- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

A new report confirms anecdotal stories air travel is becoming an experience fraught with unpleasantness. This is particularly worth commenting upon given the impending Delta Airlines strike that could make an already bad situation completely intolerable just in time for the summer travel season.

According to the 11th annual Airline Quality Report, which is compiled by industry experts who base their findings on data provided by the federal Department of Transportation, every significant measure of airline performance has declined over the course of the past two years. For example:

Only 72.6 percent of all U.S. flights arrived on time, down almost 4 percent from 76.1 percent in 1999.

More and more bags are being lost or misdirected. According to the report, the number of misdirected or lost bags increased to 5.29 per 1,000 passengers, compared to 5.08 bags per thousand passengers in 1999.

The phenomenon of "overbooking" is also increasing. The rate is now 1.04 percent per 1,000 passengers, up from 0.88 in 1999.

United Airlines is among the worst-rated in terms of customer satisfaction, coming in ninth on a scale of one to 10. Last year´s pilots strike that led to the cancellation of more than 20,000 flights did not help United´s reputation much. According to the survey, only three airlines Delta, US Airways and Alaska Air improved their level of service from 1999 to the present.

Anyone who has traveled by air recently does not need a survey to know the unfortunate truth about what has become, for all practical purposes, transportation via airborne Greyhound bus. The public policy and philosophical dilemma is that, left unchecked or unameliorated, public dissatisfaction with the airlines will lead to a clamor inside the Beltway for the federal government to step in and "do something" which will only make matters worse. The same poor, impersonal service, mindless bureaucracy, tin-ear for legitimate complaint, and outright contempt for individual customers that has nearly resulted in the nationalization of the U.S. health care industry could easily provide the excuse for politicians.

Far better for everyone if the airlines took the initiative themselves and began treating weary travelers more like human beings and less like sacks of flour on a loading dock.

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