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Thursday, May 19, 2016

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Keep Calm And Carry On
May 19, 2016

A bread line in the former Soviet Union? No, it's the security line at Minneapolis St.Paul International Airport last month.
So here we are in week #2 of Make America Wait. 

Long airport security lines at many US airports have become ridiculous and are a national problem.

Thousands have missed flights this year due to TSA wait times.

Passengers are now asked to show up three hours early for domestic flights- that could he longer than your flight!

Bread and Circus

Airports have responded by 'sending in the clowns' -literally, to entertain the masses and curb potential rioting. Some airports are trotting out miniature therapy ponies, clowns, music and free snacks. 
A petting zoo? No, it's Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport's "Miniature Therapy Horses" to reduce passenger fury.

Which begs the question, if you can afford to pay for entertainment and give away food then why not just pay for extra staff?

Drama and 

Then last week was political theater on Capitol Hill when the TSA chief was grilled in front of Senators for not only long lines at airports, but retaliation against workers who complain about poor treatment and even inappropriately paying one official a $90,000 bonus.  

Robert MacLeanFederal Air Marshal,  told FlyersRights that TSA needs to "fire all of the bad managers, approve TSO [Transportation Security Officer] overtime, and push FREE PreCheck."

MacLean also stressed that 'Selective PreCheck' needs to be brought back if it hasn't been banned. This is where a senior screener or a manager can profile the least threatening passengers and send them to PreCheck - i.e. geriatric people, families with small kids, etc.

Maclean, a protected whistleblower, was recently defended by Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) in a contentious Congressional hearing with TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger.  
TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger on Capitol Hill last week. Rep. Meadows grilled Neffenger on new retaliation against whistleblower Robert MacLean

Neffenger, who took over the role last summer, found himself dropped into an agency that some in Congress said needs a complete overhaul. It's also suffered  low morale problems for years.

Q. Are the disastrous wait-times deliberate?

TSA Administrator, Peter Neffenger, says bad predictions are to blame for severe security line delays.

But TSA's power grab of slowing down airports is one theory gaining traction - to extort Congress to fork over more money and fill screener shortages.

Welcome to the madhouse - circus performers 'entertain' the crowds at San Diego International Airport.
Success? Last week Congress 'ponied' up $34 million more to pay TSA screeners overtime and fund nearly 800 more screeners to handle the summer travel crush.

Q. Passengers To Blame?

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson blamed passengers for having too many carry-ons and said flyers need "to be patient" as the government takes steps to get them through security faster.
This answer wasn't too well received considering the airlines have done everything to incentivize passengers to carry on as much luggage as possible.

Just get rid of the ridiculous checked bag fees, said two US senators, and the majority of this problem would go away.

Q. Extortion Racket?

Pay TSA $85 or they will make you miss your plane.

While the airlines are the pros at 'calculated misery' and making you pay extra to be treated like a human being, TSA's learned fast. But passengers are wondering why they should pay for TSA Precheck when it's occasionally not staffed or closed. 

The Privatization Debate

While there are some services that can be privatized, FlyersRights feels it's not always the answer for some inherent government functions provided by the city, state or federal government. These include national security, defense forces, mail delivery, air traffic control and police/fire service.

Big budget cuts to the TSA and reduced staffing

Long waits also pose an unacceptable security risk, as passengers get packed into tight screening lines.

The terrorist attacks in Brussels highlighted the risk for airports without an attacker crossing through security lines. Even before the attack, security experts warned of the danger of lines snaking at checkpoints and ticket counters, known as the vulnerable "soft side" of the airport.

TSA and the Dept. of Homeland Security, due to poor planning, Operational deficiencies, manager and Congressional mismanagement, coupled with increased terrorist threats, need to work 24-7 to fix the problems before a true security disaster and/or congestion breakdowns occur. 

The Obama Administration has weeks not months to act.

President Obama should call a meeting at the White House with his appointees, and the other relevant parties including passenger representatives. Such a meeting was effective when called by President George W Bush to resolve a congestion crisis at the NYC airports during his tenure.

Some obvious and simple changes can and must to be done quickly.

The TSA should immediately put out a call to rehire the up to 5,000 screeners who quit in disgust or whose jobs were unwisely eliminated by TSA in recent years. These persons are already trained and can be put to work at overcrowded major airports.

