Airline execs get called to D.C. to talk about their bad customer service

Minnesota Reps. Jason Lewis and Rick Nolan got to ask some of the questions.
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United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz on the left, with President Scott Kirby.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz on the left, with President Scott Kirby.

It turns out high-profile stories about customers being mistreated – like having police drag a bloodied doctor from a flight and an airline employee yelling at a passenger to hit him – get the attention of U.S. lawmakers.

Top execs from the airline industry got to sit in front of U.S. House lawmakers for hours Tuesday, answering questions about "airline customer service issues," as the agenda so wonderfully understates.

The oversight hearing was being held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which two of Minnesota's U.S. congressmen are a part of.

Republican Jason Lewis and Democrat Rick Nolan both were involved in the hearing. If you're a real committee hearing wonk, you can watch the full 4-hour discussion here.

The highlight of the day though probably goes to Rep. Duncan Hunter from California, who according to Consumerist said this: "The first question I was going to ask, only slightly in jest is ‘Why do you hate the American people?’ but I’m not going to ask that. I was going to ask how much you hate the American people; I’m not gonna ask that either."

What Nolan and Lewis talked about

Nolan (video here), recounted a recent incident where he and Lewis – yes, together – got stuck because of a repeatedly delayed (then ultimately canceled) flight in early April. It led to a fun story about the two road-tripping back with Nolan's granddaughter. But it was also not a fun time being stuck with what Nolan said was no direction or offer of accommodation from the airlines.

"Because the airline was overbooked in every flight, there was no place in America we could fly to and get a connecting flight to get back to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I never would have believed that was possible," he said, asking the execs about compensation for customers displaced because of weather.

Lewis spoke earlier (he starts here) and recounted the same story about getting stranded at Reagan Airport for more than a day.

"I do not want to go down the road here ... of telling you how to run your business. We get far too much of that from Capitol Hill it seems to me," he said. "I do want to come to you though as a consumer."

Lewis noted how well the airlines are doing (they saw record profits in 2016) but also mentioned how easy it is for one delay to snowball and cause bigger issues because airlines are operating at full capacity.

A little more reading

NPR has a write-up about everything that went on if you're interested.

If you're looking for some channeled frustration, check out this opinion piece for the Washington Post by Dana Milbank, crushing lawmakers for creating a bad situation for travelers by deregulating the industry – then doing nothing to hold them accountable for bad behavior.

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