Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Proposed Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0
Paul Hudson, President
Background and History of Air Travel since 1978
It has now been 35 years since the airline industry was deregulated as to fares, schedules, and service. Long past time for the Federal Government to review the law and correct the abuses, inefficiencies and unintended consequences that have degraded the nation’s public air transportation system in many ways.

Prior to the enactment of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (ADA), air travel times decreased in each decade and reliability improved. Airlines were regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) which approved flight schedules, airfares, conditions and standards of service. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controlled the number of flights at major airports which prevented congestion and operated the air traffic control system directly.

Aircraft were placed in service each decade that were faster, more reliable, flight crews were better paid, and had arguably higher standards of training and experience. Finally, airport capacity increases and additions in the 1950s through the 1960s kept up with increased air traffic.

Since 1978, there has been no net increase in major US airports, so the skies around major cities such as New York and Chicago, whose need for an additional airport have been blocked by entrenched special interests, have become more and more congested. Deregulated airlines have discontinued the use of wide-bodied jets carrying up to 500 passengers in favor of more frequent flights with narrow bodied airliners and regional jets carrying 20 to 140 passengers, thereby negating the principal strategy for increasing airport capacity. Airport authorities enjoy exemptions from most antitrust law and lack any significant representation of airline passenger consumer interests, so that they are permitted to and regularly do engage in anticompetitive behavior that drives up air travel costs and increases air travel delays and passenger inconvenience.

Regulations requiring minimum reserve capacity of equipment and flight crews have been allowed to lapse. So have rules that allowed passengers on a significantly delayed or canceled flight to use their ticket on another airline’s flight at no additional cost (known as Rule 240 or reciprocity rule), and as have regulations requiring other airlines to honor a bankrupt airlines R 1 tickets.

Flight delays since 1980 of over one hour have increased dramatically. This situation not only inconveniences, stresses and results in hardship for airline passengers, but also burdens airlines and the entire economy. The US economy depends upon safe, convenient, relatively low cost air travel, as this is the primary and often only means of long distance transportation.

Airfares declined about 50% from 1980 to 2009, but have increased rapidly since 2010 especially when fees and taxes are included. Customer service by nearly any definition has declined.

Tarmac Delays and Confinements

In 2007, it was discovered and proven by that stranding and involuntary confinement on the tarmac was far more prevalent than previously thought based on a few publicized incidents. It was admitted in June 2007 by the US Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) that airlines were not reporting and BTS was not requiring them to report most long on ground delays, delays for diverted flights, cancelled flights and multiple gate return flights. These statistics were “lost in space” and not reported for time on the tarmac. New regulations were then adopted and the first report for October 2008 showed over 50 flights (which would imply 120,000 passengers per year) were delayed on the ground over 3 hours, though some analysts believe even those statistics greatly underreported these delays.

There was a strong financial incentive that the flight crews had to pull away from the gate (and not go back) even if they knew the flight is not taking off for a long time, if at all. Nearly all airlines only pay flight  attendants & pilots their full wages from the time that the cabin door closes, and some pay nothing for time spent with the aircraft at the terminal gate. (fka Coalition for a Passengers Bill of Rights (CAPBOR)), the Aviation Consumer Action Project (ACAP), Public Citizen, Consumers Union, US PIRGs, New York State and several other state governments, the Business Travel Coalition and even some former airline executives all supported a 3 hour rule to give passengers the opportunity to deplane if a flight is delayed more than 2 hours and to require that water, food, and sanitary facilities be provided.

The DOT in December 2009 took major steps to reduce delays caused by congestion by enacting regulations that discouraged over scheduling of flight times. By enacting a version of Truth in Scheduling that ACAP had long advocated, there has been a major reduction in chronically delayed flights and virtually elimination of deceptively scheduled flights. Airlines had previously had a financial incentive to schedule take offs and landings at the most popular times at major airports far in excess of airport capacity and then blame delays on air traffic control or weather. Now they must disclose on time statistics for their flights to the public, explain to the DOT chronically late flights and eliminate deceptively scheduled flights.

