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2 ticketers clean up act on details of air carriers; Websites now meet new safety standard

Priceline and CheapOAir, two of the travel websites found last month to be skirting a new law that requires airline ticket-sellers to say when regional carriers are operating particular flights, have changed their ways.

Priceline users now can see the operator of each flight as soon as they click on a particular flight.

And users of CheapOAir can see the plane's operator on the first page of a flight search. That's a big turnaround since December, when The Buffalo News found CheapOAir to be blatantly ignoring the new law by allowing users to purchase tickets without ever seeing which airline would be flying the plane.

"This is great news," said Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, who has been pressing travel sites to comply with the new law, which was passed in reaction to the February 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center.

"We've taken that information and passed it on to Expedia, Travelocity and Kayak," which have not yet changed their websites, Lee said. "I think this is good. This might embarrass some of the other sites into doing what Priceline and CheapOAir are doing."

A review of travel websites Tuesday found that TripAdvisor and Sidestep also continued to apparently try to skirt the disclosure requirement, as did the USAirways website.

In contrast, the other major airlines clearly complied with the law all along, as did Orbitz, CheapTickets and Yahoo!Travel.

A month ago, though, visitors to Priceline would have to click a link for "Full Flight Details" to see that a smaller regional airline was handling a flight in the name of one of the major carriers. "It's just simpler for customers" to do it that way, Priceline spokesman Brian Ek said at the time.

Tuesday, though, Ek said Priceline made the change as part of a continuing review of how it presents choices to customers.

"We're always looking at ways to enhance how our information is presented," Ek said.

Ek maintained that even the old presentation complied with the new law, which mandates that the name of the plane's operator be identified on the first page of a Web search "in a format that is easily visible to a viewer."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., fought for the inclusion of that provision in the aviation safety law that stemmed from the Flight 3407 crash, which claimed 50 lives.

The Families of Continental Flight 3407, which pressed for the passage of that law, have been encouraging travelers to report possible violations of that disclosure provision to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The families point out that their loved ones did not know that Flight 3407 was operated not by Continental, but by Colgan Air, a regional carrier that hires far less experienced pilots than major airlines do. Federal investigators found that pilot error was the reason for the fatal crash.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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