Monday, August 31, 2009
Stranded Passengers “Lost in Space” as FAA Considers Flight “On Time”
NAPA, CA (August 31) – Passengers were held onboard a delayed Delta Airlines flight #8601, from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport bound for Paris Thursday night, but the Federal Aviation Administration’s records show that the incident didn’t happen.
FlyersRights.org, America’s largest non-profit consumer organization representing airline passengers, learned of the problem on Thursday night from a passenger who called the group’s emergency Hotline, 877-359-3776.
The caller reported that passengers boarded Delta flight 8601, operated by Air France, at approximately 3:30 PM on Thursday, but had not departed five hours later. The passenger claimed that the crew had provided water to the passengers “like 4 hours ago,” but “nothing other than that.”
A recording of the call is available from Kate@flyersrights.org.
Since the passengers’ ordeal occurred on an international flight, it went unrecorded by the FAA or the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. DOT and FAA statistics do not include tarmac delays on any of the approximately 1.2 million international flights originating or arriving in the United States each year.
The FAA’s data feed through flightstats claims the status of Delta Flight 8601 is “unknown,” while the same data feed through FAA lists it as “on time.”
Both the passengers’ Message and FAA data feeds are available on the FlyersRights.org website at Flyersrights.org link to blog spot.
“When the commercial airline industry claims that tarmac delays are ‘rare’ and ‘affect only a handful of passengers,’ it’s a lie,” says FlyersRights.org founder and Executive Director Kate Hanni. “Their lobbyists have made sure that neither delays on international flights nor those on small regional carriers are counted, even though they represent fully half of the flights in the United States each day.”
Hanni called on Congress to incorporate the bipartisan Boxer-Snowe Airline Passengers Bill of Rights into any extension of the FAA’s authorization when it returns to Washington next week.
The legislation, Hanni said, would give passengers the option of getting off aircraft which are stranded on the tarmac for longer than 3 hours.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2009
CONTACT: MIKE COLLINS PUBLIC RELATIONS, WASHINGTON
Flightstats FAA Data Feed. Passengers states they boarded at 3:30 and did not depart until 9:30 p.m.
Flight: (DL) Delta Air Lines 8601
Operated by (AF) Air France 23
Departure Date: Thu Aug 27, 2009
Status: Unknown Status
Aug 27 4:33 PM Airline Gate Adjustment AEQP Changed To 772
Aug 27 5:02 PM FAA Time Adjustment Estimated Runway Arrival Changed From 08/28/09 05:04 AM To 08/28/09 05:07 AM
Aug 27 7:51 PM FAA Time Adjustment Estimated Runway Arrival Changed From 08/28/09 05:07 AM To 08/28/09 05:06 AM
Aug 27 8:53 PM Airline STATUS-Active Actual Gate Departure Changed To 08/27/09 04:30 PM
Estimated Gate Arrival Changed To 08/28/09 05:23 AM
Status Changed From Scheduled To Active
Aug 27 9:39 PM Airline Time Adjustment Estimated Gate Departure Changed To 08/27/09 06:30 PM
Aug 27 10:25 PM FAA Time Adjustment Estimated Runway Departure Changed From 08/27/09 05:03 PM To 08/27/09 07:33 PM
Estimated Runway Arrival Changed From 08/28/09 05:06 AM To 08/28/09 07:36 AM
Aug 28 6:06 PM FlightHistory STATUS-Unknown Status Changed From Active To Unknown
Aug 28 6:06 PM FlightHistory Final Task
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Lies, excuses and passenger rights
By: Michael Fabey
August 24, 2009
ExpressJet might now well be Kate Hanni's favorite airline. For years, the passenger-rights activist has been crusading for a law that would require airlines to give flyers the option to get off a plane that's been stuck on a tarmac for more than three hours.
To be sure, it looked like this year just might be her year, with both Congress and the Senate including some promising language for Hanni's cause in their bills for FAA reauthorization. Who knows, though, how watered down the final law might have ended up?
But thanks to ExpressJet's Aug. 7 decision to force a plane full of sardined passengers to camp out all night on a regional jet with infants aboard, that three-hour-tarmac-delay law is a pretty safe bet to sail through Congress with its language intact.