Passenger service regulations were slightly strengthened in 2012 in the FAA reauthorization legislation, but much, much more is needed both to improve air transportation service and for basic consumer protection in the increasingly concentrated airline industry., after extensive consultations, has developed the following Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 (APBOR 2.0), which after receiving comments from its members and the traveling public is being will be presented for introduction in Congress and to the US Department of Transportation.


Seat Space, Airfare, Fees Standards and Definitions

1. “Airfare” means the price including all taxes and fees for air transportation and ticket and boarding pass issuance from a originating airport to a final destination airport and includes a seat (at least 18 inches in width with leg room and other specifications and aisle width certified for comfort, safety and health by the FAA), one carry on piece of baggage that will fit in an overhead container not exceeding 40 pounds and one personal item that will fit under a seat, plus one piece of checked baggage under 50 pounds, water, adequate food nutrition on flights lasting over 2 hours, plus toilet and hand washing facilities.

Current situation: The lack of a statutory definition of airfare and the unbundling of airline charges and addition of dozens of fees has allowed airlines to define down the term airfare to an increasingly meaningless base price, which in turn leads to deceptive advertising. Seat size and passenger space is generally unregulated and has resulted in aggressive reduction in size, leg room, aisle width, recliner pitch by airlines to increase revenue by squeezing in more passengers and adding new seat fees.

Bank interest rates, gasoline prices and octane ratings, hotel room rates and most other prices charged and advertised to the traveling public must meet defined disclosure standards. This enables consumers to price shop and prevents deceptive price advertising, price confusion, and unfair competition.

2. Fees not included in the airfare must be conspicuously disclosed in advance of ticket purchase and shall be published and delivered in conventional machine-readable form to all third party ticket sellers the same as airfares.

Current situation: Airlines have resisted disclosing their frequently changing fees in timely machine readable form to third party ticket sellers making price shopping by consumers increasingly difficult, as the lowest airfare from one airline when necessary fees are included will often cost more than a competing airline. Dozens of extra fees are now buried in airline web sites, not clearly disclosed. This leads to deceptive advertising of air travel costs.

3. Fees not included in airfare shall not be exorbitant, defined as in excess of 200% over the cost to the airline of the service or benefit or feature.

Current situation: The DOT has the authority and duty to prohibit “unfair or deceptive” airline practices but has never done so to rein in airline fees such as baggage fees over $100 or more per checked bag, change or cancellation fees of $200, and other fees far in excess of airline cost. The DOT authority is ambiguous without statutory clarification in light of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

4. Fees totaling over $50 per passenger shall be subject to ticket taxes the same as airfares.

Current situation: Airline fees are not subject to airline ticket taxes which fund federal air safety, air traffic control, and subsidize airports. This tax loophole for airline fees if not closed will drain the aviation transportation trust fund. Such fees in the past 5 years have increased exponentially and now represent about 20% of airline revenue. One airline, Spirit, has 74 listed passenger fees in addition to its airfares
5. “Service” in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 preemption clause means the air transportation from point A to point B on a published schedule, and does not include other things that an airline does or fails to do in the course of its operations which may violate state common law torts such as fraud, false  imprisonment, deceit, intentional inflictions of emotional distress, negligence, or breach of contract, or state or local consumer, civil rights, health and safety regulations not in conflict with federal regulations or laws.

Current situation: The presumed legislative intent of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 was to deregulate airfares and most scheduling and route decisions and to prevent states from reregulating the airlines economically, not to exempt airlines from all state tort and consumer protection laws and common law.

However, airlines, by judicial decisions broadly interpreting the term service in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 to include all things an airline does in the course of its operations to or for a passenger, have been effectively exempted and given immunity for violation of all state and local consumer protection and contract law doctrines and laws, health and safety statutes, and all common law torts. The only exceptions are negligence resulting in physical injury or death, certain criminal and civil rights statutes.

All such laws protecting consumers and fair competition apply to other entities providing services to the traveling public such as hotels, restaurants, ground transportation, tour operators, travel agencies, bars, stores, and places of public entertainment.

6. “Force Majeure” or “Acts of God” as used in airline contracts of carriage includes severe weather, and other serious natural and manmade disasters and occurrences, but does not include lack of airline personnel or aircraft in airworthy condition, supplies or other conditions reasonably within the control of an airline certified to provide air transportation service to the general public.

