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Nov 27, 2006

European Union said on Friday it had agreed with Russia a resolution to a long-standing dispute over charges imposed on foreign airlines flying over Siberia. The charges, which the European Commission says cost EU airlines more than USD$300 million a year, were the main outstanding issue for the EU following its agreement with Russia on the country's entry to the World Trade Organization. Russia has agreed to phase out the overflight charges leading to elimination by the end of 2013, the EU said in a statement. Russia had previously said it saw no need for a gradual reduction of the fees. Nov 24, 2006

The Transportation Department in response acknowledged room for improvement and said it will use a new electronic system to monitor its enforcement cases. It also said it was "developing rules to ensure consumers are properly compensated if they are unfairly denied boarding." Nov 23, 2006

The Transportation Department is doing a better job of overseeing consumer protection issues, including civil rights complaints. But the agency almost always forgives fines or other penalties if the airline agrees to correct the problem, and there is little or no follow-up, the agency's inspector general, Calvin Scovel III, said in his report. Nov 23, 2006

The Transportation Department report also found that airline information on frequent-flier benefits is of marginal value. Redemption information can be hard to find and is not broadly comparable. "As a result, it is difficult if not impossible for consumers to compare frequent-flier programs in a meaningful way," Scovel said. Nov 23, 2006

The Transportation Department update on consumer protection and the industry's 2001 pledge -- at the insistence of Congress -- to improve customer service comes as an estimated 22 million people board flights this week and next for the US Thanksgiving holiday. Nov 23, 2006

Transportation Department also said access to airline on-time performance data for all flights remains difficult to get via the Internet. Only five of 16 carriers that were reviewed made that information available on their web sites, prompting Scovel to recommend a tougher government response. Nov 23, 2006

Transportation Department noted complaints going up again as overall traffic rebounds after hitting a low in 2003. After delays, the biggest complaint involves mishandled baggage, the rate of which shot up in August and September when homeland security officials imposed new restrictions on carry-on...

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