Granted, there are a few pretty smart people offering somewhat rational arguments against such legislation. But in the face of such indefensible behavior as ExpressJet's, those arguments fall flat.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, while acknowledging he was short on facts about the incident, called the ExpressJet sleepover "troubling" and demanded an investigation.
Kevin Mitchell, the self-proclaimed voice of the business traveler community (and hardly a Kate Hanni disciple), said that the mess in Minnesota proved the time was ripe for the kind of law that Hanni and her cohorts want.
Personally, I find it disgraceful that we would need such a law. Common sense and decency should prevail here. Then again, this is the airline industry, after all, so common sense and decency are not factors.
They certainly seemed to be in short supply throughout the ExpressJet situation -- during the tarmac "delay" as well as during the carrier's subsequent misguided public relations effort, which was so disingenuous that it only further damaged the airline's credibility.
To recap: The ExpressJet flight, part of a regional service operated under the Continental banner, took off from Houston about 9:30 p.m. for a three-hour flight to Minneapolis. Shortly after midnight, the flight was diverted to Rochester, Minn., because of thunderstorms.
There, the regional jet sat overnight with its passengers until daybreak, not leaving for Minneapolis until 8:21 a.m.
Blogs and interviews are full of accounts of what it was like stuck in a metal tube crammed with tired travelers and bawling babies.
ExpressJet blamed various factors for the clampdown: The plane's crew had reached its FAA-mandated flying limits and could take the plane no further. There were no Transportation Security Administration screeners available to clear the passengers when they deplaned and then reboarded. Airport facilities and policies could not accommodate the off-loaded passengers.
There was really no question about the flight continuing that night. Whether or not the flight crew had actually reached its legal flying time limits, the weather was refusing to cooperate.
The real issue is why ExpressJet would force those passengers to remain on the plane all night.
The TSA was quick to shoot down the carrier's argument that screeners needed to be on duty just to put the passengers in the terminal for the night.
"Airlines, not TSA, make the decision on whether or not to deplane passengers if there is a delay or diversion," the agency said. "TSA does not prohibit airlines deplaning passengers and reboarding without screening as long as they don't exit past the checkpoint and leave the secure area, regardless of whether or not TSA officers are conducting screening operations."
The TSA also said, "In addition, TSA has the ability to recall security officers and resume screening passengers after hours at the request of an airline or airport."
Rochester airport officials were equally quick to reject ExpressJet's assertion that it was somehow their fault that passengers had been forced to spend the night onboard the plane.
Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International-North America, interrupted his vacation to blog the following: "The airport in Rochester, Minn., was ready to help those people. The airline preferred to leave them on the plane and then found it easier to blame the airport and TSA. ... Shame on them."
ExpressJet seems finally to understand this. The company gets the day-late-dollar-short award for acknowledging, days after the fact, that it made a mistake.
"We apologize to the customers for the extended delay of Flight 2816, which did not meet Continental's service standards," spokeswoman Kristy Nicholas said after a week of denials.
But for many in the industry, the apology just wasn't enough.
"They deserve whatever remedies might be forced on them by a traveling public and the politicians who represent them, who are fed up with such irresponsibility," Principato wrote of ExpressJet in his blog. "This is bull."
One thing's for sure: ExpressJet has become the poster-child airline for Hanni and her FlyersRights.org group, exemplifying all that's wrong with airline thinking today when it comes to tarmac delays.
For ExpressJet and other airlines, that could be real punishment.
Email Michael Fabey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Citizen-Activist Kate Hanni Available for Interviews Monday
NAPA, Calif., Aug. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- President Obama arrives for a much-deserved vacation on Martha's Vineyard today, but he'll be greeted by a message from FlyersRights.org reminding him of his support for the Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.
"We're closer to protecting airline passengers than ever before," said Kate Hanni, who founded 26,000-member FlyersRights.org after she and her family were stuck on the tarmac in Austin for 9 hours in 2006.
"We're coming to Martha's Vineyard to remind the President of his co-sponsorship of the legislation when he was a Senator and to ask him to support us as President."
