No surprise here. But the AA-US Airways merger means less competition.
In 2012 there were seven successful airfare hikes and we expect to see at least as many this year.
Oil is one
reason for more hikes; we don't expect the price of a barrel of oil to
drop to levels where the airlines could lower prices; oil would have to
be in the $70 to $75 range, down from its current $93. Plus it would
have to stay in that range for about four to six months in order for
airlines to really feel it in lower jet-fuel bills.
By the way,
one reason airlines want to raise some ticket prices is that they're
already dirt cheap. Skeptical? Consider that a winter flight to Europe
goes for around $750 to $800 round-trip. About $450 of that cost is a
fuel surcharge and another $150 or so is for government and airport
taxes, so the cost of the airfare itself can be less than a hundred
bucks each way!
there's the matter of demand for air travel. At larger airports it's
been holding relatively steady and when people want to fly, there is no
incentive to drop ticket prices.
Fee Bundle Mania
not that airlines are raising fees; they'll actually lower some but you
may wind up spending more. Confused? It's all about the bundling;
airlines will package two or more fee-based services and discount the
Maybe you only want one of the services but you may have to take the "bundle."
American did this last month with
its Choice Essential and Choice Plus options (don't you love buzzwords
like "choice"?), which provide such options as early boarding and a free
Delta has something similar with
its Lift and Ascend programs. Both can be great for frugal-minded
business travelers who want some of the comforts of business class
without the steep price tag.
We suspect the vast majority of vacation flyers will exercise their right to choose no fees at all.
Sequestration Makes Skies Less Friendly
already a nervous flyer, your palms are about to get more sweaty. Thanks
to the political chicken being played in Congress, the sequestration
that has resulted from an inability to pass a budget means
across-the-board spending cuts.
That includes air traffic control towers. The FAA announced it will close 149 towers in April because of budget constraints. Many of the towers are at small airports with less than 150,000 total flights each year.
That means pilots will have
to use a shared radio frequency to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves.
For example, the potential loss
of busy Trenton-Mercer Airport's control tower leaves everyone from
air-traffic controllers, pilots and flight school operators wondering
how safe the runways will be during departures and landings. Frontier Airlines says it will continue fly here using an instrument landing system.
Not Putting Anything In The Overhead Bin? American Airlines Is Seeing What Happens If You Board First
One thing that irritates a lot of travelers is waiting
forever to board a plane because the passengers in front of you are
jamming their carry-ons into the overhead bins.
But now AA is testing to see what happens when it gives priority boarding to travelers who won't be using the overhead storage.
The L.A. Times' Hugo Martinsays
that the process is being tested by AA in at least four U.S. airports -
Baltimore, Austin, Washington-Dulles, and Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood -
and that it allows coach passengers without bags to board after first-
after business-class travelers, but ahead of the rest of the economy
travelers with bags.
Southwest and Frontier have all been doing it for a while and it seems
to work. Two main reasons it makes sense? It speeds up the boarding
process and it incentivizes people to check their bags, which is a
source of revenue for the airline.
New Sliding Plane Seats: A Brilliant Idea?
Imagine not being stuck behind people bogging down the aisle, slowly loading their carry-ons into the overhead bins.
Well, a new airline seat design is aiming to make boarding quicker and easier.
Denver firm Molon Labe Designs, claims its Side-Slip Seat could cut boarding times in half.
How? It's an aisle seat that
slides on top of the middle seat, expanding the aisle space from 48
centimetres to 109cm so passengers are more easily able to walk around
It is returned to its normal position once boarding is over.
The seat would also save airlines money by limiting the amount of time planes sit on the tarmac. It will also cut fuel costs.
The design has been shown to Airbus and Boeing and a prototype is expected to be ready by November.
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Thanks to our passage of the Passenger Bill of Rights, you know DOT has gotten stricter about tarmac delays,ticket fee transparency and decreasing the number of bumped fliers, but what are your rights as an airline passenger in other situations?
Here are the issues FlyersRights has championed, or is currently advocating for.
They are also the topics we get asked about the most:
Disclosure of Taxes and Fees in Published Fares:
As of January 26, 2012, the DOT requires airlines to include all mandatory taxes and fees in published airfares, instead of simply putting asterisks with all the taxes and fees in tiny print. Airlines must also disclose baggage fees, though this can come in the form of a link to another Web page with the baggage fee information.
Need to Change or Cancel the Ticket:
If you realize within 24 hours of buying your ticket that you need to change or cancel it, you can do this without penalty (assuming you're booking at least 1 week before departure). You can also hold a reservation for 24 hours before paying for it.
