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Senators Demand Answers from Delta, Southwest

In the past month alone, service on two major U.S. airlines ground to a halt because of computer glitches. Now, some Senators demand to know why the country's airlines are falling apart and can't cope with their self-created problems.

“Now that four air carriers control approximately 85 percent of domestic capacity," they wrote jointly in a letter, "all it takes is one airline to experience an outage and thousands of passengers could be stranded."

Although the letter went to 11 major U.S. carriers, it was widely seen as a response to the recent meltdowns at Delta and Southwest. The havoc caused by creaky IT systems was compounded by the airlines' ever-harsher policies and diminshed alternatives wrought by mergers—there are now fewer empty seats flying and airlines seem reluctant to place passengers on planes operated by their competition. Delta's response to people who sometimes had to wait several days for a replacement flight was to offer them a pathetic $200 credit and gave them only a few days to secure their new reservations. Infuriated by the risk to America's transportation infrastructure and the ill treatment of consumers, Senators Ed Markey (Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) now insist on a list of explanations—a sure sign that change is in the air over Capitol Hill when it comes to oversight of the air carriers. Lifted from Blumenthal's official press release and the letter itself, those demands include:

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"• Over the past five years, what was the cause of IT outages or disruptions that caused flight cancellations or delays longer than one hour, what safeguards were in place at the time each outage occurred, and why did these safeguards fail to prevent the disruption?
• What specific safeguards and backups does your company have in place to prevent your airline’s IT systems from failing?
• What is the state of your airline’s IT system and what specific steps are being taken to modernize it, if needed?
• In the event of delays and cancellations caused by the air carrier, does your airline rebook passengers on another airline or with a different mode of transportation for no additional charge? 
• What other compensation and recourse, including but not limited to lodging, food, and reimbursement, does your airline provide consumers in the event of delays and cancellations caused by the air carrier?
• In the event of delays and cancellations caused by the air carrier, do you provide your customers with an open-ended opportunity to rebook their flight?"

 

The airlines have until Sept. 16 to respond. You can read a copy of the letter by clicking here (PDF).

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Senators Markey and Blumenthal, by the way, are two of Congress' strongest advocates for travelers' rights; it was who demanded that Walt Disney World answer the privacy issues raised by its MagicBand tracking device, and Blumenthal has pressed the Department of Justice to investigate the ever-consolidating major airlines for illegal collusion and cartel behavior.

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