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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Speedy Recovery


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Speedy Recovery

March 15, 2017
Tuesday's Northeast blizzard paralyzed US air travel and forced cancellation of 8,000 flights since Sunday according to the  flight tracking website FlightAware.

Nearly all flights at New York City's three airports were canceled on Tuesday, with similar issues at Boston and Baltimore. Most flights were cancelled before the day even began.

Other major airports in the Northeast  also experienced major disruptions,  including Philadelphia, Washington Dulles and Washington National,  with about 50 percent of flights cancelled Tuesday.
FlyersRights demands that the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Agency assist, monitor and verify that emergency operation plans are followed and that recovery is rapid.

There is no excuse for lack of preparedness. 

AAA offered the following tips for airline passengers in the coming days:
  • Check flight status before leaving home and sign up for your airline's flight status alert service - It beats making multiple calls and can help you to get information faster than waiting on hold for an airline representative.
  • Ask if re-booking fees are being waived - Most airlines, although not required to do so, will waive change fees due to severe weather.
  • If conditions are safe and your flight is not cancelled, allow for more time on the road in order to arrive at the airport in plenty of time - Remember that there are a finite number of seats on each airplane, and those who do not arrive in time will find that their seat has been given to another passenger who is anxious to get where they are going.
  • Be prepared for down time in airports - Carry snacks and entertainment for both adults and children but, remember to get drinks after clearing security checkpoints due to TSA restrictions.
  • Be patient - Try to keep in mind that you are not the only delayed, tired, and frustrated traveler. You have lots of company, and a backlog of challenges will take time to correct.
  • "Bullying" airline personnel is not recommended - Kindness and understanding with the person who is helping you will take you much farther. Many airline employees have been through the same challenges you have and are working hard to accommodate throngs of passengers.
  • Carry a FULLY CHARGED cell phone - Passengers need to be prepared to wait in the airport in the event of a schedule change and carrying a fully charged communications device will ensure that any airline alerts or e-mails are received promptly.
  • Make decisions based on your personality and travel delay "tolerance" - If you are already experiencing a high level of frustration, you may not want to arrive at the airport for the first flight after it re-opens, as crowded conditions and delays are reasonable expectations.
  • Consider an alternate and perhaps even WARM destination - If your trip was cancelled, you may find some flexibility with travel vendors with regard to when and even where you go. Those who were going for a ski vacation out west may now be more in the mood for the beach as a cure for blizzard induced cabin fever.
  • If your flight is canceled you can obtain a r efund and take alternate transportation -if y ou do not want the accept the airlines' r escheduled flight (which can take several d ays.) 
  • You are entitled to cash compensation for EU flight delays if  you are bumped from an overbooked flight.
  • If you are on an international trip the airline is required to use all practical means to avoid or mitigate delay, or pay delay compensation -which can range up to $5,000- under the Montreal Convention Article 19.
  • If other airlines are flying to your destination, you can ask that your excessively delayed or canceled flight ticket be endorsed to fly on another airline (this is voluntary now but  Flyersrights.org has petitioned to bring back this reciprocity rule). 
If you need more help, you can call the Flyersrights.org Hotline, 877-FLYERS6 or file a complaint with the DOT at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint

FlyersRights Argued Before DC Circuit Judges Against FAA's Failure To Regulate Seat Sizes
  The takeaway is that it's a confidential 'trade secret' on how aircraft manufacturers design a sardine class that's escapable within 90 seconds

FlyersRights is challenging the  Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) decision to not set a minimum airline seat size. 
Last Friday, we argued in front of a panel of DC Circuit judges that the FAA needed to put up or shut up regarding the airline manufacturers' "secret evacuation studies" that say current seat sizes are safe.

FlyersRights argued without any FAA rules, airlines will keep shrinking seats in pursuit of higher profits.
FlyersRights explained during the hearing that seat pitch and width have shrunk over the past decade, endangering the emergency evacuation process and cramming too many passengers into too tight a situation, creating a risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. 

The FAA has evaded the publication of a study sought by FlyersRights that shows planes could be evacuated in 90 seconds, as required. This is because aircraft manufacturers claim it contains proprietary information. But FlyersRights argued there are well-established methods of entering the information into the court record without endangering trade secrets.

"They can't point to either a physical demonstration or computer simulation where this factor has been taken into account," FlyersRights attorney Joseph E. Sandler of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock PC said. "They say it has, but it's secret evidence, they can't show us the study."
The FAA also dodged blood clot concerns, saying it's not the agency with oversight over those sorts of health issues.

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, told  Law360  about 10 percent of passengers already can't fit into regular coach seats and airlines plan to push further to create what he dubs "torture class."

He noted that the panel had shown interest in getting affidavits from passengers who have posted complaints to public forums after it said FlyersRights hadn't produced specific enough complaints to warrant consideration.

U.S. Circuit Judges Janice Rogers Brown, Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard sat on the panel for the D.C. Circuit.

FlyersRights is represented by Joseph E. Sandler of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock PC.
The federal defendants are represented by Benjamin C. Mizer, Mark B. Stern and Karen Schoen of the U.S. Department of Justice and FAA in-house counsel Lorelei Peter.

The case is Flyers Rights Education Fund v. FAA et al., case number 16-1101, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Oscar the Grouch

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Oscar the Grouch
March 8, 2017

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit, March 2, 2017 with Carol Hallett, counselor to the U.S. Chamber and former president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America - now known as Airlines for America.

More hot air from Oscar.

Last week,  United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, said about the Middle-East airlines: 

"Those airlines aren't airlines. They're international branding vehicles for their countries." 

Munoz made clear that United will aggressively push the US government to take action against the United Arab Emirates and Qatar over what he considers unacceptable government assistance to Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

'Those Airlines Aren't Airlines'

This sob-a-rama from the US "Big 3" about the Middle East airlines conveniently distracts from the escalating abuse going on in the main cabins of the US carriers. 


Under Munoz's leadership, making the United "better" meant "Basic" economy (no overhead bins for you), tight 30" pitch seating in most narrow-body aircraft, and adopting high-density, ten abreast seating on the airline's 777's with 31" pitch. 

Also, making  record profits  while simultaneously complaining about "unfair competition" has failed to register much sympathy with flyers. 

(Source: Money/CNN)
In recent years, the US airlines have also fought every consumer protection  proposal of the Department of Transportation -in Federal Court and in Congress. 

If the Middle-East airlines aren't airlines, then the US carriers aren't either - as they're essentially run by Wall Street investors who artificially inflate prices by restricting capacity. 

So many flights now are oversold, meaning they could add seats in almost any given market. But the US carriers won't do this because they only do what is needed to keep investors happy - not what is good for the flying public. It's like re-regulation, except done by the airlines and not by the US government.

Since the US legacy airlines set up their global alliances, which are like antitrust immunities, and consolidated the industry, their public-policy focus has been to thwart competition. 
For example, they are  fighting a proposal to lift the cap on the passenger facility charge (PFC) so that airports are not able to make improvements that would attract new airline competitors. Likewise, they are  monopolizing scarce slots at Washington National and LaGuardia to keep out low-cost airlines and fighting to block foreign carriers from entering the US market. They also want to crush airfare search and compare websites sites that keep airlines honest.


Partnership for "Open and Fair Skies"

Back in  2015, United, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines produced a report accusing  Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad of getting more than $40 billion of subsidies from their government owners. 

But the US Department of Transportation took a look at the US carriers' "factual evidence" and  threw it in the trash.

All national carriers get government support in some form or another. The reason the US airlines still exist is due to billions in government bailout money in the early 2000s and chapter 11 protection since then.

But the fight against the Middle East airlines seems to have been renewed. Maybe the US carriers feel emboldened by a new administration. Why are the CEOs all repeating the same line? We can almost predict that next there'll be allegations of terrorism links against the Middle East airlines.

Finally, who is behind the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies? It's  a lobbying group composed of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, along with the Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l, the Allied Pilots Association, the Airline Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the Communications Workers of America and the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association.

Not Clear Cut What Trump Will Do 

Trump could easily side with the Middle East airlines, because the US carriers are not the good guys -and taking into account his  populist rhetoric. The  US airlines are the ones with the inferior product and like to nickel and dime people to death. Which makes the Middle East carriers seem, in contrast, like models of pleasant, well-run companies.

Trump is also in a difficult position with his campaign promises vs. his business interests in the Middle East. How can he protect jobs with the US major airlines and not offend the Middle East countries? 


As airlines push to eliminate foreign competition a nd privatize Air Traffic Control, President Trump must soon decide whether to drain the (air travel) swamp or fill it up with the airline lobby wish list. 

Airline executives and their unions:

Airlines did not support Trump for President but they did pay millions in campaign contributions to key Congressmembers - money that came out of the billions they charge passengers. 

Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, has so far declined t o meet with airline passenger representatives. 

Norwegian has begun hiring thousands o f US employees while the big three US airlines routinely outsource American jobs for maintenance to other countries and replace US flight crews on  international flights by using code-share partners instead of their own crews to  take a bigger cut of the profits.