DOT now requires airlines to give you prompt notification of delays, cancellations and route changes.
Similar to the routing changes, if the airline changes your scheduled flight to a different time or day, you aren't legally entitled to any compensation, only a refund of the ticket price you paid.
Domestic- If the flight is overbooked and you're bumped from a domestic flight and arrive one to two hours later than your scheduled arrival time, you're entitled to the one-way fare of your ticket up to $400. If you're delayed two to four hours from your original scheduled arrival time, you're entitled to 200% of the one-way fare, up to $650; if you arrive more than four hours later than your scheduled arrival time you're entitled to 400% of the one-way fare, up to $1300.
You're entitled to payment in cash, so if the airline tries to give you a voucher, insist on cash, since vouchers usually come with restrictions and can sometimes only be redeemed at the airport itself.
If you're bumped and the airline rebooks you on a flight that arrives less than one hour after your scheduled arrival time, you aren't legally entitled to any compensation, but it doesn't hurt to ask for a goodwill gesture, such as frequent flyer miles.
International flight departing from the U.S.:
You'll receive 200% of the one-way fare, up to $650 if you arrive one to four hours after your scheduled arrival time; if you arrive more than four hours later than your scheduled arrival time you're entitled to 400% of the one-way fare, up to $1300. More on EU passenger rights here.
If you are forced out of your first class seat into a coach seat, you should be able to get the fare difference (or miles, if an award) refunded from the airline, given the different class of service.
If you pre-selected an aisle in the bulkhead are you owed compensation if the airline changes it to a middle seat in the back of the aircraft? No. Seat assignments aren't part of the contract of carriage, so there's no remedy or compensation owed if the airline puts you in a different seat.
DOT rules prohibit tarmac delays of more than three hours for domestic flights with the following exceptions: 1) If the pilot determines there is a safety or security-related reason why the aircraft cannot leave its position on the tarmac to deplane passengers; or 2) Air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the gate or another point to deplane passengers would significantly disrupt airport operations.
What if you're flying to your destination wedding and your luggage, containing your wedding dress, is delayed? While our first recommendation would be to not pack anything valuable in your checked luggage, sometimes it can't be avoided.
Make sure to notify a baggage representative promptly, at the airport, within 4 hours of arriving at your destination
Check with the representative for the airline's reimbursement guidelines. Typically only basic toiletries and essential items will be covered
Keep all receipts for your purchases, so that you can submit them for reimbursement
If the airline really did lose your checked bags entirely, and it was domestic travel, the airline is required to reimburse you for up to $3300.
However, the airline may request receipts for the claimed item. It helps to have a list of everything you packed (if not receipts) for this purpose.
What more you can do if your rights are violated by an airline:
Write to the airline, cc to DOT and FlyersRights. Airline must acknowledge within 30 days and respond substantively within 60 days.
File a small claims court action (but airline has the right to remove to US District Court).
Airline can be investigated and fined by DOT but no compensation to passenger provided without airline consent or a court order.
Your rights re. TSA or in-flight security:
You have few rights other than to complain after the fact or decline to fly. Pat down searches with same-sex TSA agent in private area, instead of xrays are an option.
Contraband items discovered can lead to reports and even arrests. It's possible to be placed on the selectee list based a security incident, that may put you on the infamous No Fly list.
Beware of complaining loudly on aircraft, as flight attendants can label you as a disruptive or a security threat, leading to arrest, questioning by police or ejection from flight. Recording an incident may be allowed on some airlines but others ban use of video recording, as does TSA.
In sum, passenger rights concerning security are weak and unsettled as there is often a conflict between security and civil rights laws.
Airline and TSA employees have sometimes been known to file charges against passengers as a defense against complaints likely to be filed against them.
TSA issues are a main focus for FlyersRights.
Trustee Objects to Horton's Severance Package
AA Seeks Court Extension for Filing Reorganization Plan
American Airlines CEO Tom Horton, left, and US Airways CEO Doug Parker appear with an airplane model bearing the new American Airlines logo after announcing the two airlines' merger at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. (Tom Fox, Dallas Morning News / McClatchy-Tribune)
American Airlines is asking a US bankruptcy court to extend to May 29 the deadline to file a reorganization plan that would allow it to emerge from Chapter 11 protection.
The U.S. trustee overseeing American Airlines' bankruptcy has asked the carrier to justify its offer of $19.9 million in severance pay to Chief Executive Tom Horton, part of compensation linked to its merger with US Airways.
