The largest non-profit consumer organization in the United States representing airline passengers, FlightRights.org, has cautioned that empty threats by airlines against consumers to cancel more flights are without merit.
The FLightRights announcement comes in the wake of the United States Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent landmark decision to fine American Eagle $900,000 for the May 29th stranding of nearly 600 passengers on Chicago O’Hare’s tarmac. FlightRigths said it appears that the airline industry has resorted to scare tactics in another attempt to halt the advance of pro-passenger reforms. Citing multiple news reports, FlightRights said numerous commercial airlines are claiming that the threat of new fines for strandings would cause them to cancel an increased number of flights.
“The purpose for the new passenger protections, including the fines, is to create incentives for the airlines to treat passengers more fairly, not give them an excuse to punish their customers further,” said Kate Hanni, Kate Hanni, FlyersRights founder and Executive Director. “Hopefully the airlines focus their energy to comply with the new DOT rules, rather than thwart them.”
According to DOT documents, American Eagle was fined for loading 15 aircraft that they knew had no chance of making an on-time departure and for those flights’ passengers spending hours on the tarmac as a direct result of their decisions. While the $900,000 fine represents a slap on the wrist given that the American Eagle parent company AMR, could have been fined up to $43.3 million, FlightRights said.
Some news stories cited a recent GAO report that suggests a relationship between implementation of the DOT’s Three-Hour Tarmac Rule and a slightly increased cancellation rate in the final months of 2010 when compared to 2009. FlyersRights.org views that study with skepticism.
Hanni added: “The GAO study has many flaws. In 2009 and 2010 – the two years in which the Three Hour Rule has been in effect, airlines had the third- and fourth-lowest cancellation rates of the last 16 years. So clearly more cancelled flights cannot be attributed to the advent of new passenger protections.”
“The DOT is completing a more comprehensive study regarding the benefits and impacts of new passenger protections, which we hope to see by the end of the year. We urge the public to await the results,” added Hanni.
FlyersRights currently has 50,000 members. The non-profit organization can be reached via a toll free hotline, 1-877-359-3776.