Monday, October 31, 2011

FLYERS RIGHTS Renews Call for Airport Tarmac Delay Contingency Plans

Replay of Bradley Field Lack of Preparation Strands Hundreds

NAPA, Calif., Oct. 31, 2011 today renewed its call for mandatory airport tarmac delay contingency plans after flight diversions caused by an early winter storm resulted in hundreds of passengers being strande on the tarmac for up to 10 hours. The disaster's epicenter was Hartford, Connecticut's Bradley Field. With New York-area airports closed, some 23 flights were diverted to Bradley, including some international flights. Bradley Field was ill-prepared, just as it was in June, 2010, when a Virgin Atlantic flight was diverted from Newark, stranding over 300 passengers for over four hours. Stranded passengers called the FlyersRights Passenger Hotline to report intolerable cabin conditions and medical emergencies on their flights. In a message to DOT leadership today, Hanni said, "We believe that, had there been a mandate for the airport to have a plan, they would have been more aggressive about their situational awareness and getting folks off of those planes." founder and Executive Director Kate Hanni said, "I chalk this up to airports having no contingency plans." Incident severity was magnified because airports, unlike airlines, are not required to develop tarmac delay contingency plans. Time after time, airports faced with other-than-normal situations fail to respond, and the air traveling public pays for it. From the 2010 Christmas Storm's 19 extended tarmac delays through last year's Virgin Blue stranding to this weekend's disaster, the crying need for realistic planning has been clear.

Contingency plans, regulated and approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, could provide an efficient and seamless mechanism to prevent long tarmac strandings. By comparison, International airports, such as those in the European Union have them. This is due to the fact that the EU has passed and implemented regulations in 2004. Some of these rules include provisions that require that passengers are paid a minimum of 250 EU up to 600 EU for flight delays of any kind. The rules also require that specific goods and services must be offered to passengers during delays such as phones, fax, food, and water.

"One contingency many EU airports have in place is the option to use passenger busses or co-busses that can deplane stranded passengers. Almost every country in the world has triple the number of co-busses the US has. EU has over 2400, in the U.S. we have 65," added Hanni. "This is one option the U.S. should explore."

Hanni also highlighted last year's Christmas Storm incidents, noting that, "Last December, the New York/New Jersey Port Authority told employees to depart JFK, leaving no one in attendance when flights tried to return to the gate or arrived from international destinations. Had they been subjected to potential fines I don't believe they would make that same decision." Absent any penalty, the airports will not address this issue.

"We are pleased that the DOT is launching an investigation into this issue, and strongly urge the Department to issue a new rule requiring airports to develop contingency plans for tarmac delays, addressing preparations for these inevitable incidents. We are prepared to work around the clock with DOT and Airports to develop these plans before the Holiday travel season is upon us," concluded Hanni. is the largest non-profit airline consumer advocacy group in America.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Airlines Ignoring DOT Rules

Kate Asks, Spirit Responds

What Kate's Saying

Airlines Ignoring DOT Rules

The Huffington Post's Blake Fleetwood reported last week that the Department ofDOT LogoTransportation (DOT) is investigating airlines for ignoring the provisions of the DOT's August 23rd rulemaking that require airlines to "disclose all fees for optional services to consumers through a prominent link on their homepage." The idea of the rule was to help us make apples-to-apples comparisons of actual fare prices between airlines competing for our travel dollars.

Is the DOT overreacting to the problem? You be the judge. To test the charge, we went through the reservation drill on American Airlines' web site, taking us to the final page. That was AA's last opportunity to prominently display the other fees we'd encounter. Did they do that? See if you can find it:

AA Fare Page

We couldn't see any display of the fees either. Now look at the blue mouse-print at the very bottom, a link to "optional charges." That's it. Hardly what any reasonable person would define as "prominent." Blake is right-the airlines are ignoring the DOT.

The DOT has already fined Orbitz $60,000 for similar transgressions. Orbitz accepted the DOT's judgment and fixed the problems that led to the fine.

This comes on the heels of a recent spike in extended tarmac delays. The DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported 14 tarmac delays of over three hours in June. Clearly, our efforts to put in place airline passenger protections are in danger. FlyersRights will soon be asking you to once again lift your voices to fight this erosion of protections for which we've fought so hard and so long.

