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Consumer advocates cite abuse of travelers by airlines

| Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, 5:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Some consumer advocates complain that a new advisory panel for the Transportation Department ignored important proposals to protect airline passengers from abuse in its first year of work.

“The recommendations that our group and others made weren't even rejected; they were just ignored,” said Paul Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project.

Hudson argued that the panel — the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection, which was set up to recommend new consumer rules to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — failed to consider issues such as:

• Requiring airlines to compensate passengers if their flights are canceled or drastically delayed, as the European Union requires. Airlines departing from an EU country must pay passengers up to about $780 to cover meals and hotels if their flights are canceled or delayed at least three hours, unless “extraordinary circumstances” such as extreme weather prompt the delays.

The EU regulation applies to all airlines, including U.S. carriers, that take off from one of its nation's airports and to European carriers that fly across the Atlantic from the nation. U.S. airlines are not required to pay for flights that originate on this side of the ocean.

• Providing passengers with greater compensation for about 40,000 bags that Hudson says the airlines lose that are not reclaimed each year. Those bags are sold at auction, and Hudson says money from the sales should be used to help compensate passengers.

Passengers now can get up to $3,300 if their bags are lost on a domestic flight under new regulations adopted last year. The airlines may require passengers to provide proof for claimed losses, however.

• Establishing a system of arbitration between passengers and airlines about grievances and claims. Right now, the hurdles are high for passengers to sue the airlines.

One consumer member of the transportation advisory committee, Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, dismissed the complaints, saying, “Everybody huffs and puffs.”

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