Mandatory overtime should be required as needed.

Extra screeners need to be scheduled for peak periods and fewer for non peak periods. 
Airport perimeter and in airport security to prevent a Brussels style massacre and bombings is still nearly non existent. Local and State police and National Guard or Army Reserve troops need to be used to fill this mammoth security gap until Homeland Security can be up to the task.

The fee for PreCheck and Global Entry should be waived for at least 60 days to encourage more passengers to sign up, and the Clear program for expensive and selective 3 minute screening eliminated.

The DOT should order waiver of most checked baggage fees on an emergency basis and then limit to a reasonable amounts after Rulemaking.

Passengers without carry on baggage should be given expedited screening treatment in no bag express lines.

Paul Hudson, President 
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee 
Former Member, FAA/TSA Aviation Security Advisory Committee (1997-2007)

Dear FlyersRights:

On the 13th of May I was scheduled to fly from San Jose to Phoenix, at  4:10 PM on American Airlines. A flight I have taken many times before.

The arriving flight comes in on time, but there is a delay in boarding attributed to some maintenance aspect. We board about 20 minutes late, and it appears they are continuing to work on the problem, which is announced as an inoperative jump seat. After about 45 minutes, a decision is made to return passengers to the terminal as it will not be a simple fix. In the gate area we learn that the new departure time will be after  7pm when an additional plane arrives.

OK, maintenance issues do happen unexpectedly but this is one that should have never happened. It turns out that the airline had 48 hours to fix the seat and they either ignored doing it or left it to the last minute! To add insult to injury, no one was scheduled to sit in the jump seat. 

As the airlines grow bigger and travel choices are reduced, is the economy of scale providing a more efficient, less costly, and better travel experience?

Sadly, I think not.


(Below is feedback we received regarding the current debate in Washington about allowing Norwegian Air International (NAI) to expand into the US). NAI says transatlantic fares will be $69. And their pilots make only 1% less than US's. There is enormous opposition to NAI from the US airlines.)

Dear FlyersRights:

Granting Norwegian Air International (NAI)'s request to skirt U.S. labor laws is the gravest threat to my career in the 16 years I've been a Flight Attendant with a major airline and will bring the biggest shock and awe to the traveling public like you've never seen.  For the sake of my job as well as Flyers Rights members, I seriously hope NAI is denied.

The CEO of Norwegian Air International wants to bring the maritime industry's flag-of-convenience business model to the U.S. airline industry. If unopposed, this scheme will decimate our airlines.  It also raises serious safety questions.  Within two years, US airlines will open new subsidiaries using NAI as its model.  This will result in U.S. Pilots and flight attendants being outsourced for underpaid/overworked foreign labor. Are you ready to take a ride with cheapest foreign pilots currently available in Singapore today?  Do you want to be served by over-worked, under-paid flight attendants (not allowed to be unionized) who can't wait to get home so they can sleep and a good meal?  https://youtu.be/abpuemntPeQ

In the wake of U.S. airlines making billions of dollars in profits today when have you seen ticket prices go down or hidden fees become transparent?  If NAI is approved your travel experience will get nightmarishly worse. Ticket prices will not go down. You will not see a return to comfortable, roomier seats. The aisles will get narrower and lavatory sizes will continue to shrink.  Approval of NAI will give you foreign flight attendants flying exhausting "turn and burn" trips all over the U.S. then working back their base across the pond.  No union = no fatigue protection.

Competition is a good thing. But the competition that NAI approval will add billions to U.S. airline coffers, terminate American aviation jobs and will do nothing for U.S. airline passengers.


Getting on a Plane? 
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

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End of the Line
Airport Security Lines So Long, Passengers Are Missing Flights

May 12, 2016

Snakes on a Terminal? Don't forget to arrive 6 hrs early!

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a distinguished American literalist, but he let us down when he wrote about life being more about "the journey, not the destination." 

Perhaps that's being too harsh. In Emerson's defense, he lived at a time when Thomas Cook was promoting sophisticated travel - and hence was denied the opportunity of spending hours in airport security lines. 

Were he alive now, he would realize that the joy of the journey has become a false promise.

TSA: Arrive Early and Still Miss Your Flight!

Lately though,there have been a swarm of articles about the airlines' new-found concern about passengers stuck in long airport security lines - too many articles to be a coincidence.

