In the wake of the DOT's landmark decision to find American Eagle $900,000 forthe May 29th stranding of nearly 600 passengers on Chicago O'Hare's tarmac, the airline industry immediately sought to spin the airline passenger rights victory through the use of scare tactics. Remarkably similar stories appeared in national media pieces and all over the internet, claiming that the fines would terrify the airlines and drive them to cancel huge numbers of flights.
The fact is that American Eagle was fined for loading 15 aircraft that they knew had no chance of making an on-time departure and for those flights' passengers spending hours on the tarmac as a direct result of their decisions. The $900,000 fine is far from fatal for American Eagle parent company AMR, and is a small fraction of the $1.7 million they could have been fined.
Moreover, AMR management earns bonuses that vary with their stock price. Even at the stock's recent price in the $1.75-$2.00 range the 'Performance' bonuses management will divide could amount to millions in 2011, well in excess of the DOT fine amount.
Some stories cited a recent GAO report that suggests a relationship between implementation of the DOT's Three-Hour Tarmac Rule and a slightly increased cancellation rate in the final months of 2010 when compared to 2009. FlyersRights.org views that study with skepticism. The GAO study has many flaws. It compares one year to one other year, but history shows that cancellation rates vary wildly from year to year. In fact, the 2009 and 2010 cancellation rates are lower than those of 11 of the last 16 years. What about the other 11, higher years? They can't be attributed to The Rule.
The GAO study concludes only that there "appears" to be a relationship between the rule and cancellations, and recommends that DOT "should collect and publicize more comprehensive on-time performance data to ensure that information on most flights, to airports of all sizes, is included in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics' database." That is, more data and analysis is needed to interpret the issue.
The DOT is completing a more comprehensive study, which we hope to see by the end of the year. We believe that study, based on much more comprehensive data and methodology, will yield far different results that that from the GAO's questionable approach.
Implementation of the Rule has made airlines more circumspect, and they are now proactively cancelling flights that they know are likely to be cancelled in any event during bad weather periods. They acknowledge that those actions provide them with better operations management and give their customers many more options for rescheduling to flights that are more likely to operate on time.
See the What Kate's Saying section below for her take on the fines and the airlines' reaction.
FAA Bill Controversy Heats Up
The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, popularlyknown as the FAA Reauthorization Bill, is in the news again. After years of debate and endless extensions, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, expressed his anger and frustration at the bill's lack of progress in the House. He said that there was blame enough to go around, with an aviation industry that apparently doesn't understand the need to press lawmakers for action and lawmakers no longer open to negotiated compromise.
"This is a serious matter," he said. "The repeated extensions and stopgaps don't work and they are sapping the life out of this industry." The senator pointed out that failure to modernize the air traffic control and aviation system would jeopardize safety and lead to a seriously inadequate, gridlocked air travel system. "It's pathetic, it's shameful, it's an embarrassment and it's unsafe," Rockefeller said.
At the same time, Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that the bill could be ready for the President by Christmas. "I was pleased to meet with Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member (Kay Bailey) Hutchison (R-Texas), and Ranking Member Rahall today to discuss completion of the FAA reauthorization, hopefully by the time Congress concludes its business for the year," Mica said in a statement.
Senator Rockefeller does not share Mr. Mica's optimism. Who's right? As with all things Washington, it's difficult to know. According to a Politico.com article, the "big four" have directed staffers to iron out the remaining issues, except for a labor disagreement that they say they will work out amongst themselves. However, Rep. Mica told attendees of a major transportation conference last week that he wants "no more FAA shutdowns."
One of our beltway insiders noted that the House dropping the labor issue would be a major concession, presumably requiring something of considerable value from the Senate in exchange. The labor issue is a provision in the bill that would make it easier for Delta Airlines employees to unionize.
