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Monday, September 15, 2014

FlyersRights.org
Where's The LUV? 
AirTran Merger: A Marriage Of Inconvenience For Passengers

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
It wasn't so much a merger, it was Southwest eliminating a competitor.
  
What do you get when you merge one low-cost airline with another? At Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport, it's higher fares and fewer flights.

This should be no surprise. Haven't we learned from the wave of airline mergers in recent years; Delta-Northwest, United-Continental and American-US Airways, that the aftermath is consistently higher fares and more fees?

In 2011 Southwest bought AirTran Airways for $1.4 billion, a deal that was rubber-stamped by the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights then sailed through the Department of Justice.

It was such a smooth review process, it resembled a charade to trick the public into thinking someone was in charge and looking out for their best interests.

Southwest made an almost effortless segue into the Atlanta air service market. 
It took over AirTran's main hub which previously competed directly with Delta Airlines in many markets. Southwest then cut several routes from Atlanta.

The Cranky Flier
Before the merger, AirTran operated a connecting hub at Hartsfield-Jackson with 220 daily departures, while Southwest plans to drop that to about 125 in January. Total reduction: more than 35 percent.

Also, Southwest-AirTran's market share at Hartsfield-Jackson has shrunk from 16 percent to 11 percent, while Delta's has increased from nearly 78 percent to nearly 83 percent over the last four years. 

Obviously, no entity has been more pleased with the merger results than Delta. The loss of AirTran took away the very competitive fares once available as a result of AirTran's presence. Now Delta no longer has to worry about pricing pressure.

Airtran's last scheduled flight from Atlanta will be on December, 28, 2014.  After that, Southwest will be in total control of operations."

Southwest's Snowjob


Experts, industry insiders, and the community were all duped. Southwest was welcomed with open arms and was considered a big win for customers because it finally created competition against the old guard of legacy carriers like Delta, American and United.

Southwest's marketing department advertised all over Atlanta at the start of the takeover, hyping that "they're bringing lower prices to Atlanta".

Gary Kelly, Southwest's chairman and CEO proclaimed, "It's about us bringing more competition, bringing more low fares. I think [Southwest's daily departures from Atlanta] could grow significantly ... We'll have more flights than what they [AirTran] have today when all is integrated."

Consumer expert Clark Howard, who was also taken in by Southwest's siren song now acknowledges, "It's been a real disappointment to some people in Atlanta. People who were interested in discount fares have come to realize that Southwest's prices are not as aggressive as AirTran's." 

Aviation consultants BoydGroup International, said that for the third quarter of 2013, the average one-way domestic airfare out of Atlanta increased by 20.6 percent compared with the same period in 2012.

Fares have risen for the consumer due to Southwest's higher prices and Delta matching them.

AirTran Flying Off Into The Sunset 

AirTran was founded in 1993 as ValuJet. 

It had an inexpensive business class, allowing you to upgrade for as little as $50. That included checked baggage and even a free cocktail in-flight. 

When you fly Southwest, you don't have a business class or the ability to reserve seats.

AirTran was playing a key role in keeping prices low at Atlanta, which was lost in the merger. The myth was that Southwest was keeping the major carriers in line on prices. But after AirTran was eliminated, Southwest joined the majors and began increasing its prices everywhere.

And while AirTran operated flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to six Caribbean destinations, Southwest as of January 2015 will operate only two: Cancun and Punta Cana.

Antitrust attorney Joe Alioto filed a lawsuit challenging the Southwest-AirTran deal, claiming travelers have suffered from reduced competition. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit, and Alioto has asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.

"Airlines are so concentrated that they are functioning as an oligopoly to raise prices, to curtail service because of the elimination of significant rivals," Alioto said. "It's awful." 

With three and a half months before the AirTran brand is retired, It looks like it will continue to serve these cities until the last day:

ATL
Orlando (MCO) based AirTran Flight Attendants say goodbye to their MCO base. another milestone toward the end of the AirTran operation.
BDL
BOS
BWI
CAK
CUN
DCA
DTW
FLL
HOU
IND
JAX
LAS
LAX
MBJ
MCI
MCO
MDW
MEX
MKE
MSP
MSY
PHL
PIT
PUJ
RDU
RSW
SAT
SFO
SNA
STL
TPA

Total daily flights: 164. Of course, everything ends on December 29th when AirTran's 21-year history comes to a close.
ATL's Future

Southwest's reductions could reduce the Atlanta airport's growth plans for years to come.