The bipartisan Boxer-Snowe Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights was approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee in July, and is expected to be taken up by the Senate next month.
Besides allowing passengers to get off stranded aircraft after 3 hours on the tarmac, it would require airlines to provide adequate food, water, toilet facilities and temperature controls.
In addition, noted Hanni, "The bill will shine the light on the airlines' hidden nickel-and-dime fees and charges, and force the airlines to inform you if the flight you're about to book is chronically delayed or cancelled."
Hanni credited her group's progress this year to a number of recent high-profile tarmac delays, including 278 flights stuck on the tarmac for longer than 3 hours in June alone, nearly 10 every day.
The spot will air on cable television on Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod throughout the week of the First Family's visit.
The text of the ad, which includes photos of actual tarmac strandings and headlines describing some of the worst such incidents, reads as follows:
"Mr. President, my name is Kate Hanni. I founded FlyersRights.org after my family and I were stranded on the tarmac in 2006 for 9 hours. Since then, it's happened to passengers on at least 3,000 flights. Imagine what it's like: no food, no water, toilets overflowing. As a Senator, you co-sponsored the Airline Passengers Bill of Rights. Please, sir, urge Congress to pass it. And sign it into law. Enough is enough." Link to Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYHQByjtnAY
Ms. Hanni will be available for interviews and appearances on the Vineyard on Monday. To book her, contact Kate Hanni, 707-337-0328, or Mike Collins Public Relations at 202-494-6105 or email email@example.com.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
St. Paul, Minn -- Link Christian was one of the 47 passengers trapped in a plane on a tarmac for six hours early Saturday morning in Rochester, Minn. They didn't have a way to get off the plane then, but the St. Paul, Minn. man is now working to help other plane passengers be assured of their rights to proper treatment by airlines.
Christian said on "The Early Show" Tuesday his "nightmare" flight is an example of why a airline Passengers' Bill of Rights needs to get through Congress.
Christian, who sat in the back row of the plane by the bathroom that broke during the six-hour wait, said he's going to tell his story to Congress next month in hopes that the Bill of Rights will pass.
"I simply want to tell the story," he told "Early Show" co-anchor Julie Chen. "I watched everything for six hours. So my view is to not politicize it, but to tell the story of what it was like to be on that airplane for six hours on that airplane, being essentially a prisoner ... I would like to see the rights of passengers on a tarmac be enhanced to the extent the rights that passengers have safety-wise when they're in the air. There's thousands of regulations that protect us in the air. I'd like to see some of those regulations while we're on the ground."
Christian said during the wait the flight crew continued to tell passengers they would get off the plane, telling them at one point a bus would come and pick them up. The bus, he said, never came.
He said, "It was six hours of a continued sense that we were going to get out of there."
However, as the hours ticked by, Christian said the plane's atmosphere grew gradually tenser.
"We became increasingly frustrated," he said. "Everybody at that point was pretty exhausted. People had children crying. The whole atmosphere of the plane was just one of sort of deteriorating emotional stability."
But as Kate Hanni, a passenger advocate who was herself once stuck on the tarmac for 13 hours, said, passengers currently have few options when they're stuck on the runway.
"Right now as it stands, the airlines can hold you indefinitely," she said, "and they don't have to provide you with food, water, hygienic toilets, or any medical needs."
In her 13-hour ordeal, Hanni said women were making diapers for their babies out of t-shirts and diabetics were going into shock.
She said, "There's no culpability for the airlines at all, which is why we're pushing for a law in Congress."
Hanni said the legislation in the Senate pushes for a time limit the airlines can hold passengers on the tarmac. She told Chen a constraint of three hours should be mandated. In addition, Hanni said advocates are pushing for essential needs: food, water, toilets and trash, to be managed while passengers are held on the runway.
Hanni added there are no federal regulations preventing the airline from removing passengers from the plane, which ExpressJet Airlines claimed was the reason the passengers of Friday's flight couldn't leave the plane.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Passenger Rights Stakeholder Hearing: Examining a Market Failure?
