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Lipinski Takes Aim Again at Bad Airline Service

Crain's Chicago Business

Attention, frequent flyers: A local congressman again is up to some stuff that you'll probably like and definitely want to know about.

In his latest move to tighten airline regulation, Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, a member of the House Transportation Committee, this week unveiled proposed legislation to require carriers to take care of passengers when flights are late and lavatories are broken, and to order a comprehensive study of why so many airline computer networks are crashing.

"Flying commercial airlines has become an all-too-often unpleasant experience," said Lipinski, who's introduced a series of pro-flyer bills in recent years, and has succeeded in moving some of them. "While United and other airlines recently have taken some laudable steps to improve their treatment of passengers, we must do more to provide the flying public with greater protections and service guarantees."

The measure is co-sponsored by North Carolina Republican Walter Jones. Specifically, it would give passengers the right to change flights without paying an extra fee if their original plan does not have a working john. It also would require carriers to provide money for meals and lodging for delays of at least two hours between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. if they cannot guarantee accommodation on another flight within two hours.

The proposal also directs the U.S. secretary of transportation to draft regulations covering what happens when a delay of longer than three hours occurs because of a factor within an airline's control. In such instances, monetary compensation must be sufficient to pay the same-day walk-up fare on another airline, and other carriers would be required to accept a "reasonable" fee when they have capacity.

One other clause would direct the Government Accountability Office to conduct a full review of the more than 30 major airline computer system outages that have occurred in recent years. Said a Lipinski spokesman, "We need an objective review to determine which functions are critical to the normal operation of the airlines, and how well the computers that handle those functions are prepared to recover from a service disruption."

There's no immediate reaction from the carriers to the just-submitted bill. But I'd look for some blowback. Lipinski is in the minority, but after the recent United dragging incident, these things sometimes take on a life of their own.