Saturday, January 17, 2009

Critics miss the point of new tarmac statistics - December 15, 2008

Two weeks ago the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released commercial airline performance statistics for the month of October, something they’ve been doing every month for the past 13 years. What was remarkable about this release was that, beginning October 1st and for the first time in history, airlines were required to report tarmac statistics for diverted and cancelled flights, and other tarmac delays.

Following mass tarmac strandings in late 2006 and early 2007, in which thousands of passengers were held on airplanes for 9, 10 and 11 hours without food, water and adequate restroom facilities, airline passenger consumer advocates began arguing for federal legislation to address the problem. Airline lobbyists countered by citing government statistics that showed, for example, that only 36 flights were affected by tarmac delays of over 5 hours in 2006, and thus the problem wasn’t significant enough to warrant congressional intervention.

There was just one problem with the airline’s argument; the statistics weren’t accurate. They weren’t even close. In the spring of 2007 when articles began appearing in major media outlets citing these statistics, Kate Hanni, who by then had founded the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, got suspicious and asked her research department to look into the matter. After sifting through Bureau of Transportation (BTS) statistics and DOT regulations, the truth emerged. It turned out that the government was omitting flight information for potentially thousands of tarmac strandings;

  • On December 29, 2006, over 120 diverted flights were stuck on tarmacs at airports in the southwest; some for over nine hours.
  • On February 14, 2007, dozens of flights that were eventually cancelled were stuck on tarmacs at airports in the northeast for up to 11 hours.
  • On April 24, 2007, a large number of diverted flights were stuck on tarmacs at airports in the southwest for up to 8 hours.

The list goes on and on, and many other incidents will be forever unknown except by those who suffered through them. None of these flights were counted by the airlines or by the government. There were no statistics. It was as if all this never happened. And this is just the way the airlines wanted to keep it.

The only reason anyone knew about these incidents was that passengers got angry. They called the media and they called Kate Hanni’s hotline. So Ms. Hanni and her supporters fought hard to get the airline statistics rules changed, and last spring, the DOT enacted regulations that closed many (though not all) of the reporting loopholes. Those new regulations went into effect on October 1st.

When the statistics for October were finally released two weeks ago, airline lobbyists were dancing in the streets. The statistics showed that 50 flights had been stranded for more than 3 hours, and 6 had been stranded for more than 4 hours. It took only minutes for airline funded mouthpieces masquerading as consumer advocates to begin heralding the report as a defeat for airline passengers’ rights.

But they missed the point, again.

First, the new statistics aren’t intended to expose chronic tarmac delays during months when everything goes right. They’re intended to count tarmac delays when things go wrong. Even still, 34%-to-38% of the newfound data is due to the new regulations.

Also, before October 1st, there was no way for the public or the Congress to understand the extent of what the airlines were doing when things went wrong. Now there is.

In addition, the new regulations are a victory for the tens of thousands of passengers stranded on tarmacs in the past who were never counted. And they are a victory for every passenger that flies today and in the future not only because many of the loopholes have been closed, but because now (like never before), the airlines know we are watching. And that alone could provide the motivation necessary for them to treat their passengers better.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Airline Passengers' Rights Bill Takes Flight in Senate

New Airline Passengers Rights Bill Takes Flight in 111th Congress
Senators Boxer and Snowe Piloting New Law in the Senate
NAPA, Calif., Jan. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- issued the following statement from its spokesperson, Kate Hanni, on news that Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) today introduced the Airline Passengers Bill of Rights in the Senate. The bill will give airline passengers legal rights by preventing them from being held indefinitely on planes, ensuring passengers' needs are met, and helping airlines coordinate with government agencies.
"We applaud Senator Boxer and Senator Snowe for introducing the Airline Passengers Bill of Rights in Congress to give passengers legal rights and ensure their well-being. For far too long, the airlines have put profits ahead of customer service and the basic human needs of the flying public. It is our hope that this bill will give passengers a legal voice when confronted with the horrific ordeal that tens of thousands of passengers have endured when held for many hours on airport tarmacs without food, water and other essential human needs.
Coalition representatives recently met with President-Elect Obama's transportation transition team, and Senator Obama was a co-sponsor of the previous bill, so we are excited about the prospects for this new bill.
We encourage all Members of Congress to join the efforts of Senator Boxer and Senator Snowe to ensure the passage of a comprehensive, enforceable Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights that would modernize and improve airline industry standards for customer service."
The main provisions of the new bill are:
Airlines to offer passengers the option of safely deplaning once they have sat on the ground for three hours after the plane door has closed.
Airlines to provide passengers with food, potable water, comfortable cabin temperature and ventilation and adequate restrooms while a plane is delayed on the ground.
A consumer complaint hotline so that passengers can alert the agency about delays.
Airports and airlines to develop contingency plans to be reviewed and approved by DOT, and fines for air carriers and airports that do not submit or fail to comply with contingency plans.
CAPBOR has 24,000 members and is the largest non-profit airline passengers rights Coalition.
SOURCE (formerly Coalition for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights)
© 2008 SYS-CON Media Inc.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kate Hanni: Story of Amy Evans Cancer Patient Stuck in Airport ala United