Presented by AirPassengerAdvocacy.travel
September 22, 2009 - Washington, DC
On Tuesday morning, September 22, 2009 consumer groups and travel industry organizations will conduct a Stakeholder Hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building regarding airline passenger rights. The purpose of the hearing is to examine passenger safety-related problems such as extended ground delays. Desired outcomes from the hearing include a better understanding of passenger safety problems; best practices from the EU in the area of passenger protections; and the potential efficacy of proposed Congressional solutions. Experts representing all sides in this debate have been invited to participate in this hearing.
This passenger-safety issue first reached prominence in 1999 after a snowstorm stranded aircraft for up to eight hours at Detroit Metro Airport. The airline industry avoided passenger rights legislation at that time by agreeing to a voluntary customer service initiative, which was soon largely cast off in the aftermath of the industry’s troubles following September 11, 2001. More recently, excessive ground delays in Texas and New York in 2006 and 2007 respectively led to a new round of Congressional hearings and increased calls passenger rights legislation. Such legislative prescriptions are currently included in FAA reauthorization bills in the House and in the Senate, whose version would allow passengers to disembark after three hours delay, should a captain decide it is reasonable and safe to do so.
In addition to audience members attending the hearing, stakeholders will comprise “Witnesses” and “Questioners.” Witness panels will include passengers and airline, airport, association and government executives as well as functional-area experts from acadème and industry. Witnesses will present 5-minute statements. After all statements are made, Questioners will address their queries to each of the Witnesses. Questioners will include corporate travel managers, functional area experts and former DOT IGs. Also joining as Questioners will be members of the press to provide an extra measure of impartiality.
The Stakeholder Hearing will also have a roundtable discussion among Senators and Representatives interested in this issue moderated by a media luminary.
While attendance is free of charge, registration is necessary at http://eventbrite.twi.bz/b and seating is limited.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
This April, when a Delta Air Lines flight from the Caribbean to Atlanta was diverted to Columbia, S.C., because of bad weather, passengers endured a five-hour wait sealed in the plane with crying babies, smelly toilets and insufficient food and water. When they finally were allowed to deplane, the irate fliers were initially held in a small room with a few chairs, passenger Nancy Whitehead recently told USA TODAY's Gary Stoller. And when they re-boarded with high hopes of heading to Atlanta, they were delayed again by a refueling problem. All told, the flight was about 10 hours late.
If any of this sounds familiar, it's because it is. The nightmare on Delta, complicated by the fact that it was an international flight and passengers had to clear U.S. Customs, is simply one of the more recent mega-delay horror stories.
After a couple of highly publicized incidents more than two years ago — when fliers were stuck for nearly 10 hours on a JetBlue flight in an ice storm at New York's Kennedy International and for eight hours on an American Airlines jet diverted to Midland, Texas — the airline industry and government officials promised to do more for passengers trapped on tarmacs for hours on end.
So how has the industry responded? With failed promises to fix the problem, and successful lobbying to block congressional action.
Congress has done so little to help that its members might as well have been stranded on a plane for the past two years. Last month, a Senate committee finally approved a measure that would require airlines to deplane passengers after three-hour tarmac delays, unless the pilot deems it unsafe or the flight could take off within 30 minutes. The House, meanwhile, has approved a limp provision that would do little to force change.
It's true that such delays are relatively rare and often beyond the airlines' control. Even so, they happen often enough to deserve a solution. Since January 2007, 200,000 domestic passengers have been stuck on 3,000 planes for three hours or more waiting to take off or taxi to a gate, according to Stoller's analysis of government data.
You'd think that bad publicity, competitive pressures and lobbying by FlyersRights.org, a consumer group founded by a passenger stranded two years ago, would have been enough to force meaningful action by the airlines. But as the Delta delay suggests, more is needed.
Continental Airlines says it is now using movable stairs and vehicles to deplane passengers after three hours. On June 18, at Newark Liberty airport, one passenger who asked to deplane when thunderstorms stranded a flight was able to do so, according to a spokesman. If Continental can provide this service, it's hard to see why everyone else can't, too.
Two years is long enough to wait for voluntary action. With a shove from Congress, odds are the industry will fix this problem faster than you can say "stranded passenger."
Posted at 12:21 AM/ET, August 04, 2009 in USA TODAY editorial