Chair Larsen Opening Statement at Aviation Subcommittee Hearing on "The Airline Passenger Experience: What It Is and What It Can Be"
WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (WA-02) delivered the below opening statement at today’s House Aviation Subcommittee hearing entitled "The Airline Passenger Experience: What It Is and What It Can Be." You can view Chair Larsen’s opening statement here. More information about Tuesday’s hearing, including witnesses, testimony, additional background information and live webcast, can be found here.
Remarks as prepared for delivery
“Good morning and thank you to today’s witnesses for joining the Subcommittee’s discussion on the air travel experience.
“According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2018, U.S. airlines carried 925.5 million passengers to destinations in the U.S. and abroad, the highest total since 2003.
“The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current aerospace forecast predicts passenger traffic will increase roughly two percent per year over the next 20 years.
“In the Puget Sound region, the number of passenger enplanements is expected to grow from 24 million in 2018 up to 55.6 million by 2050.
“While increased passenger demand creates new economic opportunities and enhances the nation’s aviation network, longstanding challenges can hinder growth.
“Over the last few years, U.S. airlines have invested in their products, including IT solutions, such as smartphone apps, to de-stress the travel experience.
“Today’s hearing is an opportunity for this Subcommittee to examine the U.S. airline passenger experience, hear from stakeholders on ways to improve this experience and consider how Congress and the airline industry can foster innovation to benefit the flying public.
“Today’s witnesses represent a broad range of stakeholders with unique insights on the passenger experience, from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to airlines and industry to consumer advocates.
“While the Subcommittee will discuss numerous aspects of the everyday travel experience on U.S. airlines, there are a few at the top of my mind today.
“According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, 57 million Americans have a disability, and more than half of those have mobility issues.
“Last November, this Subcommittee held a roundtable to better understand this community’s air travel experience, including challenges with boarding the aircraft, inaccessible lavatories, inappropriate screening techniques and damaged wheelchairs and mobility aids.
“As mandated by 2016 and 2018 FAA reauthorization acts, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) initiated several rulemakings to improve the accessibility of aircraft lavatories and regulate emotional support and service animals.
“Mr. Lee Page joins us on behalf of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Mr. Page, I look forward to hearing more about these rules and how Congress can work with industry and stakeholders to help fill in the gaps on airplane and airport accessibility.
“Throughout this country’s history, discrimination has been a pervasive and persistent issue.
“Far too often, viral videos, reports or personal anecdotes uncover unlawful practices across the transportation sector on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion and disability.
“According to the GAO, passenger discrimination complaints submitted to DOT went up from an average of 80 per year over the past decade, to 96 complaints in 2019. Most complaints were related to racial discrimination.
“Sadly, this startling statistic does not reflect the numerous other cases DOT’s reporting system has not captured.
“One of my priorities in Congress is to break down barriers for all people to fully participate in the economy.
“The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act directed the GAO to assess airlines’ non-discrimination training programs for employees and contractors.
“Mr. Von Ah joins the panel from the GAO and will provide an update on the agency’s work on this study.
“In addition, Mr. Klein, with Spirit Airlines, I look forward to hearing more about industry’s efforts to reduce discrimination.
“At the beginning of the 116th Congress, I set a forward-looking agenda which prioritizes enhancing the air travel experience for U.S. passengers.
“To do so, Congress, the DOT and industry must work to ensure transparency, prevent unfair and inequitable practices and promote reliable and accessible air service for all Americans.
“The latest FAA Reauthorization Act includes numerous provisions to enhance the experience of airline passengers, including establishing minimum seat pitch dimensions in commercial aircraft, establishing a DOT aviation consumer advocate to help resolve air travel complaints and requiring carriers to improve transparency with the accommodations they provide passengers caught up in widespread flight disruptions, among many others.
“I look forward to hearing today’s testimony from Mr. McGee on how the recent law will improve the passenger experience, as well as from Dr. Leader from the Airline Passenger Experience Association on industry’s voluntary efforts to invest in new technologies, equipment and general practices to better serve consumers.
“I am pleased to convene the first hearing on consumer protections in nearly three years to explore the important issues facing air travelers today.
“Over the past several years, the federal government and carriers have made some progress in improving the passenger experience, but there is much more work ahead.
“My thanks again to today’s witnesses. I look forward to identifying ways Congress can ensure all passengers have a safe, comfortable and dignified travel experience.”