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Lipinski vows fed action on airlines' bumping

  • Written by Tim Hadac

In the wake of a United Airlines passenger being forcibly dragged from a jet at O’Hare International Airport earlier this month, Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) is vowing action that may end the practice of involuntary bumping.

The congressman, a senior member of the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he may help lead federal action to “require that when you buy a plane ticket, that you are guaranteed to be on that flight. Right now, you’re not guaranteed to have a seat on that flight…you’re just guaranteed that the airline will get you to your destination at some time. I think that needs to change…so they would not be able to force anyone off a flight.”

Lipinski’s call to action was made in a conversation he had with The Reporter Saturday at an outdoor Easter egg hunt at Hale Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side, as passenger jets roared overhead on the way to and from Midway Airport, just seven blocks east.

The congressman’s pledge to act comes in the wake of an April 9 incident that saw a ticketed passenger, 69-year-old Dr. David Dao of Kentucky, yanked from his seat by Chicago Department of Aviation security staff and dragged off a United Airlines jet after he was selected for involuntary removal. He was one of four paying customers involuntarily bumped from the Chicago-to-Louisville flight because it was over the allowable limit of passengers. The other three left without incident.

The involuntary bumping occurred after no passengers accepted an offer of up to $800 in air-travel vouchers to give up their seats for four airline employees who were added at the last minute because they were needed to cover an unstaffed flight at another location.

Cellphone video of the incident — which shows Dao dazed and bloodied after being dragged down an aisle -- has shocked people around the world and triggered calls for air carriers to end involuntary bumping.

While Lipinski said that passenger air carriers “appear to be learning” from the firestorm of negative publicity around the incident and have take some steps to prevent future occurrences by increasing incentives to convince passengers to agree to be bumped from over-booked flights, he said it may not be enough. The congressman said it is likely that lawmakers will take stronger action through federal legislation — most likely the Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization bill, which his subcommittee will work on next month.

“No passenger should ever be put through what Dr. Dao was,” the congressman added. “It appears that the boarding system broke down at many levels, and I am continuing to receive updates from the U.S. Department of Transportation, United, and the Chicago Department of Aviation about what occurred, what they are planning to do to prevent it from occurring again, and who will be held accountable.  No passenger should be forced to give up a seat on a flight on which they purchased a ticket, much less dragged off a plane.”

Lipinski, who typically flies up to 90 times a year on commercial jets, told The Reporter that people “are very unhappy with their flying experience these days. The airlines nickel and dime you for everything.”

The congressman has pushed for changes in air carriers’ operating procedures in the past. Last year, he proposed legislation that would require airlines to refund baggage fees for passengers if their luggage is substantially delayed. It was adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In 2015 he introduced legislation that would stop airlines from charging passengers a fee if they change flights because the bathrooms on their plane are out of order.

“I think it’s a shame where we’re at the point where the government has to step in to take care of these issues,” he continued. “The airlines really should be treating their passengers with more respect, but obviously aren’t. The flying experience has really gotten more difficult, more unpleasant — which is curious because the airlines are all making a lot of money these days. They need to be treating their passengers better.”