Monday, January 28, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Passengers rushed off a Boeing 787 Dreamliner after it made an emergency landing in western Japan on Jan. 16, 2013.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner had a nightmare week, topped off with the entire U.S. fleet grounded by the FAA last Friday, over risks of fire from its batteries.
This latest blow followed an emergency landing of an All Nippon 787 in Japan last Wednesday caused by a malfunctioning battery, coming after a battery fire in a Japan Airlines 787 in Boston a week prior.

Costly Lesson on Outsourcing 

Much of the blame stems from the company's outsourcing the design and production of components to suppliers in foreign countries. Boeing's plan was to save money. The reality is that it would have been cheaper to keep a lot of this work in-house, according to a LA Times investigative report.

The company's unions fought outsourcing. "We've been raising these questions for five years," says Tom McCarty, the president of the Boeing engineers' union. "How do you control the project, and how do you justify giving these major pieces of work to relatively inexperienced suppliers? There's no track record of being able to do this." 
The 787 has more foreign-made content - 30% - than any other Boeing plane, according to the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the union representing Boeing engineers. That compares with just over 5% in the company's workhorse 747 airliner.
Boeing executives admit that the company's aggressive outsourcing put it into partnerships with suppliers that weren't up to the job. 
"We gave work to people that had never really done this kind of technology before, and then we didn't provide the oversight that was necessary," Jim Albaugh, the company's commercial aviation chief, told business students at Seattle University in January 2011. "In hindsight, we spent a lot more money in trying to recover than we ever would have spent if we tried to keep many of the key technologies closer to Boeing. The pendulum swung too far."
In recent years a number of companies seem to be rethinking the sort of offshoring practices that Boeing (among others) has pursued so heavily. An Economist piece this week outlines the trend.
Claims Nixed Over Jet Blue's 11-Hour Plane Hold
Feb. 14, 2007. Passengers were outraged at having to stay aboard JetBlue Flight 751 as it sat motionless on the tarmac at J.F.K. - for 11 hours. (Photo: A.P.)

NEW YORK, Dec 26, 2012 - Three New York courts ruled that passengers held for 7 to 11 hours cannot sue for damages, unless they were physically injured.
This, despite DOT rules prohibiting holding airline passengers more than 3 hours on the tarmac as an unfair and deceptive practice, and require provision of basic sustenance after 2 hours.

In the underlying case, Katharine Biscone, a comedy writer, was bound for Burbank, Calif., from John F. Kennedy International Airport on Feb. 14, 2007. Scheduled to depart at 6:45 a.m., the JetBlue plane left the terminal shortly thereafter. But it stayed on the ground for the next 11 hours. Biscone finally was let off at 5:30 p.m., then waited another two hours to retrieve baggage.

In Biscone v JetBlue Airways Corporation, a midlevel appeal court for Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island upheld a lower court decision dismissing the complaint by the plaintiff and about 1,300 others held for 11 hours, without adequate food, water, bathroom facilities or breathable air. 

The court found this was an airline "service" immune from lawsuits, even though the plaintiff alleged the confinement was based on repeated false statements motivated by pecuniary gain for the airline and its employees: i.e. that the flight was about to take off and the confinement was weather related.  

These courts accepted Jet Blue's argument, in enacting the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Congress also intended to bar all tort lawsuits such as false imprisonment, fraud or infliction of emotional distress where an airline's conduct relates to its operations, unless the passenger was injured.

The DOT Three-Hour Rule was proposed and advocated for by FlyersRights in 2009. Prior to the rule, up to 250,000 passengers were being stranded on the tarmac for over 3 hours, for the airlines' commercial convenience.

For more information contact: Aviation Consumer Action Project   800-662-1923

Add-Ons Make Shopping For The Lowest Fare Difficult

In the good ol' days, you could shop online for the lowest airline fare with a few clicks of the mouse on a variety of ticketing sites. But now the companies that supply information about flights and fares are complaining that airlines are refusing to cough up a complete picture when it comes to fees.

That makes it tougher for consumers to find the best deal when all is said and done, so the government is looking into it.

Early boarding, extra leg room, baggage fees and other services muck things up and make it harder for travel agents and ticketing sites like Orbitz and Expedia, which account for almost half of all ticket sales.

