Our friends and allies at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have upped the ante in their ongoing legal battlewith the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). FlyersRights founder and Executive Director Kate Hanni and three FlyersRights volunteers were in the EPIC office last January when the organization filed suit against the TSA, challenging the constitutionality of TSA's full body scanners. Last week, EPIC moved the effort forward.
Kate has consistently voiced our message-we demand security measures that are effective, safe, constitutional, and consistently applied. She has hammered home the fact that the machines are useless against liquids and powders, both at the January EPIC conference on TSA security and in conference calls on the issue.
EPIC agrees. In their August 31 press release, they announced their issues with a recent federal appeals court decision that some elements of the lawsuit, but denied others. EPIC objected to the appeals court's assertion that the machines are effective, along with other reasons supporting a rehearing on the matter. Chief among those objections is EPIC's challenge of the court's finding that the devices detect "liquid and powders." They know that's simply not true, as Kate has been saying all along.
Remember, the GAO looked at the effectiveness issue last year, and said "It remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident." That was the famous "Underwear Bomber" incident, and the GAO cannot state that the scanners would have detected the powders in the bomber's underwear.
Stay tuned as we continue to work with EPIC on this vital air travel issue.
Boarding Plan-What Do You Think?
Fermilab astrophysicist Jason Steffen shares our frustration with the many irritants of air travel. Even after we dig through fare information (ferreting out which of the 150 added "fees" will apply), find a place to park at the airport, and make our way through the TSA strip'n'grope, we face the halting shuffle down the jetway and into the airplane.
Consider this: how long would it take 132 people to file into seats at a football game? How long does it take those same 132 people to get seated in the 737?
Steffan decided to study the aircraft boarding problem and has developed an "optimum boarding plan" that he says could save airlines more than a billion dollars a year.
Here's his suggested boarding sequence:
Every other windows seat on one side
Every other window seat on the other side
Every other middle seat
Every other aisle seat
Repeat the process for the remaining window, middle, and aisle seats
He says the procedure gives everyone elbowroom to shove their bags into the overhead and time to get seated without the usual aisle traffic jam. In tests with 72 passengers, he claims boarding time was cut in half when compared to the usual sequence that boards five rows at a time, rear to front.
Steffan readily admits that the procedure's reverse would not work at flight's end because we've all had enough by then and just want to get out of there.
FlyersRights member Mila Morris had an unusual experience recently and asked our help. While planning a Las Vegas vacation, Mila and her husband found some Delta vouchers on Craigslist for a great price. She bought the vouchers for $502, including a $52 fee direct to Delta, after first receiving confirmation from Delta that the tickets were valid.
The couple boarded in Nashville and flew to Atlanta for a plane change. Unfortunately, the gate agent at ATL refused to board them and notified them that their tickets were fraudulent. After first deciding to spend the night in Atlanta, they went to collect their luggage, but discovered that it had departed Atlanta without them (a violation of TSA rules), and so they elected to follow it that day. They had no alternative but to buy $1,191 tickets to continue their trip.
Mila turned to FlyersRights for help after the trip, and we forwarded her e-mail to Delta's Director of Customer Service, asking what they could do to help. Throughout this incident, all parties (except the Craigslist seller) acting in good faith, yet the result was very poor.
Delta responded to Mila's message and our request for help, expressing regret for the incident but pointing out that their vouchers clearly prohibit sale or barter. Indeed, anexample of a Delta Credit Voucher displays this warning directly below the certificate details:
VOID IF SOLD, BARTERED OR EXCHANGED FOR COMPENSATION
When Mila checked the certificate's validity, before buying it, it was valid, as Delta told her. It was only invalidated when it was sold.
Still, we asked why the Morris's were allowed to fly the first segment and why their luggage was transported, unaccompanied, to Las Vegas. Delta Airlines did not respond to these questions by press time.
The Morris's also objected to aircraft conditions during the rest of the trip and other issues. All in all, the travel experience killed the joy of a Vegas vacation to celebrate their third wedding anniversary and Mila's recent achievement of her MBA degree.
Delta refunded the $52 fees and taxes they had collected and provided what they called "service recovery" for the Morris's unfortunate experience with smelly aircraft. Their Director of Customer Services also noted that they have placed a warning on the Atlanta Craigslist site, but that Craigslist rules prevent them from posting that warning on all sites. In her words, "we are planning on doing an educational tweet and blog posting stating again that ticket vouchers may not be sold or bartered."
Unfortunately, we were less than 100% successful in this case, but Mila and her husband did receive some compensation for their ordeal. The lessons here are clear:
First, beware the brutal, caveat emptor nature of online flea markets like Craigslist.
Second, understand that an airline ticket or voucher is a legal contract, and it comes complete with terms and conditions that can make us victims if we don't clearly understand them.
Ticket Terms and Conditions
The Morris's story mentions the mouse-print terms and conditions on printed tickets and the easier to read but still complex terms and conditions on electronic voucher forms. How many of us read those terms and conditions (called T's and C's), fare rules, or the airline's contract of carriage. Right-just as we thought.
The T's and C's may contain almost any restriction or condition the airline wishes to impose. For example, the Delta credit voucher T's and C's include provisions regarding the prohibition against sale or barter, carriers for which the certificate is valid, redemption window, penalties for changes, replacement restrictions (if you lose this, we won't replace it), and, undoubtedly, a statement that by using the voucher the passenger agrees to the T's and C's.
We are commited to solutions for promoting airline passenger policies that forward first and foremost the safety of all passengers while not imposing unrealistic economic burdens that adversely affect airline profitability or create exhorbitant ticket price increases.
All American air carriers shall abide by the following standards to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their passengers:
Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.
Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.
Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.
Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.
Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.
Publish and update monthly on the company’s public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least forty percent of the time, during a single month.
Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price.
The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but rather passengers and consumers – that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.
Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real-time.
Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.
Require that these rights apply equally to all airline code-share partners including international partners.