WASHINGTON – Several senators said Thursday that the United Airlines debacle of dragging a passenger off a flight will spur legislation protecting passengers from bumping, change fees and smaller seating space.
“I think it may be time for a new passenger bill of rights,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said at a hearing of the Senate Transportation subcommittee on aviation.
But airlines countered that they are changing policies voluntarily in the wake of the April 9 dragging incident. United and other airlines are offering more compensation to passengers when flights are oversold and won’t ask police to remove seated passengers from flights.
“I think what we’ve seen today is that airlines recognize that we need to step up customer service,” said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president for legislative and regulatory policy for Airlines for America. “We’re willing to do that voluntarily.”
The head of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said at a similar hearing Tuesday that he was reluctant to legislate if airlines would improve customer service on their own.
Nothing may come of the consumer proposals. But policy legislation for the Federal Aviation Administration expires Sept. 30, so lawmakers are likely to debate the various issues this summer.
“Consumers are angry,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the advocacy group National Consumers League, who urged minimum space for seats, lavatories and aisles, and for compensation for delayed or canceled flights. “They are frustrated.”
TODAY IN THE SKY: American Airlines is taking away more legroom in economy
Seating drew attention at the hearing because American Airlines just announced that some seats on its newest aircraft would be 29 inches apart, rather than the current 31 inches. Such a change moves American closer to the tight seating offered at no-frills rivals such as Frontier and Spirit.
But consumer advocates and lawmakers worried about seating getting more cramped. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has proposed requiring a minimum space between seats, and other senators said the idea…