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
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://