Earlier this year, a master plan update was delayed as planners scaled back traffic forecasts because of Southwest's dismantling of AirTran's hub. That is likely to contribute to reduced demand for more gates and concourses and delay the need for a sixth runway.

It's a turnabout for this airport, where AirTran rapidly grew through the mid-2000s.

AirTran sought to gain a critical mass with its Atlanta hub by offering low fares and more flights. That sometimes led to it lose millions of dollars.

But Southwest, which boasts a 41-year profit streak, does not operate a traditional "hub-and-spoke" network. Southwest focuses on point-to-point service, instead of connecting passengers through a hub. Employment at the Atlanta airport has fallen from 5,300 pre-merger to 3,500 now.

No Going Back

Diana Moss, vice president of the American Antitrust Institute said there is little accountability when merger results turn out different from Justice Department expectations. "Once the merger has gone through, there's no DOJ going back to the airlines saying, 'Okay you guys, let's see what you promised us.' "
  
Last week Southwest unveiled a new logo amid a brand overhaul that includes a new look for its aircraft.  

Despite bringing affordable air travel to the masses, Southwest is no longer the industry's low-cost leader. Bargains are few and far between.
  
In sum, good news if you enjoy the cattle call of Southwest. 

Holy cow!  

We Need an App Developer!


The FlyersRights.org app needs a new programmer/developer with an Apple account, where you can assume management of the account for FlyersRights.

It's a very simple tab control app with html content. It will need to be available on the Apple app store as well as the Google Play site, so customers can capture on both Apple and Android devices.

Our previous developer will be happy to forward all the source code to the new developer. 

You'll likely be able to add more bells and whistles which were beyond our previous developer's capabilities. 

Contact Kendallc@FlyersRights.org for more details.

Thank you!

Video of the Week
The TSA Stops Another Terrorist - AIRPLANE! II Airport Security Clip
The TSA Stops Another Terrorist - AIRPLANE! II Airport Security Clip
Cartoon of the Week
Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone:
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                                    Kate Hanni, founder 
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014



FlyersRights.org
The Price Is Wrong
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Imagine you're in your favorite supermarket, looking for a specific item, but find only one brand on each shelf. The overhead sign says Bread Aisles: 2, 4, 7, 11, 14 or Milk Aisles: 1, 3, 8, 10, 16.

Management has the idea that if they make it harder for shoppers to compare products and prices, more people will buy the store-branded items, which are conveniently placed closer to the checkout, even if they cost more. This eliminates the shoppers' ability to efficiently compare product qualities and prices. 

So you're running all over the store taking notes and calculating the final cost of discounted items. But while you were comparison-shopping, other shoppers scooped up the products you wanted, and the shelf is now empty.


This concept of a not-so-super market is a fable, of course, but the idea behind it is a reality for consumers of air travel. About six years ago the major airlines began charging separately for services that used to be included in the airfare, a process called unbundling.

Many travelers dislike this approach, because it requires consumers to pay separately for services, on the spot or ad hoc. These fees have resulted in billions of dollars of profits for the airlines.

And the Actual Retail Price is... 

But, like our not-so-super market, the airlines have separated many of the goods in a way that prevents more than half of consumers, those who need or want to use an intermediary such as an online travel site, from effectively comparing the total price of air fares and the unbundled services they want.

The availability and pricing for most unbundled services are available only on individual airline websites. The travel agencies, traditional and online, whose greatest value was the ability to enable comparative shopping regarding the character and price of all available options in each market, are shut out from access to real-time, for-sale-now ancillary fee information. Such information is essential to help consumers complete their air travel purchases with the assurance that they have understood the options and made an optimal decision.

