I will be drafting comments for FlyersRights.org today and submitting them tomorrow but I encourage all air travelers and organizations to submit their individual opposition to this ridiculous request by the airlines.
They are requesting to be allowed by the DOT to warehouse passengers on the tarmac for over 3 hours, without adequate food, water or even working toilet facilities, and not return to the terminal during the FAA sequester cuts in FAA air traffic controllers or for the next 90 days, whichever is longer.
This hard fought consumer rule was enacted in 2010 and already provides reasonable flexibility for situations involving safety, security or air traffic control orders. The DOT also has enforcement discretion which has resulted so far in no airline being fined anywhere near the maximum of $27,500 per passenger, zero fines for 90% of the cases involving violations of the three hour rule.
The rule has been highly successful, drastically reducing 3+ hour tarmac confinements by up to 98% (from 250,000 passengers per year to a still too high 5,000 per year since 2010), all with no significant adverse effects on airline operations.
FlyersRights.org is making a plea to the public who is already incensed by the sequester and the impact on their air travel, to do the same and document in any visible way their experiences with their flight delays and long on ground tarmac delays.
As of this AM there is 9 public comments against granting the airlines' suspension request and none for. The DOT needs to see that the public is firmly and massively against the airlines requested suspension of the Three Hour Rule. Please feel free to forward this email to all interested persons.
Just when you think things can't get worse with delays and cancellations from the FAA furloughs, now there's this.
The DOT is considering lifting the FlyersRights rule that says airplanes can't remain on the tarmac for a prolonged period of time before allowing passengers to deplane, according to a DOT release.
FlyersRights.org is strongly opposed to any suspension of the 3 hour rule which has successfully reduced lengthy tarmac confinements from victimizing 150,000 to 250,000 passengers per year to 5,000 per year since 2010 with no significant increases in cancellations or other operating problems.
Under our hard-fought tarmac-delay rules, carriers must provide food and water when a tarmac delay exceeds three hours for domestic fights or four hours for international flights.
Two airline associations, Airlines For America and the Regional Airline Association, have requested a waiver to our rule for at least 90 days or until the FAA furlough ends, arguing that the delays might make it difficult to comply with the rule, which comes with penalties of fines.
The DOT rule already has flexible provisions for air traffic control, safety, or security imposed delays and the DOT has discretion in whether to impose fines as well as the fine amounts.
Paul Hudson, FlyersRights.org president, noted that the "DOT has not imposed fines in 90% of 3 hour rule violation cases and has never imposed the large fines authorized of $27,500 per passenger."
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org called on DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Huerta explain to the public why it did not designate FAA air traffic controllers (ATC) as essential federal employees making them exempt from the sequestration and why it has not followed the principle of "graceful degradation" instead of across-the-board cuts at choke points like Chicago and New York City, which could cause massive nationwide flight delays.
FlyersRights.org also supports DOT in requiring a waiver of change fees and allowing passengers to fly on another airline with vacant seats when their flight is seriously delayed or cancelled.
As to what airline passengers can do in this unprecedented situation, in the short term we advise passengers to;
Check the FAA web site at www.fly.faa.gov for real time delay information by airport as well as their airline before they travel.
Report any delays over 2 hours, especially tarmac confinements to the FlyersRights hotline 1-877-FLYERS6 (877-359-3776) with airport name, airline, flight number and time of delay and reason given and circumstances and/or by email to email@example.com.
This will enable FlyersRights.org to build a database to advocate for a restoration of normal air traffic control services.
Contacting your Congressional representatives and the White House, as well as the DOT airline consumer complaint hotline should not be under estimated in importance.
Only when Congress and the White House feel public pressure, will finger pointing and band-aid reactions give way to sensible budget solutions for the federal government, which includes funding of air traffic control services that are clearly essential for air travelers and the functioning of the US economy.
"While employees are being furloughed across the federal government, the aviation system is unusually visible," said Hudson, "The federal government does not supply direct services to the American public in most areas - this is one that they do."
Members of Congress are "playing chicken" over the budget, amounting to "a direct shot to the throat of the economy as well as to air travelers directly."
FlyersRights.org founder Kate Hanni and current president, Paul Hudson (pictured), have been the group's vocal advocates for passenger's rights on airliners, and it was their efforts that eventually led to DOT rules that impose stiff fines against domestic airlines that allow planes to sit on the ground for more than three hours without offering passengers an opportunity to deplane.