Jan '08 First Horror Story Press Release

Air Passenger Advocacy Group Helps Cancer Patient in Need

When a traveler flying to San Diego for life-saving surgery is denied boarding, the Coalition for Airline Passenger Rights steps in to help
Passengers on a New Year’s Eve United Airlines flight from Eugene, Oregon to San Diego were appalled when a rude and uncooperative gate agent refused boarding to a wheelchair-bound passenger trying to reach San Diego for an urgently needed surgical procedure for her cancer. The passenger, a 26 year-old woman named Amy Evans, was told by the airline that she would have to remove all of her medications from her carry-on luggage and place all of it in two clear plastic bags. The airline then informed Amy that she now had to PAY for checking the two additional pieces of “luggage”. Then Amy was told that she would have to sign a Waiver of Liability in case the medications (worth several thousand dollars) were damaged or destroyed. When Amy refused to sign the form, the United Airlines agent, a surly young man named Ted (ironically!) not only refused to allow her to board, but actually went so far as to reach into Amy’s purse, grab her boarding passes and rip up Amy’s tickets in front of her. He then made an announcement over the loud system that he was not going to allow her to board in an inexplicable effort to embarrass her publicly. According to accounts from several of the other passengers, Amy was acting calmly and in no way warranted the poor treatment she received. Many other passengers went so far as to tell the agent that they would not board the plane themselves unless he allowed the young woman to board, but he still refused. Fortunately for Amy, SIX of her fellow passengers called our toll-free hotline to report the incident. The hotline volunteer quickly contacted the Coalition’s President and Founder Kate Hanni, who wasted no time getting involved personally to help the desperate young woman. Kate immediately phoned Amy, who was immensely relieved and grateful for the assistance. Kate immediately contacted the Airport Authority office in Eugene to report the incident and attempt to resolve Amy’s dilemma. Kate spent the next SIXTEEN hours working to help Amy reach her destination, monitoring her progress.

Fortunately, not everyone in Eugene, Oregon is as nasty as Ted. Kate was able to reach a wonderful and cooperative woman at the airport named Kathryn who immediately leaped into action to help. Kathryn contacted the United Airlines administrative office to see what steps could be taken to help Amy. The airline was embarrassed when they learned about what had occurred and quickly issued a $10 food voucher to Amy and booked her on the next flight to San Diego. After a weather delay in San Francisco, Amy eventually reached San Diego at 11pm that night where her medications were waiting at the airport. We are pleased to report that Amy made it in time for her scheduled surgery and is doing well. Kate is now working to help Amy file a complaint against the airline and asking for full reimbursement for the unfair baggage charges.

This is a perfect example of why we have a HOTLINE! We are first and foremost an advocacy group that exists to help ALL passengers and assure that they are treated fairly. The coalition is gratified that our free hotline was able to make such an important difference to someone like Amy. We hope you will help with a donation and assure we can continue providing this valuable service by logging into .

We urgently need your help to continue this important struggle for your rights and safety. Although our membership is up, donations have recently dropped, making it exceedingly difficult for us to continue this fight. It costs a lot of money to continue our lobbying efforts, run the hotline and pay for press releases on the PR Newswire. We even help defray the costs for some passengers who couldn’t otherwise afford it to fly to Washington, DC to have them testify before Congress and allow them to tell their stories to politicians in an effort to make them understand the plight of air passengers today and help us get our Passenger Bill of Rights passed.

One of our coalition members recently made the generous offer to donate $25,000 to our cause if we could raise a matching amount through donations from our members. Although we have made progress, we are still short of our goal and urgently need your assistance. Many of our members are opting to sign up for our donation subscription service as an easy and painless way to donate to the cause. A small monthly donation can be automatically deducted from your account to help us fight for your rights as an airline passenger. Please go to our web site and see how safe, easy and convenient it is to contribute to this worthy cause. We’re also pleased to announce another great (and painless) way to help the cause. When you apply for the new FlyersRights Platinum Visa Card, our issuing bank (UMB) will donate $50 to FlyersRights the very first time you use it! And UMB will donate a percentage of all your future purchases on the card to FlyersRights as well! All the benefits of a Platinum Visa card will be yours, along with the satisfaction of showing your support for the FlyersRights mission every time you use your card. We hope you will take advantage of this fantastic opportunity and use your new card each time you pay for an airfare. Let the airlines know that you expect to be treated fairly whenever you fly and that you support the FlyersRights Coalition.

We urge you to visit our web site and learn about the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights that we are trying to get passed. Canada recently passed legislation to safeguard the rights of its citizens whenever they fly. Don’t Americans deserve the same type of protection?!! Please help us fight for this important legislation and make a contribution today.

We wish all of you a very Happy New Year and thank you for your kind and generous support!

Best wishes,
The Coalition for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights [CAPBOR]
Kate Hanni
Executive Director