You may ask: how can this be? You may have thought that airlines were, as they often claim, vigorous competitors and that their need for revenue would lead them to help intermediaries sell services that earned revenues for the airlines. You may even have thought that since more than half of air travelers buy their fares from intermediaries, the airlines would be sure that these unbundled services were available for sale through them in the more than 143 million consumer transactions they make in a year. Well, if you thought any of that, you would have been wrong. The airline industry is not your grandmother's supermarket.

The airline marketplace is simply not working for anyone but the airlines. One example: the airlines' largest customers are corporations, many of which have multi-million-dollar travel budgets. It is critical to these companies to manage their travel expenses by understanding what is being spent, by whom and for what. These large consumers of air travel typically turn to travel agencies called travel management companies (TMCs) to help them transact their travel purchases and manage their complex travel policies. These large corporate consumers of air travel have been demanding for years that the airlines make their unbundled services available for purchase and accounting through the TMCs they have chosen. The airlines have refused these demands from their largest customers.


Other groups of customers have expressed their concerns about these practices via a petition against hidden fees that has garnered more than 50,000 signatures to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and groups that traditionally represent consumer interests before the government have called on the airlines to distribute the services and fees through intermediaries. The airlines response: fuggedaboudit.

These refusals to honor the demands of consumers for access to information and purchasing are indicators of a failing market. 

This situation has persisted for several years. Among the consequences are increased consumer search times trying to find and acquire unbundled services, consumers paying more than they should for services whose prices are not influenced by competition and many consumers being unable to buy the services they want. These are the natural result of consumers being unable to engage in robust comparison shopping.

To be sure, one or two airlines have recently made purchasable access to their upgraded economy class seats available through some independent sources, but even those airlines stop short of committing to robust and complete disclosure of the dozens of separate services and associated fees through independent retail sources.

So what is the solution? There is one: the DOT can adopt a regulation that compels the airlines to disclose the full array of unbundled services and fees in ways that enable consumers to see the total price of air travel, and pay for it, at any retail source where airlines choose to sell their tickets. DOT has in fact issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on the subject. But while moving toward greater transparency in the disclosure of ancillary services and fees, DOT has declined, at least in the opening proposal, to force airlines to allow consumers buy ancillary services at the same time and place where they buy their airfares.

Unless DOT can be persuaded to move more boldly, those consumers who want or need the services of third party sellers, such as travel agents, will have to commit to their ticket in one place, then go to the airline's website for the unbundled services they want to buy. This entails risk for every such consumer because even the short time between those events can result in missing the chance to book seats together.

Unless and until DOT acts to fix the situation, the not-so-super market for air travel is just going to get a lot more difficult for consumers.

Please consider joining your colleagues on a letter to U.S. DOT Secretary Foxxurging him to restore true transparency and comparison-shopping to air travel.

-By Paul M. Ruden & Kevin Mitchell, Republished with permission from the American Society of Travel Agents and Business Travel Coalition.

September 11th
Flight Attendants: Still The Unsung Heroes Of 9/11

This week marks the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Airline employees will pause on Thursday and remember the professional pilots, flight attendants and thousands of innocent people who were systematically terrorized and slaughtered on September 11, 2001.

For the past few weeks, in the wake of diverted planes and in-fight arguments over reclining-seats, the public's been asking why the flight crew can't handle passenger disputes? How can the pilots justify landing a jet full of people early because two passengers had an argument?  Even the liquid thrower was not a danger to warrant that move. Terrorist? No. Whiner? Yes. The whole "abundance of caution" reasoning seems somewhat absurd.

Crews Call The Shots

With ISIS and Ebola topping the news, there is a tremendous sense of anxiety among those whose careers involve working at 35,000 feet. 

Wolf Koch, who serves as the Security Committee chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association, says many flight crews are concerned that planning may already be underway for a 9/11-type attack.

Flight Attendants play a key role as the eyes and ears for international
security efforts, and that's why they don't take chances with passenger disruptions.

Should an argument over reclining seats really cause a flight to divert? 

"Flight attendants and pilots are trained in threat levels - and that includes everything from a passenger who refuses a safety directive up to high threat levels, things that could manifest themselves in serious danger to the flight," says Jessica Wheeler, a spokeswoman for Allegiant Air.

