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Flier Advocacy Groups to Testify About Passenger Rights

A dozen advocacy groups for airline passengers will line up today to voice their gripes about flying and suggest remedies to a new federal advisory board.

AP

Some of the advocates scheduled to testify at the Transportation Department's Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection say their suggestions include:

•Reimbursing passengers — and making them more aware of their rights — when flights are canceled or delayed.

•Alerting customers to compensation they're due for lost luggage.

•Forcing airlines to combine pricing for all services for which there are fees, such as baggage and seat assignments, so customers can compare ticket prices more easily between airlines.

"I hope the committee will look at improving service, disclosure and particularly disclosure of rights to obtain refunds," says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG, who plans to testify at the hearing.

This is the first meeting of the four-member committee, which will evaluate existing programs and pass along recommendations for improvements to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Congress created the panel as part of the latest Federal Aviation Administration legislation signed into law Feb. 14.

"I'm looking forward to the hearing as a first step," Mierzwinski said. "We'll make some noise."

One of the four panel members, Charles Leocha, who is director of the advocacy group Consumer Travel Alliance, says people have "a lot of problems" with many aspects of flying today.

The other members are Lisa Madigan, attorney general for Illinois; David Berg, general counsel for Airlines for America, the industry group representing the country's largest airlines; and Deborah Ale-Flint, director of aviation for Oakland International Airport.

Ticket pricing is a thorny issue because some airlines charge extra for bags and seating, and others don't. Transportation Department rules make airlines include taxes as part of the ticket prices they advertise and post fees on their websites so that customers can find them.

But some groups argue airlines should bundle fees people often pay for checking bags or assigned seats into overall ticket prices for easier comparison shopping.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, says denying complete and accurate pricing information is vexing to corporate travel managers because it's so hard to compare prices among airlines.

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