Re-elect Dan Lipinski Congressman

Congress May Need to Step Into UAL Fiasco: Lipinski


Crain's Chicago Business 

A key Illinois Congressman says lawmakers may need to step in to prevent United Airlines and other carriers from dragging any more passengers off of airplanes.

In a Facebook posting , Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Democrat who serves on both the House Transportation Committee and its Aviation Subcommittee, said United's actions were "unacceptable. No passenger ever should be put through what this individual was."

Lipinski notably continued, "It appears that the boarding system broke down at many levels, and I expect to hear soon from the Department of Transportation, United, and the Chicago Department of Aviation about what occurred, how they'll prevent it from occurring again, and who will be held accountable."

He concluded, "As someone who has advocated for passengers being afforded better consumer protections by airlines, this may be a case where we have to legislate appropriate action and recourse, because what occurred over the weekend can never happen again."

Lipinski was not immediately available for comment or to elaborate on what "appropriate action" Congress should take. But I hope to speak with him a little later.

UAL CEO Oscar Munoz has apologized only for having to "re-accommodate" the passenger, but also has said that the crew followed standard procedure. He has not promised to change those procedures.

Though he's a Democrat in a GOP-controlled House, Lipinski has had success in the past with moves to rein in air carriers.

Last year, he introduced legislation to force the carriers to pay back any fees they collected on luggage that ends up being lost, and to ban cellphone use during flights. A version of his luggage bill ended up being adopted, and the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission yesterday announced he's moving to stop efforts to allow cellphone use after takeoff.

Earlier, Lipinski led an effort to block airlines from charging for bathroom use. The carriers eventually decided to back off.

12:20 P.M. UPDATE:

In a phone interview, Lipinski said he's made no final decisions yet, but made clear his view that something has to happen.

"It is not acceptable that United would drag a paying passenger off a flight," he told me. "This perhaps is what ought to be legislated, that they can't just drag a passenger off a flight. I don't understand why they didn't offer more (money, for a voluntary depature)."

Lipinski said legislation he might offer could come shortly after Congress reconvenes after Easter, or as an amendment to a pending bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the airlines.

But, at a minimum, such legislation must "make it illegal to drag someone off a plane."

Lipinski said he's reluctant to move to ban industry overbooking, the situation which caused the latest incident. "Generally, overbooking has worked well," he said. Perhaps the solution is to allow the practice to continue, but to change the law to that "no one could be forced to give up the seat they've been sold."

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