 To an airline crew the Knee Defender incidents and splashing liquids on other passengers could be an intentional plot to distract the crew's attention away from the cockpit long enough to attempt a terrorist takeover on the plane. 

Flight attendants face potential danger every time they go to work. New terrorist dangers are unknown. So unknown that the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other government organizations still cannot predict where, when or how an attack will take place. Flight attendants get regular briefings about the latest plots so that they can be alert.
As for public recognition, there's been almost nothing. Instead, what flight attendants have seen over the past decade is a continuing series of layoffs, downsizings and reductions in pay.
Boeing 787 'built To Sell,' Not For Safety

Al Jazeera English takes a look at the 787's troubled development, in a new documentary.

What prevents the sale of unsafe aircraft? 

The tests and data supplied to the FAA were based upon frames manufactured in Everett, the documentary reports, built by experienced workers. And they apparently still had a lot of problems. 

The conditions at Boeing's Charleston plant are not as well known, especially since Boeing made the mistake of saying publicly that the Charleston factory was intended primarily to avoid the unions. If build quality there is inferior, it is in their interest to cover it up. That being said, the 787 issues seem to have stemmed more from the outsourced components than the final build.
Quality control problems are not new for Boeing. Four years ago another documentary was made focusing on the shoddy work of subcontractors for Boeing.

Surely Boeing understands the economics if a Dreamliner fell out of the sky for reasons attributable to faulty craftsmanship. They could just ask BP what happens.

Paying for quality construction is a drop in the bucket by comparison.

Cartoon of the Week

Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone:
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                               Kate Hanni, founder 
                             with Paul Hudson, President
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Monday, September 1, 2014

FlyersRights.org
Fight Or Flight?
Tuesday, September 2, 2014


The next crisis is occurring at 30,000 feet.
Joe Giron, The New York Times

Sardined passengers are now turning on each other.

Two fights on US aircraft made headlines worldwide last week that led to emergency landings and passengers being forcibly removed.

Kneed More Space

 
In one argument, a woman threw a glass of water over the man seated behind her who locked her seat upright with a clamp called "Knee Defender".

The water belongs in the airlines' faces. 

Coach class mutiny is brewing, and sardine conditions are to blame. Yet the airlines manipulate passengers to redirect their anger, not at the airlines' own misrepresentation of the function of a coach-class seat, but at their fellow passengers. It is the airlines falsifying the economic worth of a ticket and misrepresenting what it offers for your money.

The standard coach seat is today 17.2 inches wide with a 29-30 inch seat pitch, tight enough to make it impossible to work on a laptop, read, or eat behind a reclined seat.

Tighter and tighter coach cabin seating encourages enmity among passengers. And the holiday travel season is just around the corner.
Illustration by Sam Ward, USA TODAY

Do travelers have the "right" to recline their seats, or the "right" not have their space invaded?

It can be argued that neither passenger has these "rights". This is an example of a "zero-sum" condition, where one person's gain is another's loss. The problem is that the airlines are selling the rights to the same space to two people.

Ten years ago, reclining your seat wasn't considered 'rude' or 'impolite' because it didn't impinge so much into the space of the person behind. Reclining seats were designed for a different era.

Trying to find a civil solution to an un-civil situation is impossible. There is no civil solution to the airlines' treatment of coach class passengers. They will continue to lower the standard of travel as much as they can to squeeze the most money out of passengers. On the horizon is stand-up saddle seating

The airlines control travel today. 

There was a time when ships and trains dominated the industry, and we saw the sub-human steerage accommodations that were made available to the passengers of the Titanic and other ships of the time.

Exiting Concerns In Case Of Emergency 

Following the Asiana crash in July 2013,FlyersRights wrote extensively about the lack of vital safety improvements needed inside the cabin. 

We sounded the alarm on substandard seat pitch due to airlines being allowed to insert extra rows to increase profits, resulting in passengers unable to brace themselves according to the aircraft safety card. Passengers also cannot exit a plane in 90 seconds during an emergency as required by the FAA, due to lack of egress in seat rows.

What is needed is the FAA stepping in and setting a minimum distance between airline seats - for passenger health, safety and comfort. 

The FlyersRights Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 calls for minimum seat space standards.