"What other industry can you think of where a person buying a product doesn't know how much it's going to cost even after he's done at the checkout counter?" said Simon Gros, Chairman of the Travel Technology Association, which represents the global distribution services and online travel industries, tells the Associated Press.

If you can't compare total fares as easily, you could end up paying a higher price when all is said and done, depending on which add-on services you walk away with. The DOT is looking at whether it should require airlines to hand over that fee information to any entities that sell their tickets.  It will make its ruling in May.

Delta Says Too Many People Were Getting Elite Status, Will Make It Harder To Achieve

Airlines have spent the last decade trying to get customers to rack up points in any way possible. But apparently too many people were enjoying the high-life on Delta, as the airline announced changes that will make it more difficult to achieve elite status in it frequent flier program.

Until now, to reach any of the four "Medallion" elite levels on Delta's SkyMiles program, you had to fly a given amount of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) within a given calendar year.

Today, the carrier added a new wrinkle to the equation - Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs), a minimum spend level that must be met before the traveler can be considered for even the lowly Silver Medallion.

Previously, where it required either 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs to qualify for the Silver level, SkyMiles members must now also meet the $2,500 minimum MQD requirement.

Delta writes they are making these changes "To create an even more exclusive Medallion program and make it easier for Medallion members to enjoy the top-tier benefits their loyalty deserves."

The qualifying dollars spent is on the fare alone, and excludes the taxes and tariffs. This is key since on most flights to Europe, taxes are a majority of ticket prices.

So while that round-trip ticket from NYC to London will cost you $846, only $204 of that would count toward your MQD requirement.

Oh, but you can get out of the whole MQD thing... if you spend a minimum of $25,000 annually using the Delta Skymiles credit card.

Luckily the changes won't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2014.

TSA Dumps Near-Naked Rapiscan Body Scanners
No more "naked feeling" at the airport.
A TSA agent demonstrates the full-body scanner at Los Angeles International Airport. (Los Angeles Times)

TSA has ended its contract with the manufacturer of a controversial full-body scanner used to screen passengers.
Under tremendous pressure by privacy advocates, members of Congress, health officials and critics, such as FlyersRights who said the X-ray exposure passengers were subject to could be a health risk. 
The European Union last year banned the use of full-body scanners at European airports over health concerns.
However, TSA officials said the agency has canceled the contract with Rapiscan because it had failed to deliver software to protect the privacy of passengers.
Airline passengers were offended by the revealing images, including those of children and the elderly. The Washington- based Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the agency in July 2010, claiming the scanners violated privacy laws and has called use of the machines equivalent to a "physically invasive strip search."

Great FlyersRights Partnerships!   

Flybags - the must-have TSA-compliant toiletry kit for the efficient traveler. For more info visit

 Napa wine shop benefiting FlyersRights!
Get into the spirit of the new year with a wonderful glass of wine AND support airline travelers everywhere. 

 The Final Word

On behalf of all of us at FlyersRights, we'd like to extend our most sincere gratitude to all of you. Your support is invaluable!

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Airlines Extract Billions in Fees From Passengers
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Piecing Together the Cost of Flying

For years we at FlyersRights have been criticizing the fees and surcharges the airlines add to the price of a ticket.  

This convoluted puzzle of fees has been added onto base fares for about five years now in the form of checked bags fees, penalty fees for changing itineraries, extra charges for priority boarding, priority coach seating, using frequent flier miles, food, beverages, pillows, blankets and entertainment - you name it.

The airlines have also been taking fees they already have and making them more complex.  For example, sliding fees for seat reservations and priority boarding based on the length of the trip. Charges to use frequent flier miles for upgrades for supposedly free trips are also proliferating. The airlines use the term "co-pays" to refer to those fees, which didn't even exist five years ago.

For taxpayers, here is the catch:

There's a 7.5% federal tax on every airline ticket. But the baggage fees are tax-free.

You get the picture.

When the airlines keep ticket prices down by shifting $12.8 billion to baggage fees, they save $964 million in federal taxes they would have owed if they had hiked ticket prices by that amount.

That taxed ticket money goes into a fund that pays for the air transportation system: airports, capital improvements and the operation of the FAA.

