I received e-mail from a consumer distressed by an experience with
a canceled US Airways flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach,
She said after waiting in a long line, she was booked on a Delta
flight to Miami with only 15 minutes to spare. She said the counter
agent "refused" to check her bags and told her getting from Miami
to West Palm "is your problem."
My letter writer missed her plane and was rebooked on another
Miami flight, leaving 10 minutes later, with a Cincinnati
I would not expect Airline A to check bags for Airline B, and
sometimes flying to an area airport is the quickest way to get
home. But what of the 15-minute lead time? More on that later.
The bigger question is what are the carriers' service
obligations to passengers on canceled flights? In legal terms,
none. However, Air Transport Association members abide by Rule 240,
which predates deregulation.
Our aviation editor, Michele McDonald, explains, "This applies
to cancellations within a 24-hour window, whereby airlines can
'make every effort' to put passengers on the next available flight
offered by any other signatory airline. For cancellations further
out, an ATA airline generally will 'make every effort' to put
passengers on the next available flight operated by itself.
"The contracts of carriage stipulate the carrier may incur
expenses (hotel, etc.) in some circumstances and may do this or
that if a passenger misses a connection, or his outbound or return
flight is canceled, or weather happens, or air-traffic control
dies," and responses can vary widely. The only disciplinarian is
"good old market forces."
Those forces helped influence the ATA carriers to issue a
"customer service commitment" June 17, pledging basic services to
the public. Also, each ATA member will develop a new "customer
service plan" to be implemented by year-end.
As to the incident above: US Airways said it knew at least an
hour out that the flight would not operate and then began rebooking
all passengers on "next available flights," according to
A carrier spokesman said the process broke down because the new
flight information did not always get to passengers before they
wasted time in long lines. He said US Airways' new "customer
service plan" will, among other things, focus on better
implementation of existing, sound service policies.
After all, US Airways provided my letter writer with a timely
alternative flight, and even the second booking was quick.
Customers want more.