According to the filing, made Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York, the company has stated that it doesn't have to address the payment because the newly reorganized company will make the payment, not the current AMR.
But Trustee Tracy Hope Davis said it's not who makes the payment that is the important factor, but whether the payment conforms to restrictions placed on compensation arrangements by the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. In the filing, Davis said "a severance payment of close to $20 million defeats Congress' intent" when it put restrictions on such compensation.
Frontier Airlines Has Nation's Highest Complaint Rate in January;
Southwest the Lowest
Last week, DOT reportedFrontier Airlines had by far the highest rate of consumer complaints of 16 major U.S. airlines in January.
Most of Frontier's complaints stemmed from a one-time transfer of frequent-flier miles involving the airline's Wisconsin customers.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announced that hundreds of Frontier customers in Wisconsin have filed complaints with state officials over failure by the airline to transfer their frequent-flier miles to Delta as promised.
Frontier's rate of 7.58 complaints per 100,000 passenger enplanements was nearly three times the 2.63-per-100,000 rate of United Airlines, which had the second-highest rate in January.
Frontier also posted the worst on-time arrival rate of 16 major airlines in January: 71.3 percent.
Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines, had the nation's lowest complaint rate in January: 0.32 per 100,000, according to DOT's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.
FlyersRights is pressing for changes to drone aircraft to guard against a "surveillance society" in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized.
The FAA is soliciting comments on privacy standards for an Unmanned Aircraft Test Program mandated by Congress to be in place by 2015, meant to increase drone aircraft into U.S. airspace by the thousands.
According to Time Magazine, drones are now available for as little as $300 that can be controlled from a cell phone.
Drone makers are rolling out unmanned aircraft as small as hummingbirds and as large as jumbo jets with wing spans of over 300 feet that can hover up to five years.
So why is Drone usage suddenly popping up all over the place? It basically comes down to Congress. Congress placed a mandate within the FAA funding bill demanding they "quickly integrate a wide range of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, operated by both governmental and corporate entities, with commercial and general aviation traffic across the nation's skies by September 2015."
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security announced a program to further "facilitate and accelerate the adoption" of drones by local police agencies. This includes giving grants and training to local police departments and assists in choosing the "proper drone" for their particular needs.
A person might ask, "Well, we have police helicopters right now. How are these any different?"
That question could be answered by giving just a little bit of information regarding the capabilities of this new technology.
The small unmanned aircraft are far more maneuverable and quieter than helicopters and are capable of carrying gigapixel cameras complete with infrared and thermal imaging technology, automated license plate readers and facial recognition technology.
They have the capability of tracking multiple targets simultaneously and providing surveillance down to the street level, providing authorities with a single "eye" watching everything that EVERYONE does at all times.
But hey... if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about, right?
That, in a nutshell, is the primary advantage with drones. Advocates of this technology can defend its use by claiming that there is no violation of existing privacy statutes since "it's not a human being that's doing it". This is a slippery slope that greatly concerns privacy advocates and many members of Congress.
A Pilotless Airliner?
Autonomous civil aircraft could be flying before cars go driverless
Drone aircraft are widely used by the armed forces, but development of commercial flights without pilots in underway domestically.
"A pilotless airliner is going to come; it's just a question of when," said James Albaugh, the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airlines, in a talk he gave in August at the AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference, in Portland, Ore. "You'll see it in freighters first, over water probably, landing very close to the shore."
Last week, TSA announced it was tweaking the rules regarding small pocketknives, carry-on golf clubs and other sporting equipment. While travelers sick of losing their Swiss Army knives and other little blades rejoiced over the decision, flight attendants were up in arms.
What could go wrong with the TSA's plan to allow small knives and some sports equipment back on airplanes for the first time since 9/11? A lot.
These new rules are simply embarrassing and raise questions about whether those on this review committee are dealing with reality. To some, they are a breach of personal security.
On April 25, currently prohibited items, like pocket knives and baseball bats, will return to airplane cabins.
"The TSA has lost its way," said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights. "Terrorists now can bring on board knives as sharp as the then-permitted box cutters used by the 9/11 hijackers. TSA screeners will have a whole new set of complicated, time-consuming inspections for knives that will further slow up airport security."
"This latest TSA policy should have been thoroughly vetted," Hudson said. "Instead, they sprung this."
TSA receives 10,000 passenger complaints a year, and has no system for resolving them, said Hudson, also executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, founded by Ralph Nader.