Current situation: Airlines are unilaterally redefining force majeure in contracts of carriage to include things not normally within the common meaning of the term in order to relieve themselves of normal breach of contract liability for matters that are within their control such as maintenance and crew availability.

7. The FAA shall issue minimum standards and specifications for seat width, padding, reclining, size, pitch, leg room, aisle width for passenger comfort, safety and health within 180 days of enactment, in consultation with an advisory committee to be composed of representatives from airline passenger advocacy organizations, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and including at one physician, ergonomic engineer, senior citizen, disabled air traveler, overweight person, disabled person, and at least six American air travelers representing a cross section of air travelers by age, height, weight, and gender. Until such standards are adopted, there shall be a moratorium on reductions in seat size, width, padding, pitch, and aisle width.

Current situation: Except for aisle width to emergency exits and strength, there are no seat or passenger space regulations. Airlines are now aggressively reducing seat and passenger space on both new and existing airliners to squeeze more revenue out by adding more seats, charging extra for what had previously been standard seat space, to the point that passengers are loudly complaining and health and safety is threatened.

The World Health Organization has reported a major increase in life threatening blood clots caused by lengthy immobility in cramped spaces. Narrow aisle widths make timely emergency evacuation difficult and increase normal loading and unloading times. Even Airbus, the only airliner maker other than Boeing has called for international standards for passenger comfort, especially on long haul flights. Passengers have grown heavier and older in the past 50 years, while seat sizes have shrunk and without standards will shrink even more.

Traveler Delay Avoidance & Mitigation
For many decades by far the largest number of consumer complaints to the DOT has involved flight delays. Starting in 1980, each decade has seen air travel times increase and excessive flight delays become more prevalent.

The airlines generally blame air traffic control and weather, but this rings hollow when the particulars are examined. At times up to one third of flights are now delayed, and the figure is always over 10%.

8. Reinstate the reciprocity rule (aka Rule 240) allowing passengers on canceled or excessively delayed (over 90 minutes) to use their tickets on another airline with available seating flying to the same or nearby destination.

Current situation: Some airlines still have private arrangement with other airlines to carry their delayed passengers but most do not. The rule would reward airlines that provide timely service and penalize those that do not, as well as maximize the efficiency of the entire air transportation system. Now the opposite is true.

9. Set a minimum fine of $3,000 per passenger for tarmac delays in violation of the 3 hour rule with $1,000 of fine paid to affected passenger plus $10 per minute for delays over 3 hours.

Current situation: Most airline violations of the 3 hour rule are not fined by DOT, or are fined at less than $1,000 per passenger (vs the maximum fine of $27,500 per passenger).

There is no minimum fine. There is no requirement that passengers receive any compensation for a 3 hour rule violation and in only two incidents since 2010 have passengers received anything and usually that is in the form of coupons for future air travel on the offending airline. Courts have generally ruled that under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 passengers cannot recover unless they are killed or physically injured in the course of airline operations, and have disallowed all airline passenger class actions since enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.

The DOT takes 1 to 3 years to investigate violations, and has always issued fines under consent orders and generally reduces fines by at least 50% based on airline promises.
In 2010 and 2011 there were only a few incidents, but in 2012 it rose to one per week and in the first half of 2013 to two per week. Prior to the promulgation for the 3-hour rule in 2010, airlines were stranding 150,000 to 250,000 passengers per year on the tarmac for over 3 hours, sometimes up to 12 hours without permitting passengers to exit the aircraft and sometimes without adequate water, food and toilet facilities, or proper ventilation and air quality. Airlines and their employees financial reasons for tarmac confinements, including avoiding ticket refunds, alternative transportation and overnight lodging expenses, and for flight crews obtaining flight pay for tarmac delays vs. no or very low pay for in terminal delays.

10. Require airlines to conduct live testing of emergency or irregular operation plans at least annually or more frequently for airlines that fail practice tests or actual emergency operation performance standards.

