he Transportation Department's
inspector general has delivered his final report on airline
compliance with the customer service commitments they made in 1999.
Shortcomings and successes outlined by the IG were presented
during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee.
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When Inspector General Kenneth Mead was asked by committee chairman
John McCain to translate the final product into a report card, Mead
gave the airlines mostly As and Bs.
Still, there's work to be done -- some of it within the DOT,
whose consumer affairs and enforcement units are understaffed. And
the DOT regulation setting the maximum denied-boarding compensation
at $400 hasn't been updated in 23 years.
All in all, the industry is doing better today than when this
debate started, and there's hope that it will continue to improve
if government and consumer watchdogs keep the airlines' feet to the
And if we can get from here to there without a federal law to
micromanage airline gate agents, so much the better.
And the airlines, having demonstrated some progress in dealing
with consumers, can now turn their attention to another
constituency -- their employees.
Northwest is at an impasse with its mechanics, who are in a
government-mandated 30-day cooling-off period. Delta's pilots have
voted to authorize a strike if current negotiations fall through.
United's mechanics and American's flight attendants are next in
There is a statistical possibility that all four could walk out
at the same time. If that happens, we're going to give everybody an