Airline passenger groups have tried since December to meet with TSA Administrator John Pistole to discuss concerns about invasive TSA screening, theft of property from baggage, and rude screeners, he said.
Strict guidelines on canines travelling in the cargo hold mean they must be able to turn around in comfort - unlike their human masters in economy class.
No such humane treatment is afforded passengers, even with cases of deep vein thrombosis increasingly being reported on long flights.
Wouldn't it be nice to have personal space minimums just like dogs - two times our width? Wouldn't it be nice to be subjected to the same pitch requirements as dogs - total body length plus one-half the length of your legs?
Wouldn't it be nice to have food and drink minimums for flights?
Please, treat us like dogs!
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If the American Airlines, US Airways merger succeeds, it will mean one less competitor, one less choice, in an increasingly consolidated industry.
United and Continental merged, as did Delta and Northwest. TWA is long gone, acquired by American. Along the way are destroyed communities that lost hubs, jobs and service.
Does Anti-Trust law come into this at all? It should.
Airline mergers mean thousands of jobs lost, contractors replace union workers, retirement plans wiped out, airplanes sold, routes eliminated, quality of service plummets, safety undermined as mechanics get replaced with contract workers - yet passengers pay more while executives take golden parachutes and shareholders cash in.
American Airlines plans to cut at least 14,200 jobs and void union contracts -- the perks of Chapter 11. "Efficiency" is terrible both for consumers and employees.
Competition is a great mechanism. Too bad we aren't more committed to it.
Squeezing Frequent Fliers
What about my miles?
As FlyersRights has been saying for months, this merger has long-term potential to be bad news for those who earn and redeem airline miles for tickets.
So expect the merged American Airlines to cut back on the generosity of their frequent flyer program, introduce new fees, and make it harder to extract benefits.
Game Over For Consumers
"From a consumer standpoint there are few benefits to offset the negative impacts of this proposed merger that include reduced competition, higher fares and fees and diminished service to small and mid-size communities," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, testifying before a House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform.
Mitchell included an attack on the new traveler data mining program by the IATA (International Air Transport Association), calling the New Distribution Capability (NDC) "brazen," "shocking" and "toxic."
He added that "once NDC is established in the world's largest aviation market, it's lights out, game over for consumers."
Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights agreed, calling NDC "an amazing new plan adopted by IATA and all international airlines to invade customer privacy and eliminate price competion on international flights."
"A perfect storm is brewing in 2013 for air travel," Hudson said. "If airlines have their way, this year will end the era of price competition that began 35 years ago with airline deregulation."
FlyersRights official statement on the merger:
The proposed merger between American Airlines and
USAirways should only be approved with regulation establishing national and
international standards for enforceable airline passenger rights.
Due to the lack of low cost airlines in the US, we now
support allowing selected foreign low cost carriers to fly domestic routes.
In sum, we believe this
proposed merger of American and USAirways should be restructured or disapproved
by the Justice Department, unless competition is clearly not reduced and passenger
rights are well protected by new legislation and rulemaking.
the airlines and DOT have failed this year to either to support
passenger rights or restructure the merger proposal to protect
competition and consumer choice at many airports, FlyersRights.org
supports the lawsuits by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and several
state attorneys general to block the US Airways-American Airlines
merger. We are gratified that they have largely adopted the position of
FlyersRights.org, the Aviation Consumer Action Project, the Business
Travel Coalition and the American Antitrust Foundation.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner airframe #8 is tugged out for takeoff departure from Paine Field in Everett, Washington in this September 27, 2011 file photo, for delivery to the 787's first customer, All Nippon Airways (ANA) of Japan.
Credit: Reuters/Anthony Bolante/Files
No joke, the blockbuster story from The Seattle Times says that the FAA pretty much let Boeing attest that Boeing's revolutionary 787 Dreamliner was safe. It's called "self-certification" and sounds like a recipe for disaster.
So Boeing tells the FAA that the Dreamliner was safe. And the FAA allows it to fly - until undeniable trouble forced the grounding.
Remember, when this airplane flies again it will go into service with many airlines that have outsourced maintenance to cheap locales around the globe, again mostly unregulated.
Reuters reports this all began eight years ago, US regulators substantially increased their dependence on the aircraft industry to help keep flying safe. The FAA said it would no longer directly manage routine inspection of design and manufacturing.
Instead, it would focus on overseeing a self-policing program executed by the manufacturers themselves through more than 3,000 of their employees assigned to review safety on behalf of the FAA.