So, in short, while agreement is possible, separation of the outstanding issues into two resolution mechanisms makes it less than likely. A longer continuation measure that falls short of full passage may
Aerotoxic Syndrome Update
Flyersrights has been at the forefront of safety in the airliner environment on a number of issues. One of those is the very air in the cabin. In October, Boeing settled a lawsuit brought by former American Airlines flight attendant Terry Williams over her claim that faulty aircraft design allowed toxic fumes into the cabin.
We reported this story in an October newsletter and told you of Dr. Susan Michaelis, a former Australian airline pilot grounded by aerotoxic syndrome, who, like Kate Hanni, both refused to capitulate and turned herself into one of the world's leading experts on the issue. She earned her PhD in Workplace Safety Science with her 2010 thesis, Health and Flight Safety Implications From Exposure to Contaminated Air in Aircraft. Now Head of Research with the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive and an independent health and safety, Dr. Michaelis is a fantastic source of information about this serious, poorly-understood problem.
Breathing heated synthetic jet engine oils is not in any way acceptable for either airline workers or passengers. The toxicity and hazards associated with breathing these oils has been known since at least 1954. It is a design problem and in no way rare as the industry likes to say. The airline industry could do something, if it wanted to, to address this problem now; however it has put profit before people, and the steps they are taking are far from adequate and effectively non-existent. Passengers need to wake up to the fact that in all larger commercial aircraft except the new Boeing 787, they are breathing unfiltered air taken directly from the engines. This is a total injustice given the knowledge known by the industry since the 50s. Passengers should demand clean air or demand to travel on the new bleed free 787 - a design that no longer takes breathing air from the engine--you could say 'back to the future'.
Dr. Michaels's story of unraveling the almost six-decade-old problem is told in two documentaries, both available on DVD. The first is the recently completed ' Angel without wings', tells the story of Susan's investigation into aerotoxic syndrome.
The other is the 2007 DVD, Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines, an in-depth exploration of the problem.
NOTE: The two DVDs are recorded in different formats. Weocome Aboard Toxic Airlines is in NTSC, playable on almost any player sold in the US. Angel Without Wings, however, is recorded in PAL, which is the Euoropean standard. While it should play on PCs and Macs, US DVD players will likely have difficulty with it.
Dr. Michaelis extends FlyersRights members an offer of 30% off by applying this discount code at checkout: FNFF14101947. Just click on the pictures and we'll take you to the DVDs' web sites.
The Global Cabin Air Quality Executive representing workers exposed to turbine oils globally, (currently updating its website) is working to help aircrew, ground crew and offshore oil workers exposed to turbine oils, while the Aerotoxic Association provides additional great information for those affected including passengers.
EU Bans X-Ray Body Scanners
The European Union has long expressed concern about the safety of the X-ray-based body scanners. Last week, they banned use of the X-Ray scanners. In their report, the European Commission wrote, "In order not to risk jeopardizing citizens' health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at E.U. airports."
FlyersRights wonders why the EU's 27 nations regard the machines as unsafe when our TSA has been assuring us all along that they're not only safe but more effective than the alternative, millimeter wave variety. We also wonder why, then, the TSA's latest 300-machine buy consists solely of millimeter wave machines.
Are the millimeter wave machines suddenly acceptable, or are we just putting lipstick on the Airport Security Theater pig?
With the approaching holiday travel season, we want to inform FlyersRights.org members about thelaunch of iflybags, a new, free website that makes it easy for travelers to find out just how much checked baggage they are allowed to take on a flight and what it's going to cost them.
While the majority of airlines today charge for checked bags, baggage allowances and fees differ by airline, creating confusion for travelers. With iflybags, travelers simply enter their airline, origin, destination, and cabin class to determine the airline's baggage allowances.
To calculate specific fees, travelers enter the same flight information, but also the number of travelers, number of bags, and each bag's weight. Even travelers carrying obscure items - such as javelins and scuba equipment - can figure out the cost. The site even takes into consideration frequent flier status and presents the best combination of checked bags for multiple travelers on a single itinerary.
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.