DOT Makes Commitment to Lee to Issue Guidance to Travel Websites Requiring Full Transparency on Regional Air Carrier Operations After 3407 Tragedy
Congressman Chris Lee (NY-26) today announced that federal transportation officials have promised him new rules would be issued in January to ensure airline ticketing websites fully disclose what carrier is really operating the flights we board in the wake of the Flight 3407 tragedy. The flight crashed on February 12, 2009 in Clarence Center, NY, killing 50 people, including an expectant mother.
In the case of Flight 3407, victims purchased a ticket from Continental Airlines, when the flight was actually operated by Colgan Air, itself a subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines, a regional carrier with substandard pilot training practices.
The new guidance will say, according to U.S. Department of Transportation General Counsel Robert Rivkin, that the ticket issuer must state who will actually be operating the flight on the "first display of the Website following a search of a requested itinerary in a format that is easily visible to a viewer," as stated in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act of 2010, which passed Congress this past summer. DOT's guidance will stress the information must be available on the first screen without having to click-thru to another screen or scroll-over to a pop-up or drop-down menu. These website practices make it more difficult to determine who exactly is flying and maintaining a given flight and eludes the intent of this summer's aviation safety reforms.
"Every consumer deserves to know who is training their pilots and operating their flight when they buy a ticket, no matter what name is painted on the fuselage," Lee said. "While this information should have been available as required by law months ago, DOT's guidance will ensure one enforceable, high standard of disclosure across the entire travel industry. I appreciate Secretary LaHood agreeing with the families of Flight 3407 on this issue and his commitment to issue guidance in the coming weeks. I will continue to work with DOT, the travel websites and Flight 3407 families to ensure these important standards are issued in a timely manner."
The guidance comes after Lee, families of Flight 3407 victims and other Western New York lawmakers began formally pressing ticketing websites to change their practices and enlisting the U.S. Department of Transportation to enforce the letter of the August 2010 law. This month, Flight 3407 families began a campaign entitled "Who's Really Flying Your Airplane" to highlight the need for greater disclosure on travel websites. Some websites did not list the name of the regional carrier as required by the law. Others required users to click-thru or scroll over an icon to find this legally required information, and others used symbols. Families pointed to the websites Orbitz and Cheap Tickets as examples of atravel website that they believed adhered to the law. The lack of federal guidance on this section of the August law led to a wide disparity of interpretation in the industry and uneven practices.
Last Monday, Lee, Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) and Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood demanding action and enforcement of the "letter and spirit" of the August law (to read the letter, click HERE). Lee immediately held meetings and initiated phone conversations with ticket issuers such as U.S. Airways, Travelocity and Expedia before speaking with senior officials at the Department of Transportation last week to push for official guidance.
The tragic crash of Flight 3407 put a spotlight on a number of deficiencies in our air travel and safety systems, including the rise in regional air carriers that operated under the name of bigger, mainline carriers. Subsequent investigations have revealed a systemic culture of lax safety standards at regional carriers -- who now operate almost 50 percent of all domestic flights -- and track record of low-paid and poorly trained pilots with insufficient experience. This combined to create, in effect, two levels of air safety between mainline carriers and regional companies. Families said that had their loved ones known Flight 3407 was operated by a regional carrier and not Continental, they may have never purchased their ticket.