Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
New Year resolution: Forget 2013. 

Last year saw seats shrinking in the coach cabin, airlines charging passengers for everything that used to be free, and even congressional leaders found a way to increase passenger fees.

Here are five resolutions to make this year the 'Year of the Passenger'.

Resolution for the Airline Industry:

We, the airline industry, resolve to remember that ours is a service business. 
We will strive to make it a better world for air travelers. We will comply with the rules and requirements on overbooking, baggage and tarmac delays.
We understand air travel is now barbaric, so to create some goodwill we resolve to be on time and be nice. We will also stop making the seats smaller and closer together.
We resolve to not charge outrageous prices for the opportunity to have one's luggage pillaged, lost or stolen.
In cases of adverse weather events, we will have updated backup plans and crew reserves available to avoid the ripple effect of cancelled flights and widespread passenger misery.

We resolve to abide by some basic principles, like enlightening the passenger to the full cost of the entire trip before purchasing a ticket.

Resolution for Airports: 

We, the airports, recognize that the airport experience bears a strong resemblance to an emergency shelter. 
This is not only due to the lack of cleanliness (compared to most airports in other countries whose airports are far cleaner and customer-friendly!), but also the poor baggage handling facilities, lengthy and cumbersome check-in process and a gauntlet of intimidating security measures.  Most importantly, whenever flights are cancelled or diverted, it leaves passengers stuck in these miserable conditions, for which they are completely unprepared.  We agree to develop a long-term strategy to improve these conditions and a set of proactive contingency plans to handle virtually any problems that may arise.  We resolve to make passenger safety, comfort and convenience our number one priority.
We also resolve to provide free, secure wi-fi to our customers to keep them connected to their families, friends and business associates.

Resolution for the Department of Transportation: 

We, the DOT, resolve to strongly enforce existing passenger rights laws for the airlines and airport facilities and to address violations in a timely and aggressive manner.

Resolution for the Transportation Security Administration:

We, the TSA, resolve to get you to your plane in a civilized manner without arbitrary confiscations and cavity searches.  And you should not have to buy your way to civility with elite registrations and V.I.P. statuses. 
Resolution from the Flightdeck:

We, the captain and first officer, resolve to keep passengers truthfully informed. When delays are caused by a mechanical problem, passengers will not be told it is weather to avoid issuing monitary compensation or vouchers, etc.  
We realize that when the crew represents a cancellation or delay as being weather, when it is mechanical, we are defrauding passengers out of compensation to which they are legally entitled.  
When Airlines Are Quick to Cancel due to Weather
(Photo : Flickr)
Last Thursday through Sunday, airlines canceled more than 13,600 flights. An additional 4,400 had been canceled by midafternoon on Monday. 

Yesterday The New York Times quoted Paul Hudson, FlyersRights' president on the situation:

Paul Hudson, president of, a consumer group, says he thinks the industry profits by mishandling weather-related cancellations and rebookings. He suggests that the Transportation Department address the issue, just as it did in 2010 after it began imposing stiff fines against airlines for excessive tarmac delays that kept passengers on idled planes for hours.

During bad weather, Mr. Hudson said, "Many airlines prefer to dump costs on passengers and have the entire country suffer from an air transportation slowdown, rather than having the reserves to do proper contingency planning."

Pilot and airline dispatcher, W. Wilson told FlyersRights, "Some flights were canceled in places where there was no bad weather." That's because airlines have reduced schedules and there is little slack to handle disruptions. As airlines cancel flights and shift equipment and crews, sometimes well in advance of anticipated bad weather, the effects radiate out throughout the entire domestic system - including in places where the weather is good - and into the vast international networks."

"Traveler misery is often compounded at airports, as stranded passengers, some unable to rebook flights until days later, confront the reality that airlines are not required to provide a hotel room or meal vouchers for cancellations caused by weather or other 'acts of God.'"
Under new rules that began on Saturday, scheduling must factor in flights when pilots report for work late at night or early in the morning, because of possible fatigue.

Mr. Wilson continued, "The airlines try to slip in the weather excuse for a delay when it was a factor for crews being timed out, (rest regulations), so compensation to passengers, even though it is partially the airline's fault for not having ample and proper crew placement because of weather delays/cancellations, will still be questionable as the airlines hope to blame something else to eliminate or reduce the inconvenienced customer's compensation."

"This is something FlyersRights may want to take closer look at," he said. "It has always been the case of course, but I see it more prominent now as the airlines struggle to keep pilot hiring to a minimum to meet the new rest/duty regulations."

A new year means more letters to FlyersRights! 