If the airlines aren't going to make the experience of flying better, than we passengers should, as collectively if possible. 

Tell the airlines to shake a leg on the space issue. It's not a stretch asking for more leg room. 

Airlines Are Tossing Seat-Back Screens


In short, passengers are losing another benefit that used to come with their tickets, but still paying the same amount of money. 

Another concern about this move away from seatback TVs and towards streaming content is the sort of elitism the airlines seem to be espousing, as if to suggest that they only want the kind of passenger who can afford a tablet. Also, what about older people? What about when you fly with several kids? What about power outlets?

In light of the latest spate of seat-recline incidents, requiring passengers to use their own devices will certainly result in more confrontations. Reclining makes it impossible to use a laptop in economy class - you often can't even put the tray table down.

Just another covert way to nickel-and-dime passengers. At the rate things are going, the seat will cost extra!


Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone:
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FlyersRights.org depends on your 
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Thank you.


Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President

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FlyersRights.org
      JetWho?
                   Tuesday, August 26, 2014

And another domino falls.

In a surprise move that shouldn't have been, Jetblue, one of the holdouts in the airline industry for not charging for a first checked bag - is now considering adding the fee, as the carrier overhauls the way it prices tickets.

In a Bloomberg article last week, "the concept of a first-bag fee is on the table," said JetBlue Chief Financial Officer, Mark Powers. "There is a construct under which we would, in effect, be able to charge for bags."

Putting Customers First to Putting Profits First

Shares of JetBlue Airways shot up to a 7 1/2-year high last week, after Wall Street cheered turnover in the air carrier's strategy, in which it will start favoring shareholders over customers.  

According to TheStreet, that spike was due to institutional investors' and analysts' faith that Dave Barger, JetBlue's CEO, will soon be replaced by a new top manager. (Barger's contract is up in February 2015, but there is speculation that he might depart sooner, allowing current JetBlue president Robin Hayes to assume Barger's role.)

What's so good about Barger leaving? Barger is known as a champion of the customers-first school of business that underlies JetBlue's strategy of delivering upgraded service at affordable prices. In the view of analysts, some of whom have called for Barger's dismissal, that approach has kept JetBlue from "fully realizing its profit potential".

"JetBlue is an overly brand-conscious and customer-focused airline, which has resulted in lagging fundamentals," said analyst Helene Becker in a note to clients. "The changes would improve the financial outlook for the company in our opinion."
  
Another profit area being discussed is reducing legroom and adding more rows of seats. MarketWatch outlines two actions that would "quickly and easily" pad JetBlue's profits. One would be to add 12 more seats to each of the airline's A320 aircraft. Second would be imposing fees for the first checked bag and for inflight WiFi.

You have to wonder, do analysts ever fly Economy class?  And, when did analysts take over management's duties at companies?  

If I were a shareholder whose investment had risen 49% so far this year, I would wonder why management was changing anything about the way it conducted business.

We Don't Need No Stinking Customers!

Such changes would be treason for JetBlue loyalists, for whom the spacious seating and absence of junk fees have been key reasons to book JetBlue over the competition. Even the number-crunchers acknowledge that a remodeled JetBlue would jeopardize the considerable brand equity the airline has built up over the years.

Most U.S. low-cost carriers choose to either be a "fun" and "customer friendly" airline or an ultra low-cost carrier that charges you for everything. For JetBlue, it has chosen the first path. That is a big reason why it attracts a loyal following.  

Today, companies are criticized by Wall Street for being customer-focused and favoring passengers over the stockholders. JetBlue has earned a special place with travelers, but it now appears they will be joining the race to the bottom for the sake of the bottom line.  

Can a company ever get too focused on customers? JetBlue survived the Great Recession due to customer loyalty and offering seat assignments, which Southwest does not.  

These are the same neo-profit "analysts" that are pushing for pay toilets and bicycle-like "seating" like those patented by Airbus. What's next? How about getting rid of the co-pilot? Charge passengers by their weight? How do those "analysts" travel? Bus? More likely, limo and private jet.

For investors, the airline's future looks bright. But for travelers, JetBlue's best days may be behind it.

