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Congress Wants Passengers to Fly Hassle-Free

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RALEIGH — For many people, the skies are not friendly anymore. Some say airline profits are skyrocketing, and passenger service is being left at the gate.

Congress wants airlines to give customers better service. They have proposed a bill aimed at getting travelers to their destinations with less hassle.

Under the bill, airlines could be fined up to $1,100 per passenger for what is essentially poor customer service. But some say if it passes, airlines will not be the only ones paying. Customers may also be footing part of the bill.

Many travelers say they have been waiting for someone to help them for far too long.

"Look at the people standing in line. They've got two people up there at that desk. There should be at least six or eight people up there," said traveler Dominic Ranelli.

If the proposed passenger rights legislation flies through Congress, travelers would be provided with information about overbooked and cancelled flights.

They would know more about the number of seats available through an airline's frequent flyer miles program.

The bill even calls for refunds if you cancel your ticket within 48 hours of buying it.

"The exact same thing that the customer is complaining about, this particular bill and the things they're asking for are going to force the prices. They're going to go up. It's going to be the opposite effect of what they're looking for," said Robert Rube, president of ITG Travel Agency.

He says the reason airlines have certain policies in place is to save money. He says they already provide many of those services to business travelers.

Rube says if the general public wants that kind of service, they'll have to pay.

"Now they can buy a ticket that is refundable, but they choose not to because of the price. But when they decide that they want to change and it's nonrefundable, they forget quickly that they had the other option," said Rube.

Midway Airlinesbased in Durham is not commenting on the legislation until they have a chance to figure out what components they will support or oppose.

Major U.S. carriers earned $5 billion last year and flew an estimated 615 million passengers, filling their planes to near capacity.

TheTransportation Departmentsays it received more than 9,000 complaints in 1998, up 25 percent from the year before. As for the way baggage was handled, airlines received over five complaints per 1,000 passengers.

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Ericka Lewis, Reporter
Mark Copeland, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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