Current situation: Airlines are required to have filed approved emergency operation plans (to provide for graceful degradation of air transportation in stormy weather, airport closures, severe congestion with the DOT/FAA but not to have actually tested or practiced or trained their employees to execute them, making failure to perform them as planned the norm rather than the exception. Without workable emergency or irregular operation plans air travel is plagued with de facto blackouts or brownouts from storms and other conditions that unnecessarily disrupt air transportation regionally for days or even weeks at great expense to travelers, businesses and the US economy, which depends on reliable air transportation to operate efficiently and competitively.

11. Reinstate lapsed legislation requiring airlines to honor tickets of shut down by insolvency.

Current situation: Larger carriers who face insolvency generally declare chapter 11 bankruptcy that allows them to continue operating, however, smaller ones generally shut down operations, sometimes abruptly leaving ticket holders as unsecured creditors and with disruption and extra travel expenses. As all airlines are required to maintain insurance or bonds for such eventualities, airlines who honor tickets of an insolvent shutdown airline will be reimburse by insurance. Without such legislation, carriers in weakened financial condition may be blacklisted by travel agents and travelers thereby hastening or causing failure.

12. Require airlines to maintain a ready reserve of equipment and flight crews sufficient to provide good service and a flight cancellation rate due to equipment or crew shortages to under 2% and on time performance of over 85%.

Current situation: Most airlines operate with little or no reserve capacity so that when equipment breaks down or flight crews are unavailable, flights are canceled or seriously delayed. This situation is aggravated by the fact that airlines are operating at record capacity of over 80%, so that a canceled flight means that passengers may have to wait many hours or even several days to get on another flight to their destination.
Cancellation rates can now go over 5%, on time performance can be under 75%, and there has been a major increase in delays over one hour.

13. Set minimum fines of $1,000 per passenger with ½ paid to affected passengers for flight cancellations based on false claims of force majeure (e.g. weather or air traffic control restrictions when the real reason is lack of equipment or personnel or for economic reasons such as too few passengers).

Current situation: Studies and statistics show a very high rate of false or fraudulent reporting by airlines, but they are rarely if ever fined and passengers receive no compensation for this misbehavior which is profitable for airlines, since they avoid expenses that honest reporting would otherwise entail.

14. Require cancellation for economic reasons to be made at least 3 hours before flight time, and provide passengers with alternate transportation plus a ticket refund, or breach of contract consequential damages up to $5,000. Presumption that flight was canceled for economic reasons if no ground hold and flight less than 30% booked.

Current situation: While airlines are required by contract and by conditions of their FAA certificate to provide safe and convenient air transportation to the general public and economic flight cancellations amount to a breach of contract or civil fraud and/or violation of their certificate, enforcement is virtually nonexistent, thereby rewarding bad practices and penalizing honest ones.

15. Require passengers to be informed both verbally and in writing of their rights to compensation for flight delays under US law for domestic flights, under the Montreal Convention of 1999 for international flights (with compensation up to $7,000), and under EU regulations for flights flying to, from or within EU countries.

Current situation: Neither the airlines or DOT inform passengers of their rights to compensation for flight except in situations involving bumping or oversales.

16. Require where delays and cancellations result in stranding passengers overnight away from their home cities that passengers receive meals, lodging and ground transportation.

Current situation: This was once provided as a matter of course, but now many airlines decline to do so except for high paying or frequent travelers. Such expense avoidance provides another incentive for bad service and penalizing airlines that provide good service. It also discriminates against and burdens coach and occasional travelers while providing unstated extra benefits to premium fare travelers.

Lost, Damaged and Mishandled Baggage
17. Require airlines follow the standards of the Uniform Abandoned Property Act providing for efforts to lost unclaimed baggage to its rightful owner, and if that fails after 90 days selling property at auction with proceeds going to a Lost Baggage Fund, to be used to satisfy lost/stolen property claims, fund consumer protection services by nonprofit organizations and for arbitration services for disputed lost baggage claims.

Current situation: Airlines are the only large private holder of other persons’ property exempt from the Uniform Abandoned Property Law used by nearly all states. At common law abandoned property was forfeited to the state and airlines would have unlimited strict liability for lost or damaged property placed in their custody. Airlines by law have had their liability capped at $3,000 for domestic flights and $1650 for international flights with short claim periods. Airlines now sell unclaimed baggage after a short holding period and keep the proceeds. They are not required to use readily available methods to return property to its rightful owner, generally dispute the great majority of lost baggage claims, and passengers have no practical means of redress.