The FAA furloughs kicked in Sunday despite a lawsuit filed by two airline trade associations and the Airline Pilots Association, and it's already causing frustration for travelers.
Federal officials say they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 FAA employees, including 15,000 air traffic controllers, if they are going to cut more than $600 million from the agency's budget by the end of September as required by the sequester cuts.
That means each employee will lose a day of work every other week.
As one might expect, fewer air traffic controllers means planes take off and land less often.
On behalf of our customers and employees, Delta is disappointed that furloughs of Federal Aviation Administration personnel will result in delays and cancellations across the national air transportation system. The FAA has advised Delta that furlough-driven delays are most likely to occur at the following 10 airports:
Los Angeles (LAX)
Delta will continue to do everything possible to mitigate these delays for our customers. As always, we encourage customers to check their flight status at delta.com or on the Fly Delta app before arriving at the airport.
Predicting delays that would stretch from coast to coast, the airline industry and the nation's largest pilots union joined forces last week to sue the FAA over its decision to furlough air traffic controllers.
However, the earliest the court is likely to schedule a hearing is sometime next week, after the furloughs have begun, said Nick Calio, head of Airlines for America, which represents major carriers.
FAA officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Airlines Want You Stuck On The Tarmac Over 3 Hours
Now that Federal Aviation Administration furloughs have gone into effect, the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering lifting our rule that says airplanes can't remain on the tarmac for more than three hours for domestic flights before allowing passengers to deplane.
Two airline industry associations filed a motion with the DOT requesting a moratorium on the FlyersRights' backed 3-hour rule for at least 90 days or until the FAA furloughs end.
They cite the "substantial delay and disruption to air travel that will occur at U.S. airports from the FAA decision to implement daily ground delays and reduce air traffic control personnel" as part of the federal spending cuts known as the sequester.
The airline associations argue that these delays might make it difficult to comply with the DOT tarmac delay rule, which comes with penalties for those who break it.
If the rule stays in place, the motion says airlines "may be forced to cancel flights and significantly disrupt the travel plans of their passengers."
Despite passengers paying high taxes to fund the FAA's air traffic control system, the FAA has decided to cut back operational funding.
"Shame on the FAA for slamming passengers with safety-slashing and delay-causing cuts to the air traffic control system," said Charlie Leocha, Director, Consumer Travel Alliance. "This is an unnecessary cut of services for which passengers pay each and every time they fly -- we are not getting what we are paying for."
Specifically, here are the user fees passengers pay:
7.5 percent Excise Tax
9/11 Security Fee = $2.50 per flight number to a maximum of $5 per one-way or $10 per roundtrip
Federal Segment Fee = $3.90 per takeoff or landing (maximum of $15.60)
Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) = up to $18
When traveling internationally, we have to pay additional user fees to take off and land, to have our passports checked and our luggage inspected for customs.
International Departure Tax = $17.20
International Arrival Tax = $17.20
Immigration user fee = $7
Customs user fee = $5.50
U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service fee = $5
Airline industry studies show that passengers are taxed at a higher federal rate than alcohol and tobacco. And now travelers aren't getting what they are paying earmarked taxes and fees for.
* Since 1990, the number of aviation taxes/fees has increased from six to 17; the total amount of taxes paid by the industry has grown from $3.7 billion to $17 billion over the same period.
* The tax burden on a typical $300 round-trip ticket has nearly tripled since 1972, rising from $22 (7 percent) to $61 (20 percent).
* Annually, airlines and their customers contribute $10 billion to $12 billion to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund; general aviation contributes about $200 million.
* Airlines and their customers already incur $3.4B-$3.8B per year in federally imposed security taxes/fees.
* Also, the FAA's budget has increased more than 100 percent over the last 15 years.
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) noted:
There are $2.7 billion in non-personnel Operations costs that should be examined before FAA personnel are furloughed.
Finding five percent in savings shouldn't need to significantly impact our nation's aviation operations. Businesses and families across the country face these issues in their budgets every day without massive impacts. We know that the FAA has the flexibility to reduce costs elsewhere, such as contracts, travel, supplies, and consultants, or to apply furloughs in a manner that better protects the most critical air traffic control facilities.
Leocha urges the FAA to take another look at their cuts. "At least keep New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago airspace fully staffed, he notes. "When delays show up in those regions, the domino effect is dramatic across the country according to study after study."
