Will U.S. air service promise cross the border?

The U.S. airline industry has reacted to the threat of stronger consumer protection legislation with an announcement that it will move quickly to improve service. The measures are designed to stave off congressional passage of tougher laws.

“We heard the bell ring, we have felt the whip,” said Gerald Greenwald, chairman and CEO of United Airlines, commenting on pressure from consumers.

The measures announced in the airlines’ plan would be a godsend to Canadian travelers, accustomed as they are to what can only be called cavalier treatment by airlines. Just imagine if our airlines adopted these voluntary measures: each airline will inform customers of the lowest fare available; notify customers of known delays; support an increase in the baggage liability limit, allow reservations to be held without payment for 24 hours; provide prompt refunds; accommodate disabled passengers; and most amazing of all: meet customer needs during long on-aircraft delays.

Anyone who has spent a few hours on the tarmac at a Canadian airport knows that the last “promise” is the most welcome. Pressure on the U.S. industry to take such steps came after much publicized incidents during a stormast winter, when passengers were forced to sit seven or more hours on runways without food and other services. Congress held several hearings in which passengers related horror stories about their experiences with air travel.

Whether this U.S. action has any effect on our home and native airlines remains to be seen. But with their increasing competition with U.S. airlines on trans-border routes, it sure can’t hurt.