Kate Asks, Spirit Responds

Kate got a Hotline call last Friday from Flyersrights member Melissa, asking for assistance with a problem regarding a Spirit Airlines trip. Melissa and her two children were trying to get to San Jose, Costa Rica, on October 16th, and the trip had become a nightmare.

The problems began when Spirit "downsized" their flight from Ft. Lauderdale toSpirit Airlines logoSan Jose, replacing the scheduled Airbus 320 with a smaller aircraft-the Airbus 319. The result was denial of boarding to 25 passengers. Since Melissa and her family were among the last to book, they were bumped. Spirit offered accommodation on the next available flight, two days later, or a complete refund.

As usual, the refund option was unacceptable, as rebooking on another carrier at that late date would be exponentially more expensive. Melissa elected to take the next flight. Spirit covered their hotel and some meal expenses for the two-day layover.

Costa Rica CrestWhen the family checked in for the new flight, however, they learned that the disaster was not over. Costa Rica's Entry and Exit Requirements demand that travelers provide proof of onward travel at their port of entry. An airline or bus ticket would satisfy that requirement. Unfortunately, Melissa could not provide that proof, so Spirit could not board the family for the flight. Had they done so, they would have been fined by the Costa Rican government and Melissa and her children would have been denied entry into the country.

For the rest of the week, Melissa shuttled between hotel and airport, trying to arrange a Spirit flight to San Jose. With expenses and frustration mounting, she called Kate last Friday to ask for help. Good idea, Melissa!

Kate put Melissa in touch with Spirit's Senior Manager of Customer Relations, Heather Harvey for resolution of the issue. She also talked to Heather personally, made clear our interest in Melissa's difficulties, and urged Spirit to take care of three passengers whose lives were badly disrupted.

We are pleased to report that Spirit did the right thing. They are covering the hotel and meal expenses for Melissa and her family until they can get them to San Jose, and have refunded all baggage fees and the assigned seating fees they charged the family. While the initial trip disruption was undeniably caused by their equipment change decision, other delays were not their direct responsibility. Nevertheless, through Kate's efforts, they stepped up to taking care of these three customers. We applaud their decision.

What lessons can we take from this? First, at least on Spirit Airlines, book your flight as early as possible to lessen your chances of being bumped if they elect to provide fewer seats than they've sold. Second, international travel can be tricky, because rules and requirements differ so widely from country to country. Do your homework, so that you're not surprised at the check-in counter or, worse, at the country's port of entry.

Finally, be an advocate for yourself. Understand the options and rights available to you when traveling by air, and when you need help, call the FlyersRights Hotline at 866-359-6776!! Join the thousands of passengers we've helped over the last 4 ½ years.

What Kate's Saying

Kate had a number of radio interviews last week, in addition to a Fox interview that will air soon.

NBC Los Angeles-Comments on John Wayne Airport's New Body Scanners

Huffington Post-Column on Our Ongoing e-Cigarette Survey

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Mica Says the TSA Doesn't Work

Time to Rethink the TSA

What Kate's Saying

Rep. Mica Says the TSA Doesn't Work

Rep. John Mica, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was a key player in the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration, is now as fed up as the rest of us. He has called for the TSA to be reevaluated and reorganized and airport security operations to be privatized.

Citing the almost endless litany of TSA fumbles, mistakes, and appalling behavior,Rep. John Micq Rep. Mica called the TSA a "bureaucratic nightmare" exceeding 7,000 supervisors and 3,526 administrators, each of whom averages over $100,000 a year. He also noted that the TSA is a $9 billion behemoth that has "failed to actually detect any threat in 10 years."

The Examiner article in the link above details the many failings of the TSA, and we are well familiar with them. Their headline may be a bit overblown-they say he has called for the agency to be "dismantled." We wish that he had. Still, his demand to Secretary Napolitano, where he expressed "the need for immediate reevaluation and reorganization of the TSA, an agency teetering on the verge of disaster," is encouraging to hear.

On the other hand, we cannot support his plan to privatize the TSA. Congressman, you broke it, you fix it. We cannot endorse any solution that bestows virtually unlimited powers on contract personnel. The Constitution of the United States is clear on who can exercise police powers. This is a legitimate government task, and we cannot condone delegating that to non-government agents.