The Boston attacks have jolted Americans into a state of alert.
Travelers and residents of major American cities are likely to be more aware of suspicious people and packages on city buses, subways, Amtrak trains, at the nation's airports, and in public spaces.
Secure airports mean softer targets
Whatever the debate about carrying knives or liquids on airplanes, heightened security at the nation's airports in the years since the 9/11 attacks may have shifted terrorists' attention to softer targets.
"Once we secure a high-value target like aviation, terrorists don't simply walk away," says Rafi Ron, president of Virginia-based New Age Security Solutions and former head of security of Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. "They simply go for softer targets, public events like the Boston Marathon. It's extremely difficult if not impossible to provide the same level of security we do at the airport at such an open public event."
Security has been enhanced at transportation hubs "using measures both seen and unseen," the Department of Homeland Security said last week. The agency is urging Americans to report suspicious activity to local law enforcement.
Airports are still targets
While checkpoints and multi-layered security make airports more difficult to breach, that doesn't mean they're off the hook.
Making an airport secure isn't simply screening passengers before they enter an airport's boarding area, said global aviation consultant Mike Boyd of Boyd Group International. Airport officials must ensure that everything on the premises is secure.
"How many security observation sweeps are made of the parking garage? Have the vulnerabilities of the air conditioning systems been reviewed? Trash cans -- where are they located in regard to passenger flows? Are they blast-resistant? Is the catering facility across the field monitored? How about the fuel farm? How much scrutiny is given to the workers who are pouring concrete for that new taxiway?"
He also wants to know which law enforcement agency is in charge during an emergency and what the agency's plans are to secure and evacuate sections of the airport in case of an incident. Does an airport terminal's plan for evacuation simply send passengers outside, where they could be an easy target?
"Confusion is a terrorist's best friend," says Boyd.
In the face of a huge backlash from flight attendants and the public, the TSA postponed its plan to allow knives on US flights.
But the 90,000-member Flight Attendants Union Coalition, which has opposed the TSA's plan from the start, remains resolute: No Knives on Planes Ever Again.
Before TSA changes a rule it is legally required to issue a notice of rule-making, to allow all interested parties the opportunity to submit comments, and to fairly consider that input.
TSA did not comply with the rule-making requirements when it first announced its decision to allow knives on planes on March 5.
The Coalition is working diligently with members of Congress - Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) as well as Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) -- on legislation to permanently keep knives off planes.
In the wake of the horrific Boston terrorist bombing last week, now is not the time to weaken security and let down our guard.
The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing its approval for the Boeing 787 to fly up to three hours' distance from the nearest airport, raising the possibility the jet's routing may be constrained once the agency lifts the grounding of the Dreamliner fleet.
Such a restriction would further damage the plane's reputation and prevent airlines from taking full advantage of the jet's ultralong range on routes across the poles or vast tracts of ocean.
Some longer 787 flights, such as All Nippon Airways service between San Jose, Calif., and Tokyo, might have to use less direct routes that stick closer to continental coastlines and use more fuel.
The FAA is also reviewing the original ETOPS certification for the jet.
ETOPS stands for Extended Twin-engine Operations, and is granted based on reliability of an airplane's systems.
The 787 originally was awarded ETOPS certification to fly up to three hours from the nearest airport. The plane is designed to fly up to 9,400 miles nonstop.
Just before the battery problems emerged in January, Boeing had been expecting to have that certification extended to 5.5 hours.
It's important for the viability of the 787, as a twin-engine jet, that it can fly long routes previously available only to four-engine airplanes.
Any restriction on the ETOPS approval would be a blow to Boeing, which made the jet's long range and its ability to fly nonstop between almost any two cities on Earth a major selling point.
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Little Difference Between Legacy and Low-Cost Carriers
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Delta or AirTran? Southwest or American? Anybody in New York versus JetBlue? What is it that separates the legacy network from the low-fare carriers?
The airline terms "legacy carrier" and "low cost carrier" could soon become legacies themselves - anachronisms from a time before 2013 when there were differences between the two business models.
The blurring between discount airlines and legacy carriers began with 9/11 and continued through a period of rising oil prices and the 2008 recession.
It was actually a pretty good decade for the discounters, and if you were running one of the legacy airlines, you figured out it pays to be more like them.
