Chairman Garret Graves Statement from Hearing on Aviation Passenger Experience
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves (R-LA) from today’s hearing entitled, “FAA Reauthorization: Navigating the Comprehensive Passenger Experience”:
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today.
The aviation industry has experienced extraordinary volatility over the last few years. To put things in perspective, air passenger revenue miles dropped 96 percent between January 2020 and April of 2020. Meanwhile, the FAA, recognizing the incredible changes in the aviation sector, cut their hiring benchmark for air traffic controllers by half.
And just as quickly as the pandemic caused that massive drop in air travel, we saw a surge in demand as the pandemic began to wane last summer.
But even before the pandemic happened, I often spoke to families – including my own – that saw air travel as a tense experience: Packing up the kids; driving to the airport; parking; moving your luggage over to the airport; checking your bags; getting the whole family together through security in one piece, and then hoping you have enough time to grab a cup of coffee before your flight. It’s the entire experience from the curb of your home airport to the other curb of your destination and dealing with the crowds, unpredictable service hours, security lines, and sometimes fluid flight times. This doesn’t even come close to the challenging situations that passengers with disabilities experience when going through air travel.
We usually just find out about problems when we get an alert on our phones. There’s a notice on the screen that pops up and says, “delayed.” But you don’t have any idea why that happened. Was there a dog on the runway? Is there too much air traffic congestion? Are there equipment issues? A huge storm? The passenger doesn’t have any idea. All we know is that we aren’t getting to our destination on time, and that experience causes extraordinary pressure, frustration, and anxiety.
If you look back over the past several years, you can see what airlines have done with technology. I’ve got an app for the airlines that I fly on – I can figure out exactly where my seat is, I can change my seat, I can figure out what gate I’m going to. If there’s a gate change, I can pull up a map and figure out how to get to the other gate. The convenience of that technology has been extraordinary.
But that is one of the few technological advances that has really improved the convenience of that overall experience for passengers.
And so, what we want to talk about at this hearing today as we approach the FAA reauthorization bill this year is – how can we look at this experience from curb to curb?
Every single one of those stove pipe systems that we go through – whether it’s security, the airport, parking, the baggage claim, or air traffic control – how can we thematically improve the convenience or improve that overall experience for air travelers?
We have seen remarkable disruptions in the National Airspace over the past few months. For example, when the NOTAM system went down – a system that most people probably didn’t even know existed. We have also seen major weather systems disruptions as well as delays associated with the fact that there weren’t enough air traffic controllers to safely shepherd the expected number of flights through the NAS.
We’ve got to improve the technology, and we’ve got to improve the transparency behind that, so travelers better understand and predict what’s actually going to happen in their air travel experience.
In the last FAA bill, Congress included over 40 provisions to improve and address the consumer experience – everything from a review of causes of airline delays, addressing involuntary schedule changes, establishing an Airline Consumer Advocate, and improving the consumer complaint process. And an additional 12 provisions to support passengers with disabilities.
Look, airlines are a deregulated industry and consumers have choice. It’s our job to help to preserve the choice that consumers have and ensure that passengers can choose between the various airlines, airports, and options.
We have an obligation to ensure that the government’s role in this – pre-check, TSA, security, and air traffic control experience – advances in technology and conveniences just as much as every other sector. Otherwise, that one weak link in the chain is going to cause an adverse experience in air travel.
I want to thank you all for being here. I look forward to hearing your individual perspectives about what we can do to improve this overall experience for passengers as we craft the next FAA reauthorization bill.