However, The Washington Post reports that in nine of the past 11 years, the amount of money flowing into that fund - mostly ticket-tax revenues - has fallen short of projections, prompting Congress to increase general fund contributions to cover the FAA's budget. In both fiscal 2009 and 2010, Congress appropriated an additional amount of almost $1 billion.

To sum up, when airlines raise fees instead of fares, the taxpayers pick up the tab.

Untaxed airline baggage fees. To keep airfares down as fuel costs rise, airlines charge fees - which are federal-tax exempt - for reservation changes, seating, early boarding, meals, entertainment and baggage. Untaxed baggage fees in particular have generated $12.8 billion for airlines since 2007. If taxable, the revenue would help federally fund the air transportation system. 
Sources: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Government Accountability Office. The Washington Post.

Top Disease-Spreading Airports:

The part of air travel that gives you a cold (or worse) isn't usually the plane ride -- it's the airports!

Most of us don't associate jet bridges and moving walkways with the flu. Instead we worry about the airplanes: cramped, crowded aluminum tubes where a sneeze from across the aisle sets off alarms in our heads.

It turns out that the chances of actually catching something on a plane is low. You'd basically have to be sitting on top of someone to become infected by their germs. According to Aaron Carroll, co-author of Don't Cross Your Eyes... They'll Get Stuck That Way!  The airplane manufacturers have gotten air circulation onboard their products down to a science. 

Between drawing in fresh air from outside the cabin and passing old air through high-quality filters designed to catch 99.999 percent of germs, the air inside a cabin is replaced some 20 times an hour -- far more often than in office buildings or in houses, which exchange air every 12 and 5 times an hour.

Add to that the fact that each row of an aircraft's air supply is recycled vertically rather than moving forward or backward through the cabin -- meaning airborne germs that survive the filters come back to the same row rather than spreading to other passengers -- and what you get is a system that's pretty hard to beat.

The airports, however, are another story. They're tremendous incubators for disease due to the constant flow of passengers all day, every day. Pathogens are deposited, picked up again, and ferried elsewhere at an incredible rate, without the procedures that keep aircraft interiors clean.

Not all airports are created equal. Which ones are the worst offenders? That's what a team of MIT researchers decided to find out.

Leading the top U.S. airports in order of their ability to spread a disease: JFK, LAX, HNL, SFO, EWR, ORD and IAD.
Great FlyersRights Partnerships   
 Flybags - the must-have TSA-compliant toiletry kit for the efficient traveler. For more info visit

Napa wine shop benefiting FlyersRights!
Get into the spirit of the new year with a wonderful glass of wine AND support airline travelers everywhere.

Kate's Final Word
Thank you for your commitment to FlyersRights. Words cannot express the gratitude we feel as we enter our sixth year.  As a reminder, FlyersRights Educational Fund is a 501(c)3 organization and your contributions are tax deductible.  

Please view a copy of our annual taxes here,, and see how your donations have helped FlyersRights!
Kate with FRO Logo

Thank you again for your support! 

Kathleen Hanni

Wednesday, January 2, 2013
An Air Travel Catastrophe
in the Making

U.S. Airports Face Closure Under Automatic Spending Cuts

Tuesday, January 2, 2013

Air Force One splashes water on the runway at Northwest Regional Airport in Arkansas. This airport and many like it face possible closure if budget sequestration forces the Federal Aviation Administration to make severe budget cuts.
As many as 106 U.S. airports could lose air traffic control service and effectively be shut down under automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect in March, after a two month delay of the sequester.  

Late yesterday the White House and U.S. Senate reached a tentative deal that delays by two months the onset of nearly $1 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 2.  

According to a Center for American Progress analysis, here's a list of airports that could be affected with interactive map showing how the entire country will be impacted.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) published a report outlining the impact that sequestration will have on the aviation industry and the U.S. economy. 