But their first attempts failed as the big airlines created their own versions of discounters - remember United's Ted and Delta's Song? Then they copied the original product by slashing amenities in favor of fees and even more closely aligning airfare prices.
On-board, too, legacy carriers are looking less fancy. Complimentary in-flight food in economy class was banned a long time ago, as was in-flight magazines to save weight. Then fees for seat reservations, and still more for a window berth.
Here are the things you used to get for free on the legacy airlines, but no more:
Checked-bags (JetBlue and Southwest still offer free checked bags)
Meals in coach
Blankets and pillows
Extra legroom such as exit seat rows
Reservations made over the phone
Change fees (Southwest does not charge a change fee)
Gap in Airfare Prices Also Narrows
Another legacy/low-cost airline difference that's disappearing: the wide gap in ticket prices.
Last week we looked at round trip airfares from Los Angeles to Denver for the same dates in May, and here's what we found:
Frontier - non-stop: $210
American - non-stop: $210
United - non-stop: $217
Alaska - non-stop: $262
As you can see, the above prices run counter to conventional wisdom that the discounters always have the cheaper prices.
Tips to Finding Cheap Flights in Changing World
* Shop Tuesdays: Traditionally, airfare sales are launched early Tuesday and by about 3 p.m. eastern time.
* Fly in and out of large airports: Hub airports have more flights and are generally cheaper.
* Compare non-stops to connecting flights: In most cases, you pay a premium of between 20-60% for a non-stop flight - only you can say if the convenience is worth it.
* Be flexible: Often the cheapest flights are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and sometimes dirt cheap fares are available on overnight flights or at dawn. If you are flexible enough to take advantage of these deals, you can save big.
So, What Can Save the Airlines? Customer Service
And not just the obvious basics: the ability to speak to a human being when travel plans go awry. We're talking about the growing list of experience-driven extras.
Travelers will be more inclined to pay for in-flight and at-gate services like Wi-Fi, drinks and meals, gaming and access to onboard shopping portals if these services are delivered in a friendly and efficient, explanatory manner.
Even If You're Not A Celebrity, You Can Pay To Be Treated Like One At The Airport
Times used to be, breezing through airport security in front of everyone else and skipping lines during the boarding process was just for the wealthy and celebrities.
But then airlines started granting fast-track access to anybody with the right credit card or who was willing to shell out a few extra dollars. Since regular people are bypassing lines in security and buying up priority boarding access, airlines are trying to woo their true VIPs with elite experiences that can make a passenger feel like a celebrity, without having to actually be famous.
It's important to keep them happy, as in many cases a large chunk of revenue comes from the smallest set of passengers.
In one example of these super elite systems, American Airlines built a private check-in lobby in LAX where the special people are greeted by name, handed a preprinted boarding pass, and then brought to the front of the security line via elevator.
After getting through security, VIPs aren't left to fend for themselves in crowded terminals, with lounges-within-a-lounge, like Delta's Sky Club in New York.
American is even reconfiguring jet bridges to have the coach passengers board through the middle door on some planes, so not to traipse through first class on its transcontinental flights.
American's Five Star Service costs between $125 and $275 for the first passenger, depending on the airport. Each additional adult is $75; children are $50 extra. Delta's VIP Select, only available through the airline's corporate sales department or travel agents in the know, costs $125 for the first person, $75 for the second and $125 for each additional person, regardless of age. These fees are in addition to the price of a ticket.
The Ultimate List of Airlines That Serve Free Alcohol
As the airlines nickel-and-dime us for everything, we were surprised to learn that some airlines actually serve free alcoholic beverages onboard -- and not just to first class passengers.
If you're back in coach, there's no reason you can't have a glass of wine with your dinner.
Thanks to the website Maphappy, you can find a complete list of airlines that serve complimentary cocktails.
Last week we wrote about the recent denial of review by the US Supreme Court which should clear the way for the DOT to issue its long delayed rule requiring timely disclosure of hidden fees. Here is the link to that decision.
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Airline complaints surged 20% last year as airline passengers complained about being squeezed into smaller seats and flights that are becoming even more packed, according to data collected by the DOT.
Consumer complaints against U.S. airlines rose sharply in 2012, even as the carriers claimed a better record of on-time arrivals and luggage handling.
Those disparate findings, from a report released on Monday, highlight the continuing tug of war between an industry struggling to find ways to make money and a traveling public often unhappy with those choices.
