The violent removal of passenger David Dao from a United Airlines flight last month landed US airline executives in the hot seat on Capitol Hill this week, where they received hourslong scoldings by lawmakers over the vast powers the consolidated US airline industry has over prices and overbooking, and how it wields its authority over who gets to fly and who doesn’t, all of which contrasts sharply with consumers’ increasingly on-demand world.
House and Senate committees summoned executives from United (which sent CEO Oscar Munoz to again apologize) and from other domestic carriers including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Southwest, to explain why customers are crammed in ever-smaller seats and charged so many fees, just as US carriers are raking in record profits. Lawmakers unleashed their disgust about the horrors of modern air travel, with comments that at times felt like a sad open mic night at a comedy club and in other instances felt like a form of catharsis for the flying public. And if the airlines don’t clean up their act, some of the legislators warned, Washington will do it for them.
Here are some of the highlights:
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican:
“The first question I was going to ask, slightly in jest is “Why do you hate the American people” but I’m not going to ask that. I was going to ask “How much you hate the American people?” but I’m not going to ask that either.
Representative Michael Capuano, Massachusetts Democrat:
“Here’s the problem, is that the flying experience, even though we all do it on a regular basis, the flying experience is like everything else in life. The truth is, my flying experience is reasonable, 90% of the time, but it has a lot to do with lowered expectations. When I was a kid, I grew up in a neighborhood that every single playground was full of broken glass, broken basketball hoops, and no swings. And everybody just accepted it because that’s the way it was.”
“I have to go to several different websites, and even when I do that I have to go into the depths of the websites to get truly comparable prices, because some do charge fees, some don’t charge fees, some charge fees for baggage, some charge fees for oxygen, who knows?”
Representative Stephen Cohen, Tennessee Democrat:
“The airlines are beyond the realm in getting profits, profits, profits, higher salaries for executives, and less for customers. Part of that can be seen the size of the seats you have for the customers.”
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington DC Democrat:
“You’ve been able to do anything you want to do: add on fees, basic services that we take for granted. It’s as if you have to tip a corporation to get them to do what they used to do for free as a courtesy.”
Representative Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:
“If we don’t see meaningful results that improve customer service, the next time this committee meets to address the issue, I can assure you, you will not like the outcome.”
Representative Rob Woodall, Georgia Republican:
“You know you’re having a bad day when the group that’s going to lecture you on customer satisfaction is the United States Congress. That’s a low bar to get over.”
Senator Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat:
“Talk to most any passenger and they feel like they’ve been treated as self-loading cargo.”