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Locals file complaints with USDOT over new HA seating policy

Two local businessmen have filed separate complaints with the US Transportation Department over Hawaiian Airlines’ new policy in which passengers can no longer pre-select seats via the airline’s website or kiosk in its Pago Pago flights.

Hawaiian spokesperson Ann Botticelli told Samoa News on Tuesday that the airline had just finished a survey of the Pago Pago route and the survey “showed an increase in average passenger weight, which required us to redistribute weight in our Boeing 767 cabins to meet manufacturer’s guidelines.”

She said the weight redistribution includes limiting the number of adults per row, and reserving seats in certain rows on the airline’s Boeing 767 aircraft for children under the age of 13. (See Samoa News edition Sept. 28 for details).

It appears that not long after the local media reported on the new policy local businessmen Avamua Dave Haleck and Daniel R. King filed separate complaints with the USDOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

In his complaint, Avamua, a frequent flyer, brought to the federal agency’s attention what he calls “injustice” Hawaiian (HA) is “imposing on the travelers to and from American Samoa ONLY.”

“Besides having to endure high airfares due to the monopoly that exists with HA being the only carrier to the United States,” Avamua said the latest policy by not allowing seat selection when booking online on flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago “is discrimination in the truest sense of the word.”

He points out that it started with passengers to and from American Samoa being weighed at check in and now Hawaiian sets “new policy which targets travelers to American Samoa.” He said, that nowhere else in the Hawaiian system does it ask their passengers to be weighed and nowhere other than American Samoa flights can online seat selections not be made.

“This is how you spell D I S C I M I N A T I O N,” he declared.

In acknowledging the receipt of the complaint, USDOT says it “seeks to ensure that all airline passengers are treated fairly” and that complaints and comments from “consumers are helpful to us in determining whether the airlines are in compliance with our rules and to track trends or spot areas of concern that warrant further action.”

Avamua was also informed that his complaint will be assigned to an analyst for review “and you will receive a more detailed acknowledgment from us within a few days.”

USDOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division gave identical acknowledgment after receiving King’s complaint, in which King says that he booked and paid for a round trip from Hilo, Hawai’i to Pago Pago with seats selected for the flight.

“Three weeks after booking the flight, Hawaiian Air has just informed me they changed their policy and no longer have pre assigned seats to Pago Pago and seats will be assigned at check in,” he said. “How do I know if I will get the seat I paid for?”

“This seems very discriminatory since it only applies to flights to Pago Pago. My seat selection from Hilo to Honolulu is unchanged,” he said, adding that Hawaiian Air is the only flight to Pago Pago “and most passengers are of Samoan descent which also begs the question of discrimination since Hawaiian Air has a long history of inadequate service to Pago Pago as the monopoly carrier.”

At least two other local residents have also filed with USDOT complaints against Hawaiian Air, and one of them didn’t want to be identified in the Samoa News story, while the other could not be reached for comment by press time.