"One thing people don't realize is how much we rely on companies like Boeing to self-inspect and self-certify planes," says Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Schiavo notes that while FAA inspectors participate in "key milestone events" in the design and assembly of an airplane, aircraft are "largely self-inspected" by their makers. "People assume the FAA is at every point in the assembly line," she says. "They're not."
Outrage of the Week!
Last week a FlyersRights member wrote to us about an incredible situation with United.
In his own words:
I bought a ticket on United for my daughter and used miles to make it a Business Class Ticket. She had an assigned seat in First Class (LAX to DC). At the airport they told her they had overbooked and "bumped?" her to coach.
They gave her a $350 voucher and said they would reimburse me the miles. She tried to refuse but they said she had no choice.
In a followup update:
I spoke to someone at the United Gold Desk who couldn't defend it. Said she would send in an inquiry.
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A monitor at LAX shows air traffic in the United States, one dot per plane. Airline and airport officials fear one result of a sharp cut in federal spending could be flight delays and cancellations.
J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times.
Maybe you haven't been paying much attention to theautomatic
government spending cuts that may go into effect next week, known as sequestration.
It's a lot to take in, as those cuts will be across-the-board and would be a problem for a wide variety of government agencies, including the FAA.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is painting a bleak picture for air travel in the future.
Reuters reports that during a press conference Friday urging congressional lawmakers to delay the cuts, LaHood spoke of flight delays and cancellations, shuttered control towers and swarms of angry travelers if sequestration happens.
"Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours," he told reporters at the White House. "Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country."
The New York Times explains why this would happen, citing LaHood's statement to Congress. Generally, that the FAA's 47,000 employees would have to take a day of furlough every two-week pay period, which amounts to about 10% fewer workers a day.
Airport officials fear a return of lines like these, at San Francisco's airport in 2006.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
That means fewer air traffic
controllers on every shift, which means officials would be forced to accept fewer airplanes into the system just like during bad weather.
When the weather is spotty, airplanes take off in a 10- to 20 mile gap instead of six- to seven-mile gaps, which translate to passengers sitting on tarmacs longer, delays hitting all the airlines and a lot of angry passengers.
And then there's the fun of going through security - TSA would also face cuts and subsequent furloughs, which again, means fewer workers on the job. Add in extra time for passengers deplaning from international flights because of fewer Customs & Border Control workers and we can see why LaHood is projecting such a dismal atmosphere at airports.
Mostly, the furloughs wouldn't begin right away as 30-day notices can't be sent until March 1, but the agencies could curtail the work of contractors and part-time employees.
If you didn't care about sequestration before, odds are you might now.
The impacts of sequestration will be serious. If sequestration is not averted, the FAA will be required to cut $483 million, or five percent of its budget. Because these cuts must be across the board, FAA employees could face furloughs, including for air traffic controllers and other safety professionals. This will have a negative impact on the efficiency and capacity of the National Airspace System, as well as the nation's fragile economy.
Travelers and users of the National Airspace System, from commercial passengers to businesses of all sizes to the military, will feel the impact of the cuts throughout the spring and summer. Reduced airport and air traffic control services will ultimately result in fewer flights and increased delays, creating a ripple effect that will negatively impact all sectors of the aviation industry, as well as local communities and their economies. In addition, diminishing the capacity of the national airspace system through personnel reductions could reduce the number of flights that can be in the air at any given time. That in turn could mean fewer options and higher prices for the traveling public.
Air traffic controllers are accustomed to performing under pressure and they will rise to this challenge if confronted with it. But these kinds of indiscriminate cuts will not help improve the efficiency of the world's safest air space. They will only diminish it at a time when we can least afford it. Our national airspace system is built on the concept of necessary redundancy. When funds and personnel are cut, layers of redundancy will be eliminated, which slowly reduces layers of safety.
FlyersRights Meets With DOT
FlyersRights President, Paul Hudson, and board members Ed Mierzwinski and Kendall Creighton met with Department of Transportation executives in Washington last week.
The goal was to promote accountability, open government policies and make DOT public officials more accountable to passengers for what they do in the regulatory arena.
In light of the leadership transition at DOT, FlyersRights wants options to inform the new Secretary in making policy choices.
On the agenda were several items, such as enforcement of passenger compensation for excessive flight delays, cancellations and tarmac confinements over three hours.
Federal funding for an airline passenger hotline and other services provided by nonprofit groups and consumer advocate compensation was reviewed.
Also discussed was the elimination of unconscionable terms, legalese or weasel words used in an airline's contract of carriage to negate airline liability for passenger breach of contract claims
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.