U.S. Airlines Told to Shape Up or Face Stiff Penalties

United Press International

The government, faced with a growing number of consumer complaints, warned the nation's major airlines today to reduce flight delays, cancellations and lost baggage--or face stiff penalties.

The warning was relayed in a letter by Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, who pledged the government will work with the airlines to resolve the problems.

"However, please be advised that, where necessary, we will not hesitate to refer a matter to our enforcement office for action," Dole said.

Federal regulations stipulate that violators could face a $1,000 fine per day for each offense. The government received 2,103 consumer complaints last month, up from 1,050 in April, 1986.

The largest number of consumer complaints, 767, was lodged against Continental Airlines, the Transportation Department said.

Flight cancellations, delays and baggage handling are perceived by the public as the biggest problems, judging from the number of complaints, the department said.

Other complaints included delayed refunds and the overbooking of flights.

Dole said that sometimes flights are boarded and pushed back on schedule only to wait at the ramp, rather than lining up for departure.

"It appears that in some of these instances carriers may know of the departure delays before the flight is boarded," she said. "Sitting on the aircraft is far less comfortable for passengers than waiting in the terminal."

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