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July 2004
Flying the Friendly Skies Part III

   I have been writing this WECN Consumer Checkpoint column for nearly three years and no issue has generated more consumer response than my two columns on “Flying the Unfriendly Skies.” To be fair, one reader wrote that perhaps I am beingtoo hard on the airlines and that maybe I should consider “going Greyhound.” On the other hand, many more readers have sent me letters or called me to tell me how unhappy they are with the airlines. Recent U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) statistics demonstrate an increasing level of dissatisfaction among airline passengers.

   For all U.S. airlines, complaints rose in 9 out of 12 categories measured by USDOT during the first quarter of the year versus the same period last year. Flight problems including cancellations, delays, or missed connections rose 61 percent and baggage problems rose by 39 percent. Among the top six airlines, complaints about United Airlines rose 42 percent from the year earlier with flight problems drawing the most complaints.

   Wisconsin has not been immune from these complaints. Representatives of U.S. Senators Herb Kohl (D–Milwaukee) and Russ Feingold (D–Middleton), along with aides to U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D–Madison) met with United Airlines on May 26 to complain about the poor service being offered in Wisconsin by United Airline’s regional partner, United Express. According to its own figures, United Express cancelled 15 percent of its flights from Madison to O’Hare and 52 percent of its flights on this route were delayed during the first two months of 2004. Overall, United ranked 2nd highest out of 19 U.S. airlines measured for complaints per 100,000 passengers. All three Members of Congress called United Express’ service record “unacceptable,” and Rep. Baldwin said United’s record was a “general disregard for local travelers and businesses.” In response, United blamed its troubles on bad winter weather and congestion at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

   On May 27, United spokesperson Jeff Green said the airline would attempt to improve its service to Wisconsin. Green explained United was moving some flights off of the busiest times of the day and was working to minimize baggage delays. United is also creating a “controller coordinator” to monitor delays and cancellations with its United Express partners. Time will tell if these changes make a difference. However, we can certainly hope this kind of political and consumer pressure will bring positive change by the airline and all other airlines that are experiencing similar problems. Otherwise, the solution, as was so well put by one reader, may be to “go Greyhound.” Finally, a number of readers have asked me to once again provide the e-mail address at USDOT for filing airline complaints.

   That address is: http:// airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/problems.htm

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