As the population collectively grows broader, carriers keep shrinking the size of seats in order to stuff more people into planes. Empty middle seats that might provide a little more room have vanished.
Then there's the issue of overbookings, when ticketed passengers get turned away because an airline has sold too many seats.
United Airlines had the highest consumer complaint rate of the 14 airlines included in the report, with 4.24 complaints per 100,000 passengers.
Airlines that overbook used to be able to find a passenger who would volunteer to give up a seat in exchange for cash, a free ticket or other compensation with the expectation of catching another flight. Not anymore. Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights, said airline customer service has been steadily decreasing for the past 30 years.
"Every decade since the 1980s the industry has gotten slower in its performance and less reliable. Prior to that, it got faster and more reliable every decade," said Hudson.
He says his group would like to see more pressure from the federal government on airlines to provide passengers with more support for excessive flight delays, overlooking, the amount of room provided for passengers and lost luggage.
"We're at a break-point here - a fork in the road," he says. "We've pretty much come to the end of the line with the philosophy of deregulation will solve all the problems. Clearly that has failed. People need to realize they are in a black hole when it comes to consumer rights with the airlines."
He urges consumers to contact their members of Congress to urge greater regulation and more consumer rights for airline passengers. Hudson also suggests that consumers take advantage of the tools available to them to help avoid some of the common problems.
He recommends the following:
Check on the on-time statistic for a flight before booking (you can find the data on www.flightstats.com).
Travel without checking bags to keep down fees and keep your property with you. Even if you check bags, make sure you keep essential medicines with you on the plane.
Look at weather reports for potential delays both the day you fly and the day before.
Compensate for the typical lack of food available on-board by planning meals prior to traveling.
Know the airline's policy on cancellations and changing flights prior to booking.
Use the major travel sites to compare air fares and schedules.
Going, Going, Sold! Travelers Bid on Seat Upgrades
There's a new trend developing among many international airlines that appears to be gaining traction: "Upgrade auction," where passengers bid against each other for seats in business or first class.
It's already available on seven international airlines and some frequent flyers aren't too happy.
Upgrading a coach ticket into business or first class traditionally requires redeeming miles or spending a fixed amount of cash. Elite frequent flyers also receive upgrades for free or by using certificates bestowed on them for their loyalty.
The way it works is, several days before your flight, the airline contacts you and asks if you'd like to bid for a seat in the next class of service. The airline sets either a minimum bid or a bidding range. You put in your offer, wait a couple of days, and if yours was the winning bid, the airline notifies you to complete the transaction. If not, you're not any poorer.
Upgrade auctions are currently available on Virgin Atlantic, Czech Airlines, El Al, TAP Portugal, Brussels Airlines, Etihad, Air New Zealand and Copa Airlines. They are powered by a platform created by the U.S.-based company PlusGrade.
While no U.S. airline has yet to introduce an auction format for upgrades, it's likely only a matter of time. Airlines see this as a potential gold mine since they don't make money from empty seats.
Some feel that auctions will erode the value of airline loyalty programs, which often give elite (or even non-elite) members first dibs on upgrade seats.
Hidden Airline Fees Are Not A Form Of "Free Speech"
That asterisk is gone for good from airfare prices now that the U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed an airline-industry challenge to making all airlines prominently display the total cost of a ticket.
Several U.S. airlines argued that it's unfair for them to have to disclose the total cost of a ticket to passengers, but the Supreme Court begged to differ.
Ever since the DOT told U.S. airlines they'd have to advertise the total cost of a ticket when touting their fares, the industry has been fighting back.
Spirit Airlines Inc., with support from Southwest Airlines Co. and Allegiant Air LLC, argued that the rule violated carriers' freedom of speech by preventing them from emphasizing the impact myriad fees and taxes have on their total costs.
Airlines don't like this because it makes it seem like their fares are more expensive.
The Supreme Court also kept the requirement in place that airlines have to let customers cancel reservations without penalty within a 24-hour window or at least let them hold seats for that time without paying.
"This is the fairest way of travelling. There are no extra fees in terms of excess baggage or anything - it is just a kilo is a kilo," chief executive Chris Langton told ABC Radio.
Less happy will be those who see the move as discriminatory against large people. However, families buying seats for their children will be rather more pleased.
