US Congress grills airlines over passenger grievances

In the wake of the United Airlines passenger-dragging incident last month, US legislators grilled executives from some of the nation's largest airlines on Tuesday - and reports say they often sounded like any other group of aggrieved passengers wondering why flying often seems so unpleasant.

They complained about cancelled flights and checked bag fees; questioned why some airlines charge hefty change fees and others do not; and bemoaned airlines' practice of selling more tickets than there are seats on planes, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Congress, unlike the general flying public, has the power to force change through industry regulation, and legislators warned they may use that power if airlines don't deliver on promises made in the past three weeks.

"If we don't see meaningful results that improve customer service, the next time this committee meets to address the issue, I can assure you, you won't like the outcome," said Bill Shuster, R-Pa, chairman of the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz repeatedly apologised for the treatment of Dr David Dao, the passenger dragged from a plane on 9 April after refusing to give up his seat for airline employees (See: Shock wave over United Airlines' violent 'bumping' of passenger).

At one point, Munoz called the incident ''a mistake of epic proportions''. Meanwhile, Dr Dao has reportedly reached an undisclosed settlement with the airline.

And it is not just United, as senior American Airlines executive Kerry Philipovitch also said his airline is making changes after an incident last month when a flight attendant was filmed arguing with passengers after reportedly yanking a stroller from a mother holding her baby.

But legislators' questions ranged beyond specific incidents to the general disconnect between airlines' staff and their customers.

''Something's broken, and the obvious divide between passengers and the airlines needs to be addressed,'' said Shuster.