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Airlines To Rebut Horror Stories

Airline industry officials are expected to tell the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday how they plan to address growing passenger complaints and horror stories.

The industry, in prepared testimony, says it has heard the complaints and is trying to respond. "Satisfied customers are the heart of our industry," said Air Transport Association President Carol Hallett in written testimony.

Long waits on runways, lost baggage, long lines at ticket counters. They're all part of the downside of flying these days.

With more people than ever using airlines, Congress and the White House are trying to come up with a passenger bill of rights, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.

Under the administration plan, announced Wednesday by Vice President Al Gore, airlines would be required to publicly disclose their flight delay and cancellation policies. They would also have to provide food and restroom facilities during lengthy delays. And compensation would be doubled for passengers who lose baggage or are bumped from flights.

Gore said the administration's initiative "doesn't tell airlines what to do, doesn't try to micromanage their response to these problems, but instead it empowers passengers, with all of the information needed, to make good decisions."

Meanwhile, a House subcommittee on transportation heard horror stories Wednesday from the flying public.

Barbara Plecas of Michigan is one of the Northwest Airlines passengers who spent seven hours in grounded planes in Detroit in January. She says the passengers were denied food and water during their delay.

Patricia Shank says she was held for nine hours aboard a Virgin Atlantic plane at Washington's Dulles Airport, also in January. When she declined to take another plane the next day, the airline refused to return her luggage, which was flown to London. She still has not received a refund.

"We have struck a raw nerve here," committee chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., told a packed hearing room. "I can't walk through the halls here without members and constituents telling me their horror stories."

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Or., told airline industry leaders, "You've managed to alienate the most powerful constituencies in America through your practices."

But Northwest Airlines, hammered for bad service during a January snowstorm, thinks legislating better business is too much.

Northwest's Matt Friedman says "We are against the government coming between a company and its customers."

Low fares are still the most valuable commodity the airlines can offer. By asking them to do more, some worry, passengers may end up paying for it.

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