This type of pricing may not make sense for larger carriers because it would be inconvenient to verify passenger weight and the long lines would be a problem.
Putting airline baggage fees into place "took years," air travel analyst Rick Seaney told FareCompare. Adding policies that deal with passenger weight would likely take even longer.
Plus, overweight passengers could find ways to escape extra fees, possibly through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Any airline that tried the system "would probably be quickly boycotted and picketed by half a dozen equality organizations," argued Craig LaRosa, a principal at Continuum, an innovation and design consultancy.
Then there's the question of how customers would react to being put on a scale by airlines - an extra indignity on top of the seemingly endless fees and TSA screenings they already endure.
While a pay-by-weight system would not fly for a major airline, something like it might work for smaller and budget operations, like Spirit, offering a discount to low-weight passengers.
Ten years from now, stepping on a scale before going through security could be just one more indignity central to the flying experience.
"Fly the Friendly Skies?"
United Airlines vs. Passengers
United Airlines has taken a beating lately, and rightfully so. From a flight diversion after parents questioned the appropriateness of an in-flight movie for kids, to a travel writer thrown off a UAL flight for snapping photo of his seat, recent news has not reflected well on the airline.
Walter Wilson, FlyersRight member, pilot and airline dispatcher, sees a trend with the United Airlines crew. He gave his thoughts to FlyersRights:
"Presumably most of the larger carriers have older crew members," Wilson said. "Relatively newer airlines such as JetBlue, Southwest/AirTran, Republic Airways Holding's Frontier, etc. typically have younger crew members."
Wilson continued, "Older crews, disgruntled because of the consolidation with Continental, sometimes take a no-nonsense approach with passengers that can seem very cold and often perceived as just plain rude".
"They have been dealing with their internal issues and in turn take it out on their customers," Wilson explained. "Sadly, they have the Federal Aviation Regulation on their side which they can abuse, with somewhat of a power trip, as passengers must follow crew members instructions."
Outrage of the Week!
Another Baggage Handler Accused of Stealing, $84K in Belongings.
This week A baggage handler at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport was arrested after prosecutors say he was caught on video stealing $84,000 in valuables from passengers' bags.
According to ABC News, the 23-year-old man is accused of stuffing guns, jewelry, watches and more into his backpack over an eight-month period.
As one expert points out, this kind of thing keeps happening again and again simply because there are always going to be times when no one is watching the bags.
And because TSA officials don't encourage using locks on your luggage, as agents would just have to cut them off to inspect bags anyway, what's a passenger to do to safeguard their valuables? The best and probably the safest solution? Unfortunately, it's probably just: Don't fly with valuables.
Thanks to FlyersRights member, JR, for the tipoff!
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If it hasn't happened to you yet, it will. As the number of air travelers grows, so does the chance you may find yourself left behind.
The percentage of seats filled rose to 82.8% last year, the highest for scheduled air service since 1945. Now, a delayed or canceled flight can wreak havoc on a planned excursion.
FlyersRights President Paul Hudson spoke at length toThe Wall Street Journal's Middle Seat columnist Scott McCartney, last week on this topic. Here are some excerpts.
"Passengers have very few rights and many of the ones on paper are not really enforced," said Mr. Hudson. "One of the biggest problems is that Congress exempted airlines from state laws so consumers can only take disputes to federal court, not state court. That raises the cost and the legal threshold to sue an airline."
"In every other industry you have consumer protection laws that are state and local," Mr. Hudson said. "Airlines argue they can't be regulated by patchwork state laws, but Wal-Mart is."
DOT says over the last four years it has taken a more aggressive stance on passenger rights, pushing through regulations to curb long tarmac delays, increasing compensation for ticketed passengers involuntarily bumped from flights and requiring airlines to display the full price of airfares. Airlines now let passengers either cancel or hold a reservation without penalty for 24 hours and reimburse baggage fees if bags are lost.
Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood grew outraged at passengers stuck on planes for nine-plus hours in deplorable conditions. With FlyersRights, he pushed through hefty penalties for airlines that keep people on planes longer than three hours. The tarmac delay rule has dramatically curbed lengthy strandings.
Passengers have some other protections:
*Airlines typically provide meals and hotels when travelers are stranded overnight due to an airline problem, though not because of weather or other exceptions.
*When airlines lose bags, they're on the hook to pay out as much as $3,300 per passenger for domestic trips. (Carriers set the value of possessions lost, however.)
