Second summit focuses on consumers

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – Airline industry and consumer groups discussed ways to address growing passenger complaints during a private meeting Thursday with Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.

The summit – the second convened this week – is part of an ongoing forum aimed at reducing this summer's record flight delays and air traffic congestion and becoming more responsive to customers.

"Our greatest accomplishment in both meetings was achieving a united and renewed commitment to improve our service to customers," Mr. Slater said in a written statement. "I look forward to continuing the discussion as we work in the months ahead to implement as many of these ideas as possible."

Nearly 40 representatives from consumer groups, travel agencies, smaller airlines and trade associations who were not included in a meeting earlier this week offered their perspectives during the two-hour session.

"The theme today was more on consumers," said Mortimer Downey, deputy secretary of transportation. "We need to reach out and get their ideas."

Representatives said they discussed ways to ensure that passengers receive more timely information about flight delays and cancellations.

"I think there was a full and complete airing of the problem and a lot of potential for solutions," said David Stempler, president of the Air Traveler's Association.

"I feel they recognize this is a very important perspective," American Automobile Association president Robert Darbelnet said of airline passenger concerns.

Participants said greater use of existing regional or secondary airports was among the potential solutions discussed.

Dallas-based Legend Airlines Inc., which flies out of Love Field, participated in Thursday's discussion. Scott McArtor, vice president of strategy and business development for Legend, was not available for comment afterward.

Several groups called on the department to create a task force to examine the Air Traffic Control System's performance. The department has said it will establish task forces on airline service and consumer information.

Participants also said they discussed ways to reduce peak-hour congestion. An average of 57 departing flights are scheduled during 10-minute segments of peak hours at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Mr. Darbelnet said.

But with a capacity of 35 flights, "it's inevitable that 22 of those flights scheduled will not depart on time," he said.

Several representatives said they appreciated a forum to share ideas, but said they hope that next time they will be included in sessions with executives from the largest U.S. airlines and labor officials.

"We always knew we could not get everyone in a room big enough," Mr. Downey said of the decision to hold two separate summits. "We don't view this as first team and second team. All of these [groups] are parts of the solution."

Meanwhile, Thursday evening, a 30-second commercial began airing that showed UAL Corp. CEO James E. Goodwin apologizing for "inconveniences" encountered by United Airlines' customers during the last several weeks.

In the ad, Mr. Goodwin explains the airline's struggles and how United will go about reducing delays and cancellations.