These delays are costing the airlines money. American Airlines says that 6,800 missed flights in one week in March because of delays getting through airport security checkpoints. And the airlines are now concerned long airport lines might discourage air travel.

The latest helpful advice from the airlines for dealing with what could be a hellish summer at America's airports is forpassengers to arrive maybe three hours early just to get through security and catch their flights. At this rate, the lines will stretch from your departure point to your destination, and you'll be able to avoid the airplane altogether!

"We are really concerned about what happens in the summer," fretted Ross Feinstein, spokesman for American Airlines. "Lines grew in January, February and March, and now in April, too."

The irony here is that Feinstein used to be a TSA spokesman. Back then, he never saw a security logjam or checkpoint fiasco that he couldn't blame on "customers." 

This week, CNBC ran a piece with an unthinkable recommendation from two US senators - that the airlines suspend their bag fees.

Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal asked executives at 12 airlines to drop checked-bag fees this summer.

Stopping the airlines from forcing passengers to bring onboard their bags due to charging outrageous fees for checking them is a great start. This backlog is the fault of the airlines. And stop the idiotic shoe removal. Flying is a nightmare. There's no "security" reason for this.
However, a spokeswoman for the airlines' lobbying group said this proposal was a misguided attempt to re-regulate airlines and could make airline travel more expensive - that fares would rise to offset the loss of bag fees. This is not the case, however. 
Cue The Blame For Long Airport Lines on TSA 'Budget Cuts'

Almost any time a government agency or program fails to perform, those involved complain that they don't have enough money to properly do their jobs.

Criticism for the debacle is said to be stingy budgets and cutbacks at the TSA.  As The New York Times put it: "A combination of fewer Transportation Security Administration screeners, tighter budgets, new checkpoint procedures and growing numbers of passengers is already creating a mess at airports around the country."

Except it's not true. TSA's budget is 9% higher this year (at $7.3 billion), than it was in 2007. Its full-time workforce climbed by 4.3% over those years, according to official budget documents.
Well, at least they're making air travel safer?

In the name of "security" TSA is creating perfect targets for a terror attack. Security theater is making the situation more insecure. The waiting masses are an excellent target for a bomb - more packed together than in Brussels two months ago.

I wonder if it is TSA's underhanded way of promoting PreCheck?

Is the TSA making wait times so bad that they are deliberately trying to force people to pay $85, and get fingerprinted just to exercise their inherent right to travel in a reasonable time?

It seems that the response to the paranoia created after 9/11 and subsequent bombing attempts was to clampdown on innocent passengers. We are all terrorists. 

Suffice it to say, PreCheck and Global Entry are not what they are cracked up to be. They don't always get users out of the general screening lines, and there are too many airports where PreCheck and Global Entry are not used. In fact, one of FlyersRights editors was recently in Maui during the January tourist crush season and there was no TSA PreCheck (or airline premium passenger) lines. The wait time was nearly an hour.

Airport screening can and should do so much better. Congress: Fund the current system as-needed while you implement its overhaul. Think about how you would design a security system from the ground up if you were starting with all our current knowledge. Address the obvious flaws of the current system and of TSA. Do you want a bipartisan outcome that most Americans' can rally around; or do you want another government system that doesn't work?
There you have it. And you can even do it in an election year. You're welcome.

In response to last week's newsletter: Family Feud

Dear FlyersRights: 
My family of six recently flew on American Airlines and it was awful. When we booked our tickets we weren't allowed to select adjacent seats without paying significant fees for 'premium' seats, despite my children being 2, 5, and 6 years old (our infant got to sit in our lap). Looking at the seat map it appeared that both flights were completely booked yet the departing flight was only 70% full. We could have easily been allowed to select seats together without being forced to pay for an 'upgrades' or waiting until boarding to change seats (we weren't allowed to pick seats at check in either). We weren't so fortunate on the return flight (it was oversold) and my wife had to strong arm another passenger into letting her change seats so we didn't have a stranger sitting next to our children on a redeye. I've flown AA many times over the past few years (I live near their hub in Charlotte) and have rarely had a positive experience.


Dear FlyersRights:

I have a flight coming up on Delta (like I had a choice) and booked a seat next to my 4 year old. If they move her away from me, I will be interested to see how that works out for them to have an unaccompanied toddler screaming for her mother the whole flight.
Thanks for staying on top of this.


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