Greg Angel  CBS 12
Congress to Airlines: Knock it off
May 10, 2017
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  • Growing tensions between airlines and passengers seem to be reaching new heights.

    Videos showing violent exchanges between passengers and airline personnel have racked up millions of views online, the most notorious of which is the video showing a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight in April. Other videos released in recent days include a heated exchange between a father who refused to give up his child’s paid-for seat when confronted by a Delta Airlines employee.

    Just this week, cellphone video captured a brawl in a terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after Spirit Airlines canceled more than 300 flights in recent days. The cancellations are blamed on unofficial pilot sick out.

    The video of the Spirit Airlines-related fight prompted Florida’s Democrat Senator Bill Nelson to take to the Senate floor this week.

    “What happened just last night in Fort Lauderdale is just another example of passengers becoming sick and tired of what they perceive as mistreatment by airlines,” Senator Nelson said. “I have no trouble in putting the airlines on notice if they can’t get their act together and start treating the flying public with respect, rather than making them think they are self-loading cargo, then this Congress is going to be forced to act.”

    Those legislative threats include measures that would prohibit airlines from overbooking flights, and now longer allowed to remove passengers from planes once they’re boarded.

    Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) have introduced the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act. It aims at setting a mandatory minimum seat size requirement, arguing it is needed for safety and comfort of passengers.

    American Airlines announced in recent weeks that this Fall they will slim seat size leg room from 31 inches to 29 inches.

    Trimming seat size and adding more passengers on planes is one way airline argue they keep flight costs down.

    Sydney Koehler, who arrived Wednesday to Palm Beach International Airport on a JetBlue flight, says cost and convenience are top priorities when booking flights.

    “If there’s someone that is $100 cheaper and less leg room and no free pretzels, I’ll do that,” Koehler said.

    The country’s major airlines have invested more than $17.5 billion in year 2016 to improve overall customer service and experience, according to advocacy group Airlines for America.

    Those investments include installing larger overhead bins, lie-flat seating in business class, expanding USB equipped power adapters, and more. Airlines for America also points to United States Department of Transportation statistics showing how airfare is cheaper overall than years’ past.

    “U.S. airlines are offering affordable travel options for the budget conscious traveler, and customers are taking note of the fact that air travel remains one of the best consumer bargains out there as inflation adjusted fares have fallen 26% since 2000,” Airlines for America told CBS12 in a statement. “Every day, airlines safely operate 27,000 flights to more than 800 destinations, delivering more than 2 million passengers where they want to go.”

    With the attention of Congress and flyers alike, Airlines for America says airlines are already making changes. They include:

    1. Eliminating or reducing overbooking
    2. No longer allowing law enforcement to remove passengers from a flight, except in cases of safety or security.
    3. Ensuring no passenger is involuntarily removed from a flight for another passenger.
    4. Ensuring crews traveling are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
    5. Giving gate agents more discretion in offering incentive dollars for voluntarily taking a different flight.
    6. Renewing airline focus on customer service training.
    7. Provide more transparency and understanding passenger rights.