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Congress Suspects Airlines Are Impeding Customer Complaints

How easy is it for disgruntled airline customers to file a complaint with the DOT? Not easy enough, according to Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles). And she places the blame for that difficulty squarely on the shoulders of the airlines.

Since 2012, U.S. airlines have been required to publish contact information for the DOT’s Customer Protection Hotline on their websites, to enable customers to easily register complaints with the DOT. The DOT monitors those complaints, publishing regular reports available to the public, and follows up with the airlines.

The latest such report, for example, is the “January 2016 Air Travel Consumer Report,” which shows 1,308 complaints filed for November 2015, up 43 percent from November 2014.

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Hahn suspects the complaint numbers are artificially low, because the airlines have buried the DOT contact information in the remotest corners of their websites. Referring to the DOT complaint line, Hahn charges “It is very difficult to find this number. I searched for the hotline number myself on different airline websites and couldn’t find it anywhere. I also had my 22 year-old staffer look she also couldn’t track it down easily. If I can’t find it, I am assuming many other flyers can’t find it either, and the data demonstrates that.”

Accordingly, Hahn proposed an amendment to the pending FAA reauthorization bill that would “force airlines to stop the practice of hiding the mandatory DOT Customer Protection Hotline on obscure pages of their websites.” The amendment was approved last week by committee members.

While Hahn’s amendment was approved, the reauthorization bill itself still hasn’t been passed, so its final form remains unknown. (The FAA’s current funding will expire on March 31.)

For now, flyers who want to register their airline gripes and don’t want to deep-dive into the nether regions of the airlines’ websites can do so on the DOT’s complaint website, or by phone, at 202-366-2220.

Reader Reality Check

Have you ever felt stymied in your efforts to register an airline complaint?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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