*Fliers bumped from overbooked flights and stuck for hours are entitled to four times their ticket price, up to $1,300, on the spot in cash.
Last year Congress created a four-member committee to advise the DOT on what passenger protections were needed.
The panel, which included airline and airport officials, advocated some basic principles like knowing the cost of the entire trip before purchasing a ticket.
The only firm recommendation? That DOT require airports and airlines to provide "animal relief areas."
A confrontation is brewing as states and perhaps Congress move to overturn TSA knife policy.
Paul Hudson, FlyersRights president, will be testifying at the hearing and the public can attend and submit statements.
Newark Liberty Airport: 4 Screeners Fired and Dozens Suspended For Incompetent Baggage Screening
After a yearlong investigation of lax luggage screening procedures at Newark Airport the TSA fired four of its employees and suspended numerous others last week.
Back in 2011, the airport initiated a probe as a result of numerous reports of items being stolen from checked luggage in a baggage screening room inside Terminal B. This soon broadened into an investigation of lax baggage screening led by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security.
With the help of hidden cameras, the TSA caught dozens of screeners failing to physically search bags that had been flagged during the X-ray screening. The investigators also accused managers and supervisors of failing to ensure that bags were being searched properly. The implicated employees range from entry-level transportation screening officers to the airport's TSA leadership team.
A few weeks ago, an undercover inspector managed to get through two security checkpoints while carrying a fake bomb in his pants. The inspector was then cleared to get on to the plane.
Events like this one call for far better implementations of security procedures. One of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 took off from Newark.
Outrage of the Week!
Lost Airport Merchandise Sold at Local Goodwill Stores
A storage area of the Goodwill store in Little Havana looks like TSA's lost and found.
They purchased over 800 suitcases that were at TSA's lost and found and plan to open each and every one of them, process it, and then sell it on the floor.
"About two days ago, we were able to send the Goodwill trucks to the lost and found of the airport," said Lourdes De la Mata-Little, "and we were able to receive two truckloads and spent two days of bringing the luggage over. Goodwill is getting all of the stuff that was left behind, and no, it's not just suitcases. There's lot of boxes, a lot of loose items, belts, sunglasses, accessories."
"This is a brand new men's two-piece suit," said a Goodwill employee.
DOJ Objects to Huge Payout for AA CEO
Payday: American Airlines CEO Tom Horton is slated to receive $20million for stepping down if his company completes a merger with USAir.
One of the most surprising developments of the American Airlines/US Airways merger was the AA airline unions' silence about the massave $19.9 million golden parachute provided to their top exec.
This is clearly a case of the unions wanting to get rid of hated management, no matter what the cost. Fortunately, the Department of Justice is not letting this bonus -unheard of in bankruptcies - move forward. The U.S. Trustee questions whether the payment is permissible.
On Feb. 22, eight days after the merger was announced as the vehicle for AMR to exit from bankruptcy protection, the two airlines filed a motion outlining some salary and benefit increases for AMR's non-union customer service, reservations and support employees, as well as for front-line management and senior executives. For the executives, the arrangements include incentive plans, awards related to the merger integration, severance benefits and a retention program.
The U.S. Trustee said in Friday's filing that the parties failed to "identify the actual beneficiaries of these programs, what dollar values are involved, and other relevant information." The document also questioned whether the nearly $20 million payment to Mr. Horton is permissible under bankruptcy law, and pointed out that it is more than 10 times the amount of the mean severance pay to be given to non-management employees.
Your Rule at Work!
DOT Fines Caribbean Airlines in Lengthy Tarmac Delay
Caribbean Airlines (Air Jamaica) Boeing 737-8Q8 9Y-BGI. By Igor Koltsov.
DOT reported that Caribbean Airlines, a carrier based in Trinidad and Tobago, violated federal rules last August by not providing passengers with an opportunity to leave a plane that was delayed on the tarmac at New York's JFK Airport for more than four hours.
In addition, the carrier failed to provide customers with food and water until almost four hours after the plane left the gate during the tarmac delay. DOT fined Caribbean Airlines $100,000 and ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further violations.
Under DOT rules, foreign airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats that fly to and from U.S. airports are prohibited from allowing their aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than four hours without giving passengers on board an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons. There is a three-hour limit for tarmac delays on domestic flights.
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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.