that led to the landmark federal law limiting the amount of time airlines can keep passengers on planes while they’re on the ground. Both groups testified before the DOT panel but were not represented.

The committee’s voting members included a senior vice president of Airlines for America, the largest airline trade group, as well as a California airport official and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the chairperson. Hanni and Hudson called on DOT Secretary LaHood before the end of 2012 to meet with the consumer advocates who didn’t serve on the panel and whose recommendations were ignored.

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