18. Require airlines to offer excess value insurance for lost or damaged baggage for premiums not in excess of those commonly charged by other common carriers.

Current situation: Airlines generally do not sell baggage insurance, and do not allow passengers to declare higher value than their liability limits. Common carriers like the USPS, UPS or Federal Express charge 1% of excess declared value for insurance.
Lack of insurance, low liability limits and low claim payment rates make for low quality checked baggage services and little or no security against theft, even though most airlines now charge $25 to over $100 per bag for checked luggage.

19. Airline Rights Enforcement, Remedies, Complaint Handling and Adjudication
A 24-hour complaint hotline provided for in 2012 law and a passenger claims arbitration service should be funded up to $10 million per year by a set aside of 10% of fines paid by airlines to the US Government for violation of DOT or FAA regulations, plus up to 1/1000 of the ticket taxes and facility charges paid by airline passengers. No funding is currently provided for the passenger hotline and it has not been established by DOT.

Current situation: Only 10% of complaints to DOT result in a referral for additional investigation, 90% are merely logged for statistical purposes. Airlines are not required to do more than respond and acknowledge complaints.

Unlike consumer claims in other fields, no arbitration is provided for, and airlines have the right to remove any lawsuit filed in local or state courts to US District Court where litigation expenses far exceed any recovery. Airlines are one of the only industries serving the general public exempt from all state and local consumer protection laws, based on judicial interpretations of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978’s federal preemption clause.

20. Complaints to the DOT against airlines and to TSA about security screening at airports or against airports by airline passengers shall be acknowledged within 24 hours, and responded by the party against who the complaint was filed within 30 days, and with the reply by the complaining passenger within another 30 days. The DOT shall rule on whether or not it finds probable cause to investigate a complaint as a possible DOT regulation or other unlawful conduct within 100 days of receiving a complaint, and shall so inform the complaining party and the party against the complaint was made.

21. All contracts of carriage shall provide that passengers have the right to have any claim under $10,000 adjudicated by an arbitrator approved by state or federal attorneys general or state consumer protection agency or in small claims court in the jurisdiction where the passenger resides within the US, or otherwise where the airline does business.

22. In the event court or arbitration awards an amount in excess of the amount offered by the airline, the passenger shall be entitled to an additional amount for litigation expenses including time spent on the claim at $100 per hour, for expert witness fees, plus reasonable attorney fees up to $250 per hour.

23. Common law doctrines voiding unconscionable provisions in consumer contracts and for contract interpretation based on contracts of adhesion shall apply to airline contracts of carriage.

24. All airline passenger claims under $80,000 against airlines shall be adjudicated in state or local courts or before arbitrators in the county where the passenger resides, unless the passenger consents to adjudication in a US District Court or other jurisdiction.

Frequent Flier Programs Standards, Disclosure and Reporting

25. Require airlines to report basic statistics on their frequent flier programs to enable consumers to objectively evaluate each airline program, including the number of miles expired, used and accumulated unused each quarter, the number of award tickets granted, especially to popular vacation destinations, restrictions on transfer or used by persons or entities other than the frequent flyer account holder.

26. Require notice of 12 months to materially reduce or devalue benefits to existing frequent flier account holder members of over one year.

27. Prohibit airlines from unfairly reducing benefits or eliminating a passenger from its frequent flyer program based on service complaints.

Current situation: Frequent flier programs have become an integral part of air
transportation services used by air travelers for vacation travel. They are also a source of revenue for airlines which sell miles to credit card, car rental, hotel and other businesses that seek to provide customers with a low cost inducement to buy customer loyalty.
The US Supreme Court has ruled that states may not regulate these programs as they do other consumer contracts, and the DOT or Congress has not yet done so.
For accounting purposes frequent flier miles represent a potential liability for the airlines.
Airlines, however, take the position that these are not binding contractual obligations but merely marketing programs that can be altered or eliminated at will. As miles accumulate on the books of an airline, there is an enormous incentive for the airline to devalue them by program changes (most recently United Airlines announced program changes that devalue its frequent flier miles by at least 40%).
Most consumers however view frequent flyer programs as an important benefit, with the miