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Thursday, May 11, 2017

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The Not So Silent Treatment

May 10, 2017

Another week, another airline outrage. 
The Monday night melee has been a long time coming. No-frills Spirit was already infamous for its cancellations and delays, even before its labor dispute with pilots. It was inevitable that frustrated customers would act out.  

Spirit had the lowest rate of on-time arrivals of any domestic carrier in 2016, according to the Air Quality Rating from Wichita State University. It also had the highest rate of passenger complaints in 2016. 

Irate passengers at Fort Lauderdale Airport brawled with Spirit Airlines employees and police officers Monday evening, after the carrier cancelled flights due to labor disputes with its pilots.

This latest incident follows a wave of clashes between passengers and airline employees caught on video, including the dragging of passenger David Dao off a United Airlines flight last month.

The events have worried both the traveling public and US lawmakers.

Passenger Mutiny 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million.

The pervasiveness of social media and legions of tech-savvy citizens around the globe documenting airline missteps large and small on a daily basis is a tremendous help to passenger rights organizations. But, does that 24/7 access ever become too much?

Technology has really allowed passengers to shine a spotlight on the traveling experience - for good and bad. Yet, when it rains, it pours - it seems every week an airline abuse video goes viral.

Are Spirit's Pilots On Strike?

The pilot union says no - the pilots have just stopped volunteering for extra shifts. Spirit's management says pilots are refusing to work overtime, which they claim is an illegal 'job action' coordinated by the Air Line Pilots Association to apply pressure during contract negotiations.

For the past several days Spirit has cancelled around 15% of flights. This is a bitter labor dispute and pilots say they are fed up that the company is not offering them a fair contract.

Spirit management has responded with filing a lawsuit, claiming it had to cancel over 300 flights nationally and internationally this past week because of the union's actions.

Spirit's Twitter pa ge was full of passengers complaining that Spirit is blaming the cancellations on weather - but a few have gotten the truth of what's going on by talking to gate employees. 

Imagine, an airline lying to passengers and saying that cancellations are due to weather, when in fact, it's crew shortages. Where have we heard that before? 

Therefore, it appears that Spirit is using 'weather' to circumvent compensation, and blaming their pilots internally.

To wrap up, people are not just mad at the airlines, they're furious and demanding to be treated better. Who knows if we're going to see more of this backlash in the coming months - just get ready for a long summer!



Today is Day 30, and counting since Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight.

The airlines' CEO and Chicago airport police have defended the violent removal of Dr. Dao for refusing to give up his seat. Then they apologized and made a secret financial settlement with a gag order.

Hearings held by the House and Senate on May 2 and May 4 threatened new regulations, and yet the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Agency have said and done nothing.

In the meantime, videos of American Airlines and Delta Air lines abuse of passengers have gone viral.

US airlines say they want more power over passengers, control of Air Traffic Control and the authority to tax passengers.

Wall Street bets United customers will forgive and forget. CEO Oscar Munoz says no United employee will be disciplined. He gets $14 million bonus and United stock rebounds.

Enough is enough!

Wanted! Spanish Speaker Volunteer!

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

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Telling It Like It Isn't
May 3, 2017

Click for full C-SPAN video
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz testifies Tuesday before the House Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill. He was among several executives from many airlines who appeared at the hearing

Billed as an information gathering hearing on what can be done to protect airline passengers' civil rights, several airline executives spoke before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday.

They were asked about how customers are treated, and particularly on the subject of overbooked seats.

In attendance were United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and new president Scott Kirby; Bill McGee,  an aviation consultant for Consumers Union; and executives from Alaska Airlines and Southwest.

FlyersRights' staff attorney Andrew Applebaum covered the hearing.

"Airlines and many Republican congressmen note that flying has never been safer but fail to mention that safety was not deregulated, and that most improved safety is due to FAA regulation and better safety technology, which airlines have often resisted," said Paul Hudson, FlyersRights' president.
Southwest Airlines Exec. Vice President Robert Jordan jokes that people should be able to bring their clothes with them if they buy a ticket (SW is the only airline that doesn't charge for bags). Jordan was by Transportation Committee members how it can afford not charging for bags when other airlines claim they need to.

The hearing was called after a series of incidents that started with the United fiasco on April 9 at O'Hare, but also included a confrontation between an American Airlines flight attendant and passenger, a Delta passenger being kicked off an airplane for using the bathroom during a 30-minute wait on the tarmac to take off, and the death of a giant rabbit on a United flight.

The plight of air travel was summed up by William J. McGee, travel and aviation consultant for Consumers Union, who also appeared at the hearing: "Consumers are at the mercy of powerful airlines."
United CEO says airline chooses passengers for removal based on their fare paid and Frequent Flyer mileage with the airline. Rep. Bernice Johnson replies: "So you picked the 'cheapest' customer."

Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, threatened another hearing if nothing was done.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) brought up high load factors, delays within the airlines' control and long contracts of carriage.

DeFazio is sponsor of 

HR 1420 - the Know Before You Fly Act, that requires airlines to give passengers their 

Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ): Soon you're going to start charging to use the restroom. United President, "Sir, we are not going to do that."
policies on bag fees and what assistance the airline is required to provide when there is a disruption of service.

Fittingly, at the end of the hearing, the microphone picked up an aide to Munoz asking if he wanted "Premium services to expedite him through the airport."  

Your Letters!
In response to No Seat For You!

Dear FlyersRights:

United Airlines CEO was upset the public saw and heard what they were caught doing. Will probably move next to ban cell phones from planes that can record.  

Let's call for the removal of this United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz who not only built the rules that caused this but still approved of them today and is only shocked and outraged he got caught. He is also shocked that the Chicago police did not take the hit for mistreatment.  

Oscar Munoz is an American businessman. He was named president and chief executive officer of United Airlines on September 8, 2015.  


Dear FlyersRights:

If, as you say, the gate employees were employees of United Airlines, not Republic, they had no legal jurisdiction to order passengers off the aircraft once they were boarded.  Only the aircraft owner could do that, from what I have read, and that would have to be a Republic employee.  Of course United wants to protect Republic since Republic is in bankruptcy and United does not want to lose them as a supplier, taking over the route themselves, and having to pay twice as much for the same product.
Dear BE,
The day the story broke, we knew it was United's subsidiary, Republic Airlines, by its flight number. So we asked our United contacts if they could blame Republic - considering that crew is paid far lower wages than the mainline carrier.
United will not place any blame on Republic, but the gate agents working that flight were United employees, according to our sources.
Yes, it's a bit deceptive to sell regional jet tickets as if it were a mainline flight, because passengers must pay the same - the savings are not passed along to you, despite the regional jet crew being paid much less.
Thanks for writing,

Kendall Creighton
Dear FlyersRights:

Just read in the L.A. Times today of your existence while reading about Dr. Dao.  The last sentence was a quote by Sue Kamm, a retired librarian..."I wouldn't fly United if they gave me a free pass to fly first class to anywhere for the rest of my life"   I feel the same. 

A broken nose, concussion and loss of 2 front teeth !!!!

PLEASE force airlines to make more room for coach flyers.  A flight I was on recently had 12" between my face and the seat in front !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


On a 5  1/2 hour flight from Hawaii's big island to L.A. offered ZERO food for purchase and I had to beg for a tiny bag of pretzels.

Charging for checked bags is a sin !!!!!

Cleanliness should be improved.  The sticky floors in those MINISCULE bathrooms are disgusting.  And must they be THAT SMALL ???????????  I am a tiny woman of 5'3"   125 lbs but flying conditions are BRUTAL !!!!!! 



Dear JE,

We certainly agree and hope Airlines and Congress will finally get the message, and not do another white wash shuffle.  On May 2, the House Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing and so will the Senate Corporations  Committee on May 4th.

Flyersrights.org has advocated for a 30 item proposed Airline Passenger Bill of Rights (available on our web site) since 2012, but so far not a single member of Congress out of 535 has been willing to introduce it or anything close and the US Dept. Of Transportation has a perfect record of rejecting or ignoring every consumer group rule proposal since 2009. 

The traveling public needs to make a stand or as the saying goes "the beatings will continue until morale improves."


Paul Hudson
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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Fuel To The Fire

April  26, 2017

For the past few weeks, FlyersRights has been hounded by the media for comments on BumpgateLeggingsgateStrollergate and Delta's recent weather meltdown.

It's as if normal customer service rules don't apply to the airlines. The industry seems immune to normal corporate pressures that influence any other customer service business. 

This is an industry that has transformed the customer experience into one that most people hate. No one is happy about boarding a domestic flight in North America.

So, what are you buying when you purchase a ticket? You're agreeing to a one-sided contract called the Contract of Carriage. Known in the law as a contract of adhesion. You either take it or don't fly.
A panoply of punishment for passengers over the past month, involving; forcible removal from plane (United), a crew member vs. passenger blowup (American), compulsory wardrobe change from leggings (United) and Delta's cancellation of 4000 flights in Atlanta due to severe weather.

The airlines can pretty much say or do whatever they want in these contracts. 

Recently they've gone above and beyond the normal things and redefining what were always normal terms, like "Force Mejeure" or "Act of God", which traditionally referred to the weather or war.

Now, airlines are saying "Act of God" includes the lack of equipment or personnel - something that used to be their responsibility.  

The airlines write these one-sided contracts and get to enforce them at will. They have the protection at every level of government to do basically whatever they want. This isn't a good thing for consumers. 

The airlines are now over-consolidated corporations.  It's an industry with very high barriers to entry. You don't see someone casually deciding they want to start a new airline in the United States. That's why we've ended up with just three large network domestic carriers -  plus the smaller Southwest, Alaska-Virgin and JetBlue. Ironically, people prefer to fly on the smaller carriers. It shouldn't be this way.

But, cracks are emerging. Years of bottled up resentment has resulted in the blowups we're seeing now. The public's frustrated at how awful Economy Class has become, and fueled by how much better Business Class and First are, that they shuffle past on the way to the rear of the plane.

The passengers on Dr. Dao's flight saw United's Polaris branding all over the terminals at Chicago O'Hare. Images of incredible Business Class seats with glamorous crew members, all smiles, beckoning you to take a nap. This Polaris product marketing seems to be everywhere, in every airport around the world. So, everyone is aware. What a difference!

Your shuffle past First Class is intentional too, of course. Just like making everything miserable in the back of the plane is a carefully calculated strategy. It's like two planes in one, catering to two different markets . The front is the posh, private jet, and in the back is a low-cost, discount carrier. This is a problem.

Passengers should expect to be treated with the same level of respect as they'd get in a hotel or restaurant, but instead, the experience in Economy Class on US domestic carriers does not match that.
Next time you're on a LA to New York flight, Listen to the international passengers' conversations, who've just gotten off their transpacific flights on Cathay or Qantas. Hear their dismay at the quality of the travel experience on US airlines by comparison.

The general American spirit of friendliness does not exist in the airline industry.

A Message From our President:

The lopsided power of airlines, however, goes far beyond one sided contracts of carriage. Airlines have in the Patriot Act a draconian statute making it a federal felony to disobey a flight attendant's instructions (interference with flight crew) punishable by up to 20 years in prison plus a fine.  

Hundreds of passengers have been charged under this law since 2002 for minor infractions including declining to desist from overly amorous conduct and breast feeding a baby. Things that used to be punished by a fine or misdemeanor charge.  In the United-Dr. Dao case, but for passenger video on YouTube, the report by the Chicago Airport Police stating they only used "minimal necessary force" and blamed the passenger.

Then there is the exemption of airlines from all state and local consumer protection laws and most tort law, recently confirmed by the US Supreme Court in Ginsberg vs. Northwest Airlines.  

Airlines also have the right to transfer any case in state or local court to US District Court where litigation costs far exceed any normal passenger claim, other than those involving death or serious physical injury. 

Couple these laws with exemption from antitrust laws granted by the US DOT for most international airline joint ventures (aka alliances), exemption of airport authorities from antitrust laws,  prohibitions on most foreign competition or foreign investment in US airlines, FAA regulations making new airport construction by private entities virtually impossible, approval of nearly all airline mergers by the Justice Department, and we have in US air travel the worst of all worlds: Lack of both reasonable regulation and competition, allowing airline abuses to fester and passengers to suffer under a regime of tyranny not tolerated for any other industry.

Paul Hudson
president, FlyersRights.org

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Getting on a Plane? 
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Contact: kendallc@FlyersRights.org