Question: Dear FlyersRights, I recently sent the following letter to British Air:

British Airways Customer Relations USA
Dear Sir/Madam:

I beg you to waive the second of two $1000 change fees charged to my Bank of America credit card account.  I called on December 2 to change the date of our two Dec. 5, 2013 tickets from Copenhagen to New York City because of ongoing treatment for my Achilles tendon injury. I agreed to the surprising, rather expensive $500 per ticket fee, since I really had little option. However, when the confirmation e-mail arrived, I immediately noticed that the date was incorrectly stated as April 15, which was impossible, because it was a month before our confirmed arrival in Copenhagen by ship.  
In less than one and one-half hours from the original call, I telephoned back to correct the date to May 15.  I don't know if I had mistakenly given the incorrect information or if the incorrect date was inserted on your end, but I was told that nothing could be done to negate a second $1000 change fee charge. The response was something like "rulers are rules and nothing can be done".  
A three way conversation with Bank of America, a British Air  representative, and me produced the same unfortunate outcome.  Even assuming that it was my error in confusing the fourth for the fifth month,  I think that the second fee is exorbitant and patently unfair.  Please help me rectify this unfortunate, overly expensive circumstance.

Yours truly,


A change fee of $1,000 per ticket is clearly exorbitant for a flight months away, especially for a change that was quickly corrected and may have been due to an airline error.  This type of airline charge would be prohibited in the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 point three which would limit change fees to no more than 200% over the cost to the airline, probably about $100 in your case. 
Under US DOT rules you can change or cancel a reservation within 24 hours and receive a full refund without penalty if the reservation was made at least one week prior to the departure date.  British Airways contract of carriage states that "amendment or cancellation charges will be applied to your booking as determined by the country of departure, currency booked in and any special conditions attached to the product you have chosen."  Accordingly, the airline should refund the extra $1,000 it charged you, and if it does not, you can file a complaint with the US DOT against the airline.  You may also seek relief in small claims court, though the airline has the right to remove the case to US District Court. 

The US DOT still has the power to regulate international airfare change fees to reasonable amounts, but as a matter of policy has declined to do so since domestic fares were deregulated.  Separately, it also has the power to prohibit "deceptive or unfair" airline practices, but has so far declined to do so where regulation would directly impact air fares and extra fees. 
Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights

Q. Paul and Kate,

I just came across your organization after doing some research on flyers rights as a result of my experience with Delta in the last 24 hours.  I flew Delta to Detroit over the holiday and on the flight they offered complimentary headsets (the 15-cent earbuds). On my return flight, I realized I had left my own pair back at the departure destination.  So, the next time a flight crew member walked by, I asked him for a pair of complementary headsets only to be told that I have to pay 2 dollars for the pair.  I mentioned that they were complementary on the other flight, only to be told that I either pay or not get a headset.  Normally, I wouldn't really care that much about this, but the corporate inconsistency really bugged me (in addition to the general bad attitude exhibited by the individual attendant), so I emailed Delta to ask for a policy clarification. 
Here's what I wrote to them initially: 
"Message: I just asked one of the flight attendants for a complimentary set of headphones. He responded that those are only free on international flights. However, the flight crew on 822 to Detroit did give out the headphones for free. Your policy is a bit confusing. Regardless, it's a cheap, 2-dollar pair of earbuds. Why I have to basically beg for a pair is beyond me. It's not your flight crew's fault they're being stingy and following what I believe is protocol, but still, these are 2 dollar headphones we're talking about, not a bottle of Jack Daniels. You guys need to, and can, do better than that." 
And here's the email I received in reply:

Hello Anton,
RE: Case Number 10685677
Thank you for expressing your dissatisfaction when our flight attendant asked for a fee for a headset.
I'm sorry you were not happy with our decision to charge you for a headset on your recent flight. For future reference, you can always bring your own headset. We don't charge anything if you choose to use personal headphones, and you'll have more control of the quality and comfort.
We Hear You!
I will be sure to forward your comments on to our Revenue Management. We'll use your feedback to help us improve our service.
As a loyal SkyMiles member, we've enjoyed serving you on many of our flights. Thanks for being so loyal to Delta.
Ashley P. Josh
You Share, We Care"
Clearly the "We hear you" slogan is just empty PR.  Nowhere did the representative answer my question about the policy, and the level of condescension thrown toward a frequent flyer is something that I believe warranted an email to your organization, even if for no other reason but to continue to provide you with examples of terrible customer service in order to use those examples to hopefully affect a change. 
All of us frequent flyers appreciate the effort you folks are putting in to make a positive difference for future travelers. 
Best Regards,

A. Airlines generally do not admit mistakes to avoid liability, expense and losing face.  This can lead to an ingrained corporate culture of arrogance and patronizing customers.  This is counterproductive as admitting a mistake or changing or clarifying a policy for a $2 item would clearly go a long way to build good customer relations and loyalty. 

