National Consumers League

United passenger incident underscores need for Congress to pass airline passenger bill of rights


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April 11, 2017

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

Washington, DC— United Airlines’ forceful removal of a Louisville-bound passenger on United Express flight 3411, reportedly to make room for United employees, is the predictable result of a lack of competition in the American airline industry. Unchecked airline consolidation, with four airlines now flying 80 percent of domestic passengers, has led to progressively more crowded planes, shrinking seats, outrageous fees, reduced service to smaller cities. The National Consumers League (NCL) is urging Congress to conduct its own investigation of this and similar incidents on our nation’s airlines to determine how the lack of competition in the airline industry is contributing to this trend.

“This latest incident is shocking by any standard and represents a new low for customer service in the airline industry,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “United had so many other options for handling this unfortunate situation. We all know that when airlines overbook they offer passengers incentives to volunteer to give up their seats; United should never have escalated the situation and should have offered sufficient incentives to avoid this terrible outcome. The fact that United can get away with this underscores just how few rights consumers have the minute they step into an airport. If the Department of Transportation won’t hold the airlines to account for these practices, then Congress needs to step in and fix the problem.”

Under the fine print that every consumer who buys a ticket agrees to, airlines are free to sell more tickets than are available on an airplane and bump passengers with or -- as the United incident demonstrates -- without their consent. NCL has long urged Congress to pass legislation like the SEAT act and the Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2011, which would give the flying public basic consumer protections.

“Consumers in Europe already enjoy far more protections than flyers in the U.S. have,” said Greenberg. “It’s time that Congress take a long-overdue look at why American travelers are getting second-rate consumer protections that allows incidents like this one to occur.”

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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.