Airlines must improve customer service or face government action
© Greg Nash

There is no doubt that United Airlines failed their customers last week and that they lost the confidence of travelers all over the world. And for good reason. It seems like an obvious statement, and an absurd one to even have to make, but there should never be a situation where a paying passenger is violently removed from a plane to accommodate a flight crew. I hope United is taking the necessary steps now to ensure this never happens on one of their aircrafts again. And while the escalation in this incident thankfully& appears to have been an anomaly, the industry’s reluctance to implement policies that improve customer service is not.

As someone who flies often, I understand and appreciate the difficulties faced by the airlines with demanding schedules, tight deadlines, unforeseen circumstances like inclement weather, and others. However, I believe the airlines have hamstrung themselves in many situations by relying too much on stringent protocols and less on commonsense and customer service.

In the last reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), I fought for a provision similar to my bill, the Families Flying Together Act, that requires airlines to accommodate families by ensuring young children are seated next to an adult traveling with them before boarding. To me, this isn’t only a safety precaution but also just commonsense.

Too many times, I’ve seen airlines scramble to find a passenger willing to switch seats to accommodate a parent traveling with a child. It usually works out because most passengers feel for parents traveling with young children and are willing to help. But this inevitably slows the boarding process, and when it doesn’t work out, it can be a problem.

I did not introduce this legislation hastily. It was a product of many failed conversations with the airline industry urging them to implement this on their own because I generally believe too much regulation on private businesses doesn’t benefit the customer or the business. It usually increases costs and limits options for both. However, my point to the airlines is that if you're not willing to implement these commonsense changes, changes that will actually help your business by improving customer service, then the government will likely do it for you.

In wake of the recent actions taken by United Airlines and airport security at O’Hare International Airport, we as lawmakers and regulators need to gather all of the facts before acting. We need to know who made the decision to call in law enforcement; why steps weren’t taken to avoid this before boarding; what, if any, guidelines the Department of Transportation (DOT) provides airlines regarding flight crew accommodations; what protocols law enforcement are required to follow when removing a passenger; and if any federal laws were broken. These are all questions I’ve asked DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to provide clarification on, and I look forward to the answers.

As we continue to examine this incident and decide the appropriate and necessary response, I urge all of the airlines to look at their own internal protocols and make changes to put the customer first and prevent something like this from ever happening on another aircraft.

Davis is a member of the Aviation Subcommittee

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.