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House panel plans hearing on airline consumer issues

The Hill logo The Hill 19/04/2017 Melanie Zanona
United Airlines CEO: No firings over passenger dragging © Provided by The Hill United Airlines CEO: No firings over passenger dragging

A House panel is planning to hold a hearing on airline consumer issues, as United Airlines remains in the hot seat following a controversial incident involving one of its passengers last week.

Top lawmakers on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee announced Wednesday that they will schedule a hearing in the coming days in order  "to provide Members an opportunity to learn more about consumer issues related to the commercial airline industry."

The move comes over a week after videos emerged of a passenger being violently dragged off a United flight to make room for airline personnel. The 69-year-old man suffered a significant concussion and is planning on suing United.

The incident, which sparked international outrage, has put a spotlight on airlines' treatment of passengers and fueled a push in Congress for new traveler safeguards.

Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) is crafting legislation that would prohibit airlines from bumping passengers off overbooked flights if they have already boarded the plane.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is leading a similar effort across the Capitol, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is working on a passenger "bill of rights."

The practice of overbooking flights and involuntarily bumping passengers is not uncommon or illegal, though problems are typically figured out prior to boarding.

Airlines often overbook flights in order to compensate for "no shows." When that happens, federal rules require airlines to first offer volunteers compensation in exchange for giving up their seats.

Anyone bumped against their will may be entitled to compensation, with a requirement of up to $1,350, and must be given a written statement detailing their rights and explaining how the airline decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't.

But it's ultimately up to the airlines to set their own policies. Customers agree to these policies whenever they book a ticket and thus agree to an airline's "contract of carriage.

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