Comparison of Airline 'Customer Service Commitment' With Contracts of Carriage and Federal Law

RCED-99-281R: Published: Sep 10, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 1999.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO compared airlines' contracts of carriage with the Air Transport Association's (ATA) Customer Service Commitment.

GAO noted that: (1) ATA's Customer Service Commitment extends the airlines' commitment beyond the contracts of carriage by either adding new provisions or augmenting existing terms; (2) the Customer Service Commitment includes new provisions concerning reservations; offering the lowest fare available over the telephone, refunds, and on-time baggage delivery; meeting customers' needs during on-aircraft extended delays; and handling customer complaints; (3) several other measures in the Customer Service Commitment augment terms provided for in the contracts of carriage; (4) the remaining measures are included in the contracts of carriage; (5) the officials at the 10 major airlines that GAO contacted indicated that they were considering revisions to their contracts of carriage to reflect at least some aspects of their customer service plans; (6) however, these officials said that the decision about what specific changes to make would involve a side-by-side comparison of their contracts of carriage and their final customer service plan; (7) because the plans are still being developed, the officials could not say to what extent the contracts would be revised; (8) one airline official, however, did say that the minimum baggage liability limit would certainly be changed to reflect the anticipated regulatory change in the baggage liability minimum; (9) most of these officials believed that any revisions to their airline's contracts of carriage would be made by the end of 1999; (10) federal statutes and regulations have a significant impact on a number of the measures in the Customer Service Commitment; (11) several of these measures reflect what is in the statutes and regulations; (12) in addition, the Customer Service Commitment seeks to change the minimum baggage liability limit regulation; (13) in June of 1999, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a supplemental notice proposing to raise the minimum baggage liability limit from $1,250 to $2,500; (14) DOT has yet to finalize this proposed rule; (15) one of the ATA measures calls for airline officials to petition DOT to increase its minimum baggage liability limit; and (16) DOT officials said that under federal law, DOT could bring an enforcement action against an airline that engages in what it considers an unfair and deceptive trade practice.

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