FlyersRights will follow his demands' progress and keep you updated.

Time to Rethink the TSA

A recent article on the Truthout web site articulates the issues regarding the TSA. Truthout is a 501(c)3 U.S. news organization that runs a web site and distributes a daily newsletter. The article is quite long, but it offers an open-eyed examination of today's agency and proposes a path towards a better TSA. Here's a short summary of this very enlightening article, pointed out to us by long-time FlyersRights supporter and staff writer Dan Prall.

The TSA Today

TSA Wiley Coyote CartoonShocked by how easily the 9/11 hijackers were able to board their target aircraft, Congress formed TSA two months after that horrifying day. The first 50,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) were rushed through a one-week training course and hustled onto the front line, with very limited capability and almost unlimited power.

TSA is organized as a top-down entity, allowing little discretion to the officers and resulting in "well-intended, but outrageous conduct by its agents." TSA is exempt from most civil service laws. Rather, the TSA Administrator had virtually unlimited authority to create the personnel system. Some changes have been made, but nothing has improved their personnel selection system. Personnel problems are a core failing of the agency. Arbitrary rule enforcement, unnecessary indignities to passengers, and luggage item theft are endemic problems.

One program enhancement is deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs). This is in line with the Israeli model of finding the bombers, not the bombs. Thousands of BDOs work in hundreds of airports today, but the program has never been scientifically evaluated. Worse, the BDOs are generally selected from screening officers and are given a scant two weeks of training before deployment.

How to Make it Better

The Truthout article goes right to the heart of the matter, saying "The essential question is whether TSA officers are security guards or police officers when it comes to the manner in which they lay hands on the bodies and belongings of passengers." TSA must develop officers capable of exercising much greater discretion. How can they do that?


Current selection pools are listed by date of application, not by qualification. Local managers must be allowed to pick the most qualified candidates rather than those quickest to apply. Police departments have used the civil service process for decades to establish priority lists of the most qualified candidates. In the current economy, there are millions of highly capable, well-educated people looking for work. The current TSA process is insane.


Current training consists mostly of standardized, online training applications. Online training is fine for teaching rule-based procedures, but a very poor medium for imparting the nuanced insights officers need to safely exercise discretion and do the right thing instead of what they believe to be the "book" thing.

Local managers must be allowed to promote officers and select supervisors from outside the organization, and to improve training for those supervisors and for BDOs. They should consider establishing regional training academies for that purpose.


Policies are broad guidelines for the exercise of discretion. Procedures and rules should be designed to support those policies. Absent effective policy, the exercise of critical discretion will fail. The media, and this newsletter, are filled with examples of those failures. With unclear guidance from above, officers essentially establish their own policy in their minds, based on their interpretations and perceptions.

Well thought-out policies would allow BDOs to more productively direct their attention to the most suspicious travelers, rather than mindlessly and repetitively asking every single traveler where they are going. The might then actually identify and stop an actual threat, rather than simply offending every loyal American they contact. Even more important, gate screeners would actually be able to use common sense, avoid strip searching grandmothers and five-year-olds, and focus their attention on likely threats.

The Right Direction

On June 2, 2011, Pistole testified before Congress that "we must ensure that each new step we take strengthens security. Since the vast majority of the 628 million annual air travelers present little to no risk of committing an act of terrorism, we should focus on those who present the greatest risk, thereby improving security and the travel experience for everyone else." In a 2009 overview of the agency, they said they seek to evolve "from a top-down, follow-the-SOP [standard operating procedure] culture to a networked, critically-thinking, initiative-taking, proactive team environment."

Yes Mister Administrator, we agree. It's long past time to abandon security theater and move on to security assurance. It's been two years since the TSA expressed the desire to evolve. In that time, positive steps have been tentative and halting. Congress has given TSA the power it needs to reinvent itself, and we strongly urge immediate, forceful action.

What Kate's Saying

Kate with FRO Logo

The Desert Sun

Fees raise airline passengers' ire sky-high

Event Planner Spain

Airline Wi-Fi Charges Take Off

USA Today via ABC News

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