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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 8, 2007

Evaluate your airline's service pledge

By Irene Croft Jr.

Is your favorite airline measuring up? Are you satisfied with your flight experiences? Do you even know what the carriers have promised in their conduct of business with you, the passenger?

A bit of history: Back in September 1999, in the wake of passenger ire over deteriorating consumer relations, 14 of the largest U.S. airlines publicly pledged to implement customer service plans.

As members of the Air Transport Association of America, the nation's oldest and largest airline trade association, these carriers stated and continue to maintain that they are committed to providing the highest possible level of service to their customers.

Each of the 14 carriers has published an individual customer service plan, which is available on their Web sites, and copies of these plans have also been provided to Congress and the Department of Transportation.

Although the participating airlines have custom-tailored their own policies, each is guided in principle by the 12 commitments outlined by ATA:

Offer the lowest fare available: Each airline will offer the lowest fare available for which the customer is eligible on the airline's telephone reservation system for the date, flight and class of service requested.

Notify customers of known delays, cancellations and diversions: Each airline will notify customers at the airport and on board an affected aircraft, in a timely manner, of the best available information regarding known delays, cancellations and diversions. In addition, each airline will establish and implement policies for accommodating passengers delayed overnight. A clear and concise statement of airlines' policies in these respects will also be made available to customers.

On-time baggage delivery: Each airline will make every reasonable effort to return checked bags within 24 hours and will attempt to contact any customer whose unclaimed, checked luggage contains a name and address or telephone number.

Support an increase in the baggage liability limit: The airlines successfully petitioned the Department of Transportation to increase the baggage liability limit (now up to $3,000 for domestic flights).

Allow reservations to be held or canceled: Each airline will allow the customer either to hold a telephone reservation without payment for 24 hours or (at the election of the carrier) to cancel a reservation without penalty for up to 24 hours, in order to give customers an opportunity to check for lower fares through other distribution systems, such as travel agents or the Internet.

Provide prompt ticket refunds: Each airline will issue refunds for eligible tickets within seven days for credit card purchases and 20 days for cash purchases.

Properly accommodate disabled and special-needs passengers: Each airline will disclose its policies and procedures for handling special-needs passengers, such as unaccompanied minors, and for accommodating the disabled in an appropriate manner.

Meet customers' essential needs during long on-aircraft delays: The airlines will make every reasonable effort to provide food, water, restroom facilities and access to medical treatment for passengers aboard an aircraft that is on the ground for an extended period of time without access to the terminal, as consistent with passenger and employee safety and security concerns. Each carrier will prepare contingency plans to address such circumstances and will work with other carriers and the airport to share facilities and make gates available in an emergency.

Handle "bumped" passengers with fairness and consistency: Each airline will disclose to a passenger, upon request, whether the flight on which the passenger is ticketed is overbooked, if, within the usual and ordinary scope of such employee's work, the information is available to the airline employee to whom the request is directed. Each airline will also establish and disclose to the customer policies and procedures, including any applicable requirements (such as check-in deadlines), for managing the inability to board all passengers with confirmed reservations.

Disclose travel itinerary, cancellation policies, frequent-flyer rules and aircraft configuration: Each airline will disclose to the customer: (i) any change of aircraft on a single flight with the same flight number; (ii) cancellation policies involving failures to use each flight segment coupon; (iii) rules, restrictions and an annual report on frequent-flyer program redemptions; and (iv) upon request, information regarding aircraft configuration, including seat size and pitch.

Ensure good customer service from code-share partners: Each airline will ensure that domestic code-share partners make a commitment to provide comparable consumer plans and policies.

Be more responsive to customer complaints: Each airline will assign a customer service representative responsible for handling passenger complaints and ensuring that all written complaints are responded to within 60 days. Each airline will develop and implement a customer service plan for meeting its obligations under a customer service commitment.

Customer service plans will be completed and published within 90 days and will be fully implemented within six months. Airline implementation will include training for airline reservation, customer service and sales personnel to enhance awareness of the responsibilities involved in implementation of the customer service commitment and plans. The airlines will publish and make available their customer service plans: (i) on airline Web sites; (ii) at airports and ticket offices (upon request); and (iii) to travel and reservation agents.

You can conveniently link to the individual customer service plans of the 14 participating ATA airlines at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/customerservice.htm.

Irene Croft Jr. of Kailua, Kona, is a travel writer and 40-year veteran globetrotter. Her column is published in this section every other week.