The NATCA report states that all users of the National Airspace System (NAS), which includes travelers, pilots, airlines, businesses and the military will feel the impact of the cuts via a reduction in airport and air traffic control services, shrinking of the NAS's flight capacity, increased delays, higher costs to airlines and lags in air traffic modernization. 
Closing Towers
Reducing the number of controllers and other staff will mean the FAA may be forced to cut services at some towers and possibly close some towers. Here are some of the busiest airports that could lose air traffic control service:
SAVSavannah/Hilton Head InternationalSavannahGA28785,251
ISPLong Island MacArthurRonkonkomaNY19781,396
SFBOrlando Sanford InternationalSanfordFL19768,938
PSPPalm Springs InternationalPalm SpringsCA13759,510
PNSPensacola RegionalPensacolaFL15750,190
MSNDane County Regional-Truax FieldMadisonWI28741,365
ICTWichita Mid-ContinentWichitaKS41740,675
ACYAtlantic City InternationalEgg Harbor TownshipNJ28668,930
SRQSarasota/Bradenton InternationalSarasotaFL15657,157
MDTHarrisburg InternationalMiddletownPA28655,294
Passengers* indicates the total number of passengers boarded at this airport every year. 

The Airport as a Journey in Itself 
Excerpted from
An employee of security contractor Covenant Aviation Security screens a passenger at SFO. (Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times)
In an era of increasing surveillance and deteriorating privacy, our airports bear little resemblance to the community gathering spaces of our imaginations, where families and friends could see each other off and meet at the gate to hug one another.

On November 25th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) turned ten. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is under the massive scope of DHS, and although there have been some improvements (like strengthening cockpit doors), there have been a fair number of missteps.

The government announced a program called CAPS II in 2002 - and eventually all but scrapped it in 2007 - that would have used commercially available data about travelers to determine their risk status. The program lives on, in a limited fashion under the nameSecure Flight, which compares a passenger's name with government-compiled watch lists.

Though Americans' fear of terrorism is at a relative low point compared to times in the Bush-era, 38 percent of the population still thinks a "terrorist attack in the US could be imminent." 

This perceived fear of terrorism has driven ever-increasingly authoritarian policies from the Patriot Act and warrantless spying on Americans to the kind of security theater we're now familiar with in our airports. 

How great is the actual threat? That's impossible to say for sure, but in 2011, about the same number of Americans were killed by their appliances falling on them as were killed in terrorist attacks.

Of course there's a lot of money to be made by continuing to tell Americans they are under constant threat of terrorism. Military policy analyst Chris Hellman reported in 2011 that although we're often told the Pentagon's budget is around $700 billion, the actual national security budget is closer to $1.2 trillion per year.

As hundreds of thousands of passengers travel home for the holidays, they will have little choice but to consent to these ever-encroaching security measures. In an era of increasing surveillance and eroding privacy.
FCC Makes Changes To Improve Availability Of In-Flight Internet Access
A pilot uses the FlySmart with Airbus app on an Apple iPad. The F.A.A. has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims.
With pilots approved to use iPads as flight manuals in their cockpits, and the FAA's own studies finding "no evidence saying [wireless] devices can't interfere with a plane, and... no evidence saying that they can," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has asked the FAA to ease up on restrictions against wireless device use on planes.
Mr. Genachowski said the F.A.A. should "enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices" during flights. The letter was first obtained by The Hill
For more than a decade, the FCC has been approving individual applications from companies to provide in-flight Internet access. But this burdensome process will soon be cut in half thanks to new rules issued by the Commission.

Until now, each company that wished to supply ESAA (Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft) devices, which allow planes to provide a data connection to passengers, had to seek licensing approval from the Commission on an ad hoc basis.

The new rules establish a standard regulatory framework intended to speed up the approval process by 50% by allowing airlines to test systems that meet FCC standards, establish they do not interfere with aircraft systems, and get FAA approval.

Great FlyersRights Partnerships 
Flybags - the must-have TSA-compliant toiletry kit for the efficient traveler. For more info visit

Wine Shop Benefiting FlyersRights.
Get into the spirit of the new year with a wonderful glass of wine AND support airline travelers everywhere. 

Kate's Final Word
Words cannot express the gratitude we feel for your commitment to FlyersRights.  As 2012 comes to an end, we hope you will include us in your end-of-the-year giving.  FlyersRights Educational Fund is a 501(c)3 organization and your contribution is tax deductible.  
You can send contributions to: 159 Silverado Springs Dr. Napa, CA 94558 or through PayPal by clicking on the donation button at  Please view a copy of our annual taxes here,, and see how your donations have helped FlyersRights. 
Thank you again for your support.

Kathleen Hanni