Becoming Just Another Flying Cattle Car

JetBlue's strength was their product and the value for money that it provided. It has previously played to that strength. If JetBlue tries to make price their big selling point, then they become one of many. 

Robin Hayes, JetBlue's new president, said its investment in a partnership with Dublin-based Datalex, will provide the technology as a foundation for a "new merchandising platform" for the airline, "went a little bit unnoticed." JetBlue and Datalex announced the partnership in January.
  
"This strategic agreement with Datalex will further strengthen our e-commerce capabilities with a state-of-the-art merchandising platform and expanded self-service capabilities," said Eash Sundaram, JetBlue's chief information officer when the deal was announced.

We've heard a lot about airlines data-mining for dollars these days -most recently in last week's FlyersRights newsletter

Killing The Goose That Propels Your Golden Egg?

JetBlue is frequently more expensive than other airlines when looking at the base fare only; their value was always in what was delivered for that fare. 

JetBlue has always been more attuned to the needs of its customers than to Wall Street. That's how it has built its current success. But the shareholders are pushing the position that a lot of extra cash is going out the door just to be able to say that they allow two free checked bags, especially when most of their competitors are doing it. Sure, but it's hard to look at Delta Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines making all that money on bags to not join the club.

Perhaps JetBlue's history of 'solid profits' is because people prefer flying with them to avoid paying a bag fee. Once they start nickle and diming their customers they lose that advantage. Are they proud of the fact that they are one of the few remaining airlines that still allow free checked bags?

A company putting the customer first is a rare thing these days. And an airline offering roomy seats in coach is extremely rare. Getting rid of these means JetBlue becomes no different from the other airlines, packing as many people in as they can. They risk losing their key market differentiator.

Southwest, Anyone?

Could this affect Southwest's two free bag policy? 

If JetBlue still allows holders of its credit card to get one bag free, it may counter some of the upset that a bag fee is inevitably going to cause. But if they charge everyone a fee in the future, passengers may jump to Southwest without hesitation. 

Until Southwest charges for checked bags!
Kate's Update  
 
As many of you know, Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights, resides in Napa, CA, which was hit with a 6.0 quake over the weekend. She's had many emails and calls asking how she's doing. So, in her own words:
Here is my story (we are fine) and it's a doozy.

At 3:20 am the earthquake struck with ferocity in Napa.  We are on the north east side of the valley which did not appear to get hit as badly as other areas but it was none the less a violent and scary quake.  We could hear things crashing in the house and items falling, glass breaking, and it was pitch black as we immediately lost electricity (I have revamped our supply of batteries, flashlights, candles and canned food since).   

We were so much in shock we stumbled out of bed to get downstairs to get a flashlight and evaluate the damage.  I thought we had just experienced the apocalypse.  I have been through dozens of earthquakes with higher points on the Richter scale, but this one was the worst.  We had much shattered glass on our floors and anything that wasn't bolted down or to the walls was on the floor.  Tim thought our bannister was gone, but it wasn't so we made it downstairs and succeeded at finding our coleman lantern and flashlights.

We live in an older community and we realized that it was entirely pitch black, no one had any candles or flashlights and we were pretty sure some folks must have been hurt so we checked the neighbors to assure ourselves they were ok.

We have roof damage, not sure the extent yet.  We have plaster and paint damage inside and a few paintings that the glass broke as they were hurled from their locations.  We had some paintings not affixed to the walls, just resting on mantles over our living room fireplace.

Left is "self portrait" collage of our son Landen's class when he was 6 years old next to some other vases that fell.  Glass shattered!

Psychologically we are damaged!  But physically we are fine!
Video of the Week!
FASCINATING AIDA - Cheap Flights
Cheap Flights! (semi-NSFW)

Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone:
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FlyersRights.org depends on your 
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Thank you.


Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President

Like what you're reading? 

Get the best of FlyersRights' articles, links and conversation, 
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* Send your comments to the newsletter editor, Kendall Creighton.

Monday, August 25, 2014

FlyersRights.org
Mining For Dollars
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Over the past weeks we've talked a lot about airline predatory pricing scams.

There's the great airline lobbying scam, a.k.a. the Transparent Airfares Act, which enables airlines to hide the true cost of a flight, sometimes until it's too late for a buyer to change their mind.

