Nearly 19 months after DOT implemented the Three-Hour Tarmac Rule, the Department has fined regional carrier American Eagle $900,000 Monday in the first enforcement of a regulation aimed at curbing airport ground delays that strand passengers on planes for hours, often without food, water or working toilets.
The penalty against American Eagle, a unit of American Airlines parent AMR Corp,imposed for extended tarmac delays affecting more than 600 people on 15 flights last May in Chicago, is also one of the largest consumer protection fines ever levied by the U.S. Transportation Department. As part of a settlement with regulators, American Eagle was mandated by DOT to refrain from future violations of the Three-Hour Rule, and was instructed to use more than a quarter of the fine to compensate passengers.
In a November 14th press release, Kate said, "We fought for the tarmac rule to protect passengers and we are grateful to Secretary Ray LaHood and the DOT for meaningful enforcement of the rule, and the DOT did the right thing mandating that the passengers receive 25% of the fines as compensation for their losses."
The Snowtober Strandings, which left hundreds sitting for hours on the tarmac at Bradley Field in Hartford, CT, brought congressional pressure on DOT to exercise the Tarmac Rule. Senators Boxer and Snowe, longtime supporters of airline passenger rights, urged DOT to move forward with penalties for violations of the rule. DOT says that this case has been under investigation for some time, and the senators' letter did not influence the timing of the fine imposition.
American Eagle's parent company claimed that the May delays were due to weather. FlyersRights maintains that American Eagle' should never have loaded aircraft when they knew, or should have known, that weather conditions virtually assured lengthy delays and cancellations. As Kate said, we applaud the DOT's forceful action.
New TSA Committee Provides More Security Theater
We reported last August on TSA's resurrection of their Aviation Security Advisory Committee. Created by the FAA in the wake of the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy, the committee was to "develop recommendations for the improvement of methods, equipment, and procedures to improve civil aviation security." When TSA was formed after 9/11, responsibility for civil aviation security was transferred to that agency. The committee operated under the TSA until late 2006, when it was discontinued.
In July, the TSA decided to reestablish the committee. They promised to includeaviation consumer advocates in that body's makeup. We wrote them at that time, proposing Kate as the ideal consumer advocate for the panel. Dean Walter of TSA responded that no vacancies were available, but would not tell us who was filling the position.
On November 7thTSA finally published the membership list. The press release assures us that "The Aviation Security Advisory Committee plays a vital role in helping TSA continuously enhance our ability to ensure the security of the traveling public." If that's so, then we would expect the committee to include strong voices to represent that traveling public. Does it? Here's the breakdown:
Look at the composition. Of the 24 members, over one-half represent the air travel industry (airlines, airports, air cargo, aircrews, and airport law enforcement), four represent general aviation (owners and pilots, business aviation, and general aviation manufacturers), one speaks for aerospace manufacturers, and one for those who arrange travel for businesses.
Three appear to be passenger-related, but the International Airline Passengers Association is actually a fee-based organization that also sells various kinds of flight insurance. The other two, National Air Disaster Alliance and Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, have done fine work. In fact, FlyersRights board member Paul Hudson, a major force in the pursuit of justice for the Pan Am 103 victims, was co-founder of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 in addition to founding and serving as Executive Director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project. Both organizations focus on a small constituency-victims of air tragedies.
In short, there is no representative on the committee who can or will speak to your issues as an informed air traveler. FlyersRights' members demand air travel security that is effective, safe, constitutional, and consistently applied. We see current equipment and procedures for the Security Theater they are, and want an end to the meaningless procedures that make us uncomfortable and vulnerable and significantly increase our time at the airport.
With 7/8 of the committee focused on something other than passenger issues and the remaining 1/8 narrowly focused, FlyersRights doubts that this new committee effort will result not in resolution of the issues we raise with the TSA. We fear that it will instead be remembered as another episode of Security Theater.
Lavatory Oxygen Removal Update
In March of 2011, MSNBC, among others, reported that the FAA had quietly ordered the removal of oxygen generators from aircraft lavatory oxygen mask systems because of an unspecified security concern. At that time, we noted that by taking that action, the FAA was betting that there would be no decompressions with passengers in the lavatory.
Do you think the absence of emergency oxygen in aircraft lavatories is an important piece of safety information for airline passengers? Is it at least as important as assuring that you can, in fact, operate a seat belt?
The FAA addressed notification in a spin-control press releasefollowing public disclosure of their covert removal of lavatory oxygen. They suggested the following:
The FAA is asking operators to reinforce crew emergency procedures to make it a priority to check whether the lavatory is occupied following any event where oxygen masks are deployed in the cabin. Operators may also choose to include additional instructions on the briefing cards, on placards in the lavatory or during the verbal passenger safety briefing.
We'd like to hear from you on the notification issue. Have you ever heard lavatory oxygen mentioned in the flight attendant's safety briefing? Have you seen mention of this critical issue in the briefing cards in the seat pockets or noticed a placard in the lavatory? If you have, please drop a note email@example.com.
Help Us Launch the Flyers Rights Education Fund
The Flyers Rights Education Fund is the education and service arm of our organization. Approved by the IRS in June, 2011, the Fund gives you a way tocontribute to our airline passenger rights efforts through a tax-deductible vehicle. We now support many of our efforts through The Fund:
Our free, 24/7 Hotline
Mass mailings unrelated to political action requests
Press releases related to educational efforts on behalf of airline passenger rights
Now we have an exciting new way for you to leverage your tax-deductible contributions to the Fund. Paul Hudson, a member of our Board of Directors andExecutive Director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project (ACAP), has pooled his personal resources with those of ACAP and friends of our longtime supporter, Ralph Nader, to pledge a matching-gift contribution of $15,000 to Flyers Rights Education Fund.
But you must act now! We must achieve this goal by the end of the year. Please go to the Flyers Rights Education Fund donation page now and give what you can. The coalition's generous offer expires at midnight, December 31, 2011. We must answer the coalition's challenge and meet their contribution goal by the end of the year.
Remember, each and every dollar you contribute during this short window will have a double impact on advancing the cause of airline passenger rights.
Help us stay in the fight! Kate's remarkable responses to Snowtober, in so many national forums, would not have been possible without your generous support. You know that her family can no longer subsidize the effort-without your help, the premier voice of airline passenger rights in America will be stilled.
What Kate's Saying
The American Eagle fine story was just breaking at newsletter press time, and Kate was engulfed by the media storm that always erupts when an airline passenger rights issue makes the national news. We'll share links to many of those interviews next week.
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.