Ray LaHood: “We’re in the era of full disclosure”

By | April 12th, 2010

In part two of their interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Christopher Elliott and Charlie Leocha explore the new tarmac-delay restrictions for airlines and pending rules for the disclosure of surcharges, such as baggage fees, that have spread through the airline industry. Here’s the first part.

The number of enforcement actions are up at the department’s Aviation Enforcement Office. Did you go down there and light a fire under them?

I think that people in the department understood when I came on board that safety was number one and we were going to look out for consumers. People knew I was a member of Congress and that I was co-sponsor of the Passenger Bill of Rights. Once we put out the tarmac rule, that sent a message out all over these two buildings and all over the FAA buildings who we care about.

I would like to congratulate you on your rulemaking concerning tarmac delays. I have seen where the airlines have been whining a lot and have requested exceptions to the current rulemaking. They are huffing and puffing and threatening to cancel flights. They can’t have it both ways. For years, it was a minor problem and now it will cause a collapse of the industry.

I can make an argument that our tarmac rules are about safety. How safe can it be for a passenger to sit inside of an airplane inside of that steel tube without access to a bathroom, without access to food, without access to water? To me that’s as much of a safety issues and a health issue. It’s a health/safety issue.

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I’ve read that they will have to go back to the gate. Fine, you know what happens when they get back to the gate? You can rebook you flight, you can go home and rest and get on a flight the next morning or sit in the terminal and make a decision. You’re not cooped up in an airplane with out food, water and a lavatory.

I take it then that these airlines asking for exemptions at places like JFK are not going to get them.

Well, you know my philosophy on this. We’ll wait to see what happens.

What was the reaction to the tarmac rule? Did you hear back from any airlines on that?

Just what I’ve read. I’ve had a couple of CEOs in here whining to me about it. You know what I said to them? First of all, start looking out for your passengers. This is good for passengers. This will help you. This will help provide good service to your customers.

I was so struck in January. I took two of my nine grandchildren to Disney World. You know what happens at Disney World? The customer is always right. It like they treat you like you are the long-lost relative. Now, if the airline industry and other industries treated their customers that way, we wouldn’t be having these problems.

Why don’t you think they … ?