Centerlines - September 2008 - (Page 64)

PASSENGER FOCUS DOT’S COMPLAINT DESK They’re from the government— and they want to help B Y JE A N F E I NG OL D “THE most common complaints we receive are about flight delays, cancellations and missed connections.” — Norm Strickman, DOT Assistant Director for Aviation Consumer Protection he Department of Transportation (DOT) Consumer Affairs Office does much more than simply issue the monthly compendium of airline passenger complaints. It is also tasked with educating the public and the airlines about federal laws to protect air travelers. “The most common complaints we receive are about flight delays, cancellations and missed connections,” said Norm Strickman, assistant director for Aviation Consumer Protection. “Flight problems have always been the No. 1 complaint category. There’s not much we can do about operational parts of the airline industry. We deal with the treatment or mistreatment passengers receive as a result of a flight delay or cancellation. We provide a vehicle for them to record their complaint.” Baggage issues are No. 2 on the complaint list, with airline customer service usually in the No. 3 spot, he said. In addition to monitoring the quality of airline service and providing guidance to the carriers, the division, a unit of the DOT General Counsel’s Office, is responsible for educating the traveling public—both when they file a complaint and in its various outreach programs. “Because somebody complains to us does not mean there was a violation,” Strickman stressed. “In fact, most of the complaints we get do not touch on a DOT aviation regulation, but rather on airline policy and procedures. For example, if a flight is delayed or canceled, what an airline may or may not do for the passenger is based on its contract of carriage. There’s no federal consumer protection regulation that requires an airline to compensate passengers.” The division publishes a monthly consumer air travel report including the number and types of complaints and which airlines were involved. This is available online at and is frequently reported on in the media. The largest U.S. airlines are ranked based on the number of complaints received per 100,000 passengers. In 2007, a record total of 13,168 complaints were received by the division. “Every complaint that we receive is referred to the airline,” said Strickman. “We prioritize to determine the issues for which we’re going to use our resources.” Top priority goes to complaints alleging discrimination based on disabilities or race, ethnicity or gender, which is banned by federal law. The rule protecting disabled passengers was recently updated to include foreign airlines using U.S. airports, but this will not take effect until 2009 to give affected airlines time to comply. T 64 CENTERLINES | SEPTEMBER 2008

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Centerlines - September 2008

Centerlines - September 2008
Welcome to Boston
President’s Message
Canadian Airports
Associates’ Corner
Policy Center
On the Hill and On the Stump
Downes Award
ACI-NA 60th Anniversary
Host Airport Profile
Cover Story: James L. Oberstar
Regulatory Front: Security Standards
Security: Checkpoint Evolution
Environment: Measuring Greenhouse Gases at Sea-Tac
Air Service: Wild, Wild Ride
Passenger Focus: DOT’s Complaint Desk
On Management: “TLC” at John Wayne
Revenue Arena: A Tale of Two Diversified Cities
Media Relations: New Media
Now Underway
Grand Openings
New Members
Conference Sponsors
Conference Exhibitors
Index of Advertisers/
Box Scores

Centerlines - September 2008