Then, there's the recently DOT-approved Resolution 787 which allows the airlines to use your past online shopping history and location to "customize" airfares for you. To escape this pricing trap, clear your cache and cookies repeatedly and disable your location when shopping for airfares.

What made news last week was a study finding travelers could pay eight times as much as their seatmates. 

Researchers at Hopper.com said they've confirmed what most travelers have known for years: Airlines charge wildly different rates for seats on the same flight.

The price of airline tickets purchased within the same cabin can vary by as much as $1,400 on a single flight, according to the study.

ABC News then went out and did their own research by interviewing airline passengers en route from New York to Atlanta. Their coach fares reportedly ranged from $235 to $600.

Imagine if prices for Chipotle customers went like that, $5, $10, 35 cents, $2, free, $20?

Why should any company be allowed to set different prices the way airlines do? They claim it's because demand fluctuates in real time, but so does demand for literally everything else. Yet prices don't change hourly at the grocery store.

The New American Business Model

Remember what humor columnist Dave Barry said, that the goal of the airlines was to make sure that no two people on a flight paid the same price for their tickets. He was right!

Delta Airlines said about the study that "fares are determined by market supply and demand," but the carrier did not comment further. Research, however, suggests that such economic forces do not affect all airlines equally.
It would seem the main reason ticket prices vary so much is not about supply and demand, as the demand for airline tickets is way over what is available due to mergers and the airlines cutting back drastically on their flights. This is more about how much the airlines can overcharge, by data-mining the customer.

Yahoo Travel editor-in-chief Paula Froelich said "the findings from this study are pretty shocking," but the "upside to high price variability is that, yes, there are very good deals. If you can have the time and if you've got the planning, and it's not last minute, you can get some really awesome deals."

Yes, Paula, consumers can get some very good deals, if they have lots of time to deal with getting great deals. And those "good" deals are just the lowest deals the airline is willing to do. They are only "good" if compared to being fleeced by the other "deals". 

Mining Data Like The NSA

The airlines have become very good at using these sophisticated models called Revenue Management Systems (also known as Yield Management, Dynamic Pricing) to vary their prices very frequently. 

Some of these models know about seating preferences and already put that into their pricing. The models take into account current demand, historical demand, availability, time until date of flight, and countless other factors. It can produce surprising results: you may buy a seat on the day of a flight for $50 and find yourself sitting next to someone who booked weeks before for $500, and vice versa. 

 
Who hasn't had pop-up ads appear that were obviously tailored to their internet's browsing history? And what is to stop the airlines from collecting your personal information to note your usual vacation times and destinations? The concept of demand is a very personal thing and the more they learn about us, the more they can try to charge us for their services.

 The airlines are using what information they can gather online to profile the person purchasing the ticket; the parameters in day, including your age, estimated annual income and even your home's value and then figure out the best way to charge as much as possible.

Imagine if every business ran this way? Gas, water, and electricity could be priced differently every hour of the day, unless you prepurchase 90 days in advance, but are not allowed to use the services on Saturday nights. Enter a store and you get your price now. But if you have five hours a day to spend researching, and you are flexible, and you luck out, you can save some money.

Airlines generally do not allow customers to opt out of the data programs. Several carriers say they have strict rules on how they use and protect customers' data internally. British Airways, for instance, said that if passengers ask a flight attendant not to personalize their service, notes would be added to their customer profiles to leave them alone, but the carrier would continue to collect their data.

It should be noted that British Airlines admitted last year that its employees searched the Internet for images of frequent fliers in order to "recognize and greet them personally". The airline has one of the most advanced data programs in the industry.

Government regulations should help protect the general consumer against predatory business practices.  But too often, the problem is the businesses committing the infractions are the same ones helping to write the legislation, impeding the effectiveness of the regulatory agencies. 

In the name of business and security, we are chipping away at liberty and privacy that not even science fiction writers could have imagined possible 20 years ago. In the near future every detail of our habits, preferences, beliefs, whereabouts, finances, health, affiliations, etc. will be there for the mining. The airline industry's new business model is just one small example of where we're headed. Not sure it's a good place. Not sure at all.


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