Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Hearing on “Oversight of U.S. Airline Customer Service”
May 2, 2017
(Remarks as Prepared)
Thank you to all the witnesses here today, who accepted our invitation to testify at this oversight hearing on airline customer service. We invited all the major carriers to participate, and you are the brave few to be here with us as we seek answers regarding the treatment of your passengers.
Air travel can be a stressful experience for passengers. Anyone who flies knows just getting on the plane can be stressful. Getting to the airport, checking in, getting through security, and getting to your gate on time can rattle even the most seasoned traveler.
But the whole process starts with the purchase of a ticket.
When one of our constituents buys that ticket, there is an expectation that they will be treated fairly and with respect by the airlines and their employees. There is also an expectation that their ticket will be honored and the airline will get them to their destination safely.
I used to own a business. And one of the fundamental rules of any successful business is that the customer comes first.
So something is clearly broken when we see passengers being treated the way some of them have been treated on recent flights. Regardless of the contractual relationship between the airline and the ticket holder – it’s just common decency and common sense that you don’t treat a person that way, let alone a paying customer.
Members of Congress fly a lot. So do many of our constituents, the people in this room, and those watching online. We’ve all been in a situation where we just want to get to our seat, get in the air, and get home as quickly as possible.
But imagine, almost seven hours into a long travel day, you get physically ripped out of the seat that you paid for, and thrown off the plane.Or imagine, while single-handedly trying to get your infant children on a flight, an attendant yanks your stroller away, nearly hits your baby with it, then almost come to blows with another passenger who stands up for you.
These are just recent examples of some serious and disturbing customer service breakdowns. I expect we’ll hear more examples when the Members of the Committee get their opportunities to question the witnesses.
There will be tough questions today, and make no mistake about it – you owe the public and this Committee answers. Hundreds of millions of people fly in this country every year; they expect to be treated appropriately. Something is broken, and the obvious divide between passengers and the airlines needs to be addressed.
That’s why we are here today. To learn what your industry’s customer service policies are, what you are doing to improve the customer experience, and what needs to be done to make sure incidents like the ones we’ve recently witnessed will not happen again.
This won’t be pleasant for the witnesses today, but I do want this to be a constructive process.
I understand that many of your companies and some other airlines are already taking some steps to improve customer service. That’s a positive first step, but it’s only a first step.
This Committee and the Congress do not want half-measures or temporary fixes. This issue is not going away. We are not going away, we will hold you accountable, and we expect real results.
As a general rule, I don’t believe in over-burdening our businesses with regulation, or re-regulating industries that have been successfully de-regulated.
But I shouldn’t need to remind you that Congress will not hesitate to act, whenever necessary, to ensure your customers are treated with the respect they deserve.
If we don’t see meaningful results that improve customer service, the next time this Committee meets to address this issue, I can assure you, you will not like the outcome.