Call for new airlines regulatory power

March 26, 2007 at 2:59 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- The chairman of the U.S. House Transportation Committee says he wants to increase the federal government's power to fine airlines for poor customer service.

A fine of $10,000 per passenger per violation "would get their attention," said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn.

The fines by U.S. Department of Transportation would be in addition to updating conduct airlines voluntarily agreed to eight years ago, Oberstar told USA Today.

The 1999 voluntary code requires airlines to tell passengers the lowest available fare, notify them promptly of delays and meet their essential needs during long flight delays.

Oberstar's idea "smacks of reregulation," Air Transport Association trade group spokesman David Castelveter said. U.S. airline deregulation began in 1978 with the Airline Deregulation Act.

Oberstar's comments follow JetBlue Airways' Valentine's Day operational meltdown that left thousands of passengers stranded for hours on planes without enough water, food or toilets during an ice storm at New York's Kennedy International Airport. That followed a December American Airlines incident.

The transportation department already has power to fine airlines for certain non-safety violations such as failing to provide wheelchairs for disabled passengers or using deceptive ads to sell tickets.

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