Commuter Airlines has had more than its share of consumer complaints, but yesterday was a day company officials would like to run through again.
White House consumer affairs advocate Esther Peterson, the highest ranking consumer affairs official in the federal government, was bumped off of a Commuter flight to Elmira. N.Y, from National Airport yesterday.
To make matters worse, Peterson was on her way, with an official of the Federal Trade Commission and a public relations advisor, to Corning, N.Y. for the first annual convention of "Action Line" consumer affairs reporters from more than 100 newspapers.
Peterson was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at last night's opening dinner.
Peterson was told there was no room for her on the 11:40 flight of Commuter's 16-seat Navajo Piper Chieftan to Elmira - even though she was at the gate twenty minutes before flight time.
"What really irked us," Furman said in an interview from an airport telephone booth, "was that two gentlemen came after we did, but got on the plane because they had something called guaranteed reservations - which was never mentioned to any of us."
At the last minute, however, a passenger with a guaranteed reservation nobly gave up his seat to allow Peterson to get to her conference on time.
Several years ago, consumer advocate Ralph Nader won damages in a court case against an airlie that bumped him from a flight despite his confirmed reservation. Because of Nader's suit, the airlines are required to post warnings that they deliberately overbook passengers to compensate for no-shows.
But Civil Aeronautics Board spokesman Howard Schmeltzer said that Commuter is a small enough airline not to be governed by the anti-bump regulations.
Schmeltzer did point out, however, that the CAB had 21 complaints about Commuter's service last year, which when considering the total number of passengers flying proved to be five times the industry average for complaints.
For its part, Commuter, a Bimghamton, N.Y.-based airline, said that Peterson wasn't really bumped at all. Commuter spokesman Marc Winston said that there were really supposed to be two aircraft there to make the Elmira run, but one experienced mechanical troubles.