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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bad Judgement

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Bad Judgement
US SUPREME COURT HANDS DOWN ANTI-AIRLINE CONSUMER PROTECTION RULING

February 22, 2017

The intent and purpose of the Montreal Convention was to clarify, harmonize, and achieve uniformity of rules governing claims arising from international air transportation. It was to create an orderly development of international air transport operations and the smooth flow of passengers, baggage and cargo.

Although the intent was to unify rules governing claims arising from international air transportation, there is no uniformity of process - a plaintiff can be treated differently depending on what Member Country they file in. It is creating unnecessary confusion as to the process frustrated passengers must take to get the redress afforded them by the Montreal Convention.

The Supreme Court has allowed an anti-consumer 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 2-1 ruling to stand, requiring consumers to file lawsuits in multiple countries to preserve protections afforded by the treaty that governs all claims against airlines arising out of international flights, reports FlyersRights.org and Travelers United, Inc. The travel groups had filed an amici brief in December with the US Supreme Court in support of international consumer protections in the Montreal Convention.

The Court declined to hear an appeal from a controversial 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 2-1 ruling which dismissed a passenger claim for personal injury, because her lawyers filed the case timely in South Africa but not in the US within 2 years.

Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights.org noted, "This decision leaves passengers with the onerous burden of having to file lawsuits in multiple countries to preserve their rights to recovery for personal injury, death, baggage or delay compensation against airlines. Passengers now face another expensive and time consuming hurdle, adding to the mountain of technical legal defenses already employed by airlines to defeat any passenger claim."

"This US Supreme Court action undercuts the expressed intent of the Montreal Convention to make passenger claims uniform and simple, while limiting claim amounts. It is also a slap in the face of 200 other nations whose court filings will not be recognized by US courts, contrary the express intent and language of the Montreal Convention," according to Charlie Leocha, President of Travelers United.

Johanna von Schoenebeck was injured on an international flight to San Francisco when a seat back collapsed on her neck, causing spinal injuries. After originally filing in South Africa, where the flight originated and where von Schoenebeck lived at the time, KLM Airlines waited for the two-year statute of limitations to expire before requesting a $23,000 bond for its attorney fees and suggesting that von Schoenebeck move the case to the United States. When von Schoenebeck re-filed in California, KLM immediately moved to dismiss for untimeliness, which was granted by a US District Court in San Francisco and affirmed by a split 2-1 decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A copy of the brief filed in the US Supreme Court is available at  MOTION AND BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE FLYERS RIGHTS EDUCATION FUND AND TRAVELERS UNITED IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONER'S PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI.

FlyersRights.org is the largest airline passenger advocacy organization. It is best known for spearheading the Passenger Bill of Rights and the rule against lengthy tarmac confinements. Flyersrights.org operates a toll-free hotline 877-FLYERS6, publishes a weekly newsletter at  flyersrights.org and maintains a staffed office in Washington, D.C. It is also appealing the FAA's refusal to issue minimum seat and leg room standards to address shrinking seat size and leg room by airlines: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (Case 16-1101, FlyersRights Education Fund v. FAA) will hear oral argument on March 10, 2017.

Travelers United is the country's leading consumer travel advocacy group dealing with airlines, hotels, rail and bus transportation. Travelers United was the main consumer advocate that developed with DOT rules that provide 24 hours to correct mistakes in airline bookings, full-fare advertising rules, increases in lost/denied/delayed baggage compensation and denied boarding compensation. Travelers United also has lead efforts to eliminate hotel resort fees and develop cruise line consumer protections.

Class Warfare
 Get less for more with Basic Economy 

Well, we warned you it was coming - now it's official:

American Airlines  yesterday trotted out its new Basic Economy fares at its hubs, DFW, PHL, MIA and CLT and TPA, MSY, BWI and FLL. 
If you've flown economy class recently, you know it's already extremely "basic". how much more "basic" they can go?

As their press release enthuses, paying more for less is a good thing! It gives consumers "choices" as to which services to pay for.

Except, it's not giving customers more options when you're taking away options they had, for the same price. This is a hidden fee. It's also a blow to consumers in an industry reporting record profits. United Airlines made it clear it expects Economy Basic to collect $1 billion by 2020 - proof it isn't intended to produce lower fares, it's designed to restrict the number of the lowest fares being offered and increase auxiliary fees.

However, airline defenders still sell it as a way of keeping fares low. But, in reality, this new low fare was the old, you-get-to-choose-your-seat-and-bring-a-carry-on-too, fare, (and that fare just got raised another $60.)

Today, for example, let's say FLL- JFK is $200 round trip. With the new Basic Economy ticket, FLL-JFK will remain $200 but the regular economy ticket, what you used to get for $200, will now be $220.

