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Curing Airline Woes:  Legislation Or Free Market

Airline service is steadily getting much worse, according to the annual Airline Quality Rating Report released Monday. But the solution remains up for debate; so industry analyst Terry Trippler and consumer advocate Kate Hanni took up the issue on "Morning Call."

Trippler, who examines the air-travel market for My Vacation Passport.Com, said the growing number of customer complaints is "not good" -- but is still "not a tsunami" yet. He said inflation-adjusted fares should be higher than they are, and the drastically lowered ticket prices have resulted in a chain reaction of staff cuts and "overworked, underpaid" employees.

However, he insists "Congress" is not the answer: "I don't believe in legislation." Instead, customers should "book away" with more efficient carriers, and the free market will correct the industry's problems.

But Kate Hanni, the executive director of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, differs. And even if viewers disagree with her analysis, they'll understand her feelings: On Dec. 29, she spent 9.5 hours on American Airlines Flight 1348.

Hanni will be speaking before the House Aviation Subcommittee on April 11, calling for legislation that will obligate commercial carriers to avoid delays, free "trapped" passengers and compensate fliers for extreme discomforts. Hanni says market pressure alone is not enough: The carriers vowed to change their ways after previous debacles, she notes, but "summarily dismissed their promises from 1999 and 2001."

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