At 11:30 on a recent morning in Terminal C at Boston's Logan Airport, Ed Freni posts himself at a ticket counter and watches a long line of passengers grow even longer. For 12 full minutes the line barely moves. There are seven ticket agents, but three are devoted to first-class flyers. Freni is growing as irritated as the customers. Later, he's down at baggage claim, watching in disbelief as arriving passengers are directed to a luggage conveyor belt that is clearly out of order. In fact, it's roped off.
Such airline idiocies make everyone mad--but Freni is one person who's actually doing something about it. A day after making his observations, Freni, director of aviation operations for the Massachusetts Port Authority, shoots off a detailed report to the offending carrier. "Airlines have been responsive to our reports before," says a grimacing Freni. "They'll make some changes."
This is the new battleground of customer rights: airport terminals. After watching service disintegrate and politicians fail to solve worsening congestion, airport managers are trying to fix the air-travel mess on their own. Massport, the regional authority that runs delay-plagued Logan, has taken the most radical step. In February, it became the first such authority in the nation to set minimum performance standards for airlines. Soon it will name names of underachievers in its "Guaranteed Passenger Standards" program, which requires carriers to shape up or face fines--or worse. "Airports have historically been run for the benefit of the airlines," says Virginia Buckingham, executive director of Massport. "But we're starting to look at service from the customer's point of view."
The Massport plan is extremely controversial, but frequent flyers are rooting for it to succeed. The airlines are not amused. American Airlines' former CEO Robert Crandall told Freni whoever thought it up should have a lobotomy. Funny: Freni spent 20 years with American before joining Massport last year. The Air Transport Association, the airlines' powerful lobbying group, is outraged and plans to fight any punishment Massport metes out.
Memo to airlines: Stop whining and start performing, because Freni and Massport aren't backing down. For one hour at least twice a week, Freni and his staff monitor the 12 largest carriers at Logan in six specific areas of customer service, from curbside check-in to baggage claim. For example, passengers should spend no more than five minutes checking in at the gate. Each airline gets a copy of the report and a note from Massport pointing out problems. Airlines, say Massport officials, are generally responding well and have already taken such corrective steps as adding personnel at peak times. Massport says that if an airline fails, it will be warned first, then fined. Eventually it could face losing gates.