Probably the biggest impact will be restricting interline agreements when rebooking passengers in Basic Economy. That is, in the event of a flight cancellation or severe delay, AA's interline agreements won't help you, because AA has stated that Basic Economy passengers are not eligible to be reaccommodated on other airlines.

Needless to say, Basic Economy fares are not welcome news to many business flyers who are required to book the absolute cheapest base fare. 

Monkey See Monkey Do - Following the Spirit model?


These legacy airlines say it allows them to compete with low-cost Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier. But that's not the case since their fares will not be any cheaper. AA's president said it himself, "its not a new discount, its a new set of features for our lowest fares" - as in, a new set of reductions in features for our lowest fares.

The usual response from airline advocates is 'nobody is forcing anyone to pay these fares' - and - 'air travel is not a constitutional right.'

But air transportation is very much a commodity and an essential service.

Presently, the domestic airline industry is very much an oligopoly. It's all about reducing competition, squeezing your patrons and diluting the offering. Legacy carriers also dominate gates and slots at key airports and create barriers for new entrants.

Business class passengers may say, "Why should I be concerned? It doesn't affect me." But once the airlines begin on this path of diluting product and services, they will eventually work their way to every class of service.

It will be interesting to see just how much more people are willing to put up with before standards bottom out. 



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Monday, February 20, 2017

Now Fear This

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Now Fear This
February 16, 2017

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, left, and Delta Airlines CEO Edward Bastian, right, had a meeting at the White House last Thursday. (REUTERS)
We're hearing more and more stories about the major US airlines going Washington and insisting the administration do something about the Middle East airlines, Norwegian Air and other international carriers.

This is nothing new, it's been going on for years.

Last week, Delta, United and Southwest airlines had a meeting at the White House - but there's not much word about what happened.

Obviously they must have asked the same thing they've always asked: Hey, these guys are subsidized, please do something, do not allow them more landing rights, block them, blah blah blah.

We'll see, but this is an ongoing trend.

And the comment from Trump - about 'obsolete' infrastructure for planes, trains and roads, seemed like a strange tangent.

Whether anything concrete came out of the meeting, we don't know yet.

But, we're sure the Middle East airlines and Norwegian will be watching very closely to see what transpires in the short term, and long term, because it could be very disruptive.

Boeing Quality Control Back in the News

Randall Hill/Reuters
Through some good investigative work, the Seattle Times printed details of d ocuments they won through a Freedom of Information Act request showing "a disquieting pattern of falsified paperwork and ignored procedures that created quality issues on the production lines of Boeing and its suppliers."

The newspaper revealed previously undisclosed details of a $12 million fine from several Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigations in 2015.

The FAA also put Boeing on probation for five years, subject to $24 million in additional penalties if it fails to carry through on compulsory improvements outlined in the report.

"Intentionally Falsifying Papers"

The piece chronicles a half dozen examples of careless conditions involving fuel leaks, missing tools, crossed wires.

In January 2015, a mechanic rigging a large 777 cargo door at a Boeing supplier was questioned about his work by an FAA investigator. The mechanic acknowledged that "he does not use the inspection tools required and enters false inspection data on the work order."

Nope, Nothing To See Here Folks

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said, "None of these matters involved immediate safety of flight."

FlyersRights member and Washington state resident J.R. commented, "{Boeing's} move to Chicago with manufacturing plants to South Carolina are behind the erosion of trust and quality.  Unions also protect quality of work when someone speaks up."

The takeaway from the investigation is that Boeing's "official" production documentation did not match what workers on the shop floor actually did.

This is unacceptable at best and unlawful at least. We (the public) pay for, and rely upon, this entire system to work properly.  

We are happy to hear the FAA is doing their job. Oversight and accountability saves lives. Without it, the result is what happened to Alaska flight 261- a worn out jackscrew overlooked in routine maintenance.

However, as far as the $12 million goes, that is a drop in the bucket for a industry as large as Boeing. 


*****
Correction to last week's newsletter:

We try to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible.  Six hours after we sent out the newsletter for proofreading, and soon after we made other corrections and posted it, one of our proofreaders alerted us to this;
On the other hand, "no more competition" is the opposite of Trump's economic program for some industries, such as pharmaceuticals....maybe.  There seems to be nothing predictable with Trump from minute to minute."
suggesting that we add the part starting with '...maybe'.
 
He referenced this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-medicare-drug-prices_us_589a28a2e4b0c1284f28e4c4?4qattlemeqo1aif6r& which had been posted as he was proofing the newsletter.

As Lewis Carroll wrote in Through The Looking-Glass,
"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
  We apologize for the unpredictable error in timing.

*****



Flyers Rights Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity to which contributions are tax deductible. 

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