National Consumers League

National Consumers League testimony to Senate: Congress must act to restore air travelers’ rights

May 4, 2017

Media contact: NCL Communications, Cindy Hoang, cindyh@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC - The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today called on the Senate to take immediate action to address the lack of competition in the industry that fuels incidents like the now infamous Dr. David Dao video being violently removed from a United flight. 

“It is time for Congress to step in and restore consumers’ rights in the airline industry,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg, who testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security. “Only through Congressional action can American consumers be assured that the next time they fly, they won’t become the unwitting star of their own viral airline video.”

Read Greenberg’s full testimony here.

The consumer group blamed unchecked consolidation for an environment characterized by anti-consumer practices, policies, and experiences. Since airlines were deregulated in the late 1970’s, there have been no fewer than 40 airline mergers. Currently, more than 80 percent of domestic flights are controlled by four major airlines. 

“The near-complete lack of competition has enabled U.S. air carriers to worry more about profits and less about customer service and consumer rights,” said Greenberg. “Although recent headlines have shined a spotlight on the airlines’ most egregious practices, frequent air travelers were already familiar with how anti-consumer the industry has become.”

Unchecked consolidation has led to higher prices, fewer flights, worse service, and the rise of excessive fees for things like baggage, cancellation, seat selection, and other services that were at one time free to customers. The major airlines are raking in record profits--in 2015, the biggest airlines brought in $14.69 billion in ancillary revenue. Consumers are increasingly powerless in the airline marketplace and have been forced to suffer from a decrease in comfort and amenities, with shrinking seats, aisles, and bathrooms.

Before the Senate, Greenberg called for Congress to take action and implement a Passenger Bill of Rights, strengthen consumer protections, and require airlines to justify fees and reverse the trend of “unbundling” services. To read her full testimony, click here.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.