Some airlines have adopted a policy of "the customer is always wrong, and we just need to placate them with rhetoric."  You may receive a better answer by directing your complaint to the CEO and to head of Customer Relations at Delta and following up with the Revenue Dept. Finally, the fact that your complaint will now be seen by many thousands of other Delta customers in this newsletter may also help. 

Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights

Q. I appreciate the work Flyers Rights is doing. Frankly, though, petitions and small changes in the law aren't going to make a fundamental difference.

What has fundamentally turned air travel into an ordeal is price competition. Airlines know that passengers want the lowest price, regardless of how uncomfortable or even degrading the flight is. Pricing deregulation worked pretty well for some years, but that was in a completely different economic atmosphere. Today and as far as one can predict, cost cutting by the airlines will continue to make passengers in cattle class miserable.

Price deregulation must end. I don't care for the idea of bureaucrats setting airfares, but it's better than the current insanity. There is no God-given right to cheap flights for everyone. The ticket buyer needs to pay enough for airlines to feel confident of making a decent profit -- not a killing, just a reasonable return. In other businesses, the customer pays what the seller asks or doesn't buy. Why should airlines be different?

Then airlines would compete on service and amenities, not chiseling away every vestige of comfort. I realize that the U.S. has no say over what airlines based in other countries charge, but at least we could greatly improve domestic service -- and international travelers might rediscover the value of paying a little more for a better experience.


A. In theory, competition by many providers of a service drives down prices, and improves quality and promotes efficiency and innovation.  So called free markets also depend on rules to enforce fair competition, especially in something potentially life threatening like air travel.  
Government regulation of air safety, security, plus financial stability and minimum standards of comfort is both essential and the worldwide norm.  
Without regulation and enforcement, we would have situations like the Titanic where cost cutting led to a lack of life boats, means of egress for steerage passengers, and ignoring of safety standards causing massive loss of life.

Since airline deregulation, there has been a lowering of airfares and a proliferation of routes and flights, but also a reduction of comfort, service, reliability, often an increase in travel times and in recent years a drastic reduction in the number of airlines.  

The answer, we think, is reasonable regulation to fix the problems that price deregulation has generated, not a return to re-regulation of prices.  Also, pro-competition measures like opening up US domestic air travel to foreign airlines may be needed to prevent the four remaining large airlines from siginificantly raising prices.

 If price regulation is needed (and this needs to be carefully studied and debated) it should be in the direction of minimums and maximums within very broad ranges. 
Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights

Q. I just read your year-end newsletter. You were wrong about the knives. What the TSA wanted to allow were knives so small they could not be used as a weapon of any consequence. What you've done was you made an emotional decision, not one based on fact. The TSA was right on that one. Other groups did the same thing, even some who should have known better. (No, I don't work for the TSA.)

Also, I don't like the small seats either, but let the market place decide that issue. If people don't want to sit in the small seats, let them choose another airline. Our government is supposed to be a Constitutional a Republic with limited powers, and our market place is supposed to be one based on Capitalism. Keep government out of things they have no constitutional authority to be in, and let the marketplace determine the available seating. Lobby the airlines on this one, not government.


A. The knives to be permitted by TSA were similar to if not more dangerous than those used by the 9/11 terrorists to kill nearly 3,000.  
The TSA decision to reverse itself on knives was based on good reasons: overwhelming opposition from flight attendants, TSA security screeners, many security experts and passenger interest groups, excepting only the knife lobby, which had secretly lobbied for the policy change.

Since airline deregulation, the mantra has been the market will correct any problems  and abuses. However, unfettered markets can easily lead to dangerous conditions: price fixing, bribery, monopolies, cartels, and other deceptive, corrupt and unfair but highly profitable practices. 

The US Constitution does not enshrine unfettered capitalism, but merely prohibits barriers to interstate commerce. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 has had the extraordinary effect, due to judicial interpretation, of exempting airlines from all state and local consumer protection and tort law that apply to all other corporations (excepting only negligence causing physical injury or death). 

Airline seat size and padding are unregulated and can now be reduced by airlines to the point of threatening health and safety, as well as comfort. Passengers cannot easily choose seat size type by changing airlines, especially now that only four airlines (American, Delta, United and Southwest) control over 80% of all domestic flights.

The Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 calls for a moratorium on further seat size reductions while the FAA sets minimum seat standards.

Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights 
Request for Volunteer Assistance!
FlyersRights needs someone with some time and some flying experience to help with answering the Hotline and/or replying to emails that come in. 
Contact Joel Smiler, Hotline Director, at
Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights

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