Airline Passengers:

Are Their Consumer Rights Protected?

CED-78-143: Published: Jul 20, 1978. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1978.

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The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) altered the usual buyer--seller relationship between passengers and airlines by allowing the airlines to limit their responsibility and liability; this is often to the passenger's detriment. CAB is responsible for the economic regulation of domestic airlines; it regulates fares, routes, and certain airline responsibilities.

In buying an airline ticket, the passenger consents to the tariffs setting forth the conditions of transportation. Because tariffs have the force of law, passengers are charged with knowledge of their terms even though they are voluminous and often complex. A review of tariffs indicated that: (1) tariffs can infringe on consumer protection by shielding airlines from responsibilities; (2) tariffs lack uniformity; (3) they are often ambiguous and complex; and (4) tariffs change frequently. The government's role in altering the buyer--seller relationship needs to be reformed. CAB relies on the complaints it receives as a primary source of information. Without a broadened information base, CAB cannot be sure its efforts effectively address vital air passenger issues. The continually increasing volume of complaints strained CAB resources. Staff time intended for consumer problem identification and policymaking must often be diverted to handling and routing complaint mail. Enforcement efforts are hampered by lack of authority to impose civil penalties.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: CAB should review all existing rules tariffs and where possible: (1) eliminate those which unnecessarily shield airlines from liability; (2) standardize provisions concerning basic passenger rights; (3) enforce regulations requiring that tariffs be written clearly and concisely to eliminate ambiguities; and (4) require tariffs to become effective only on a semimonthly basis to reduce the frequency of changes. CAB should also develop policies which would require airlines to provide better advance notice of significant restrictive tariff provisions and broaden its information base by requiring airlines to retain consumer complaints received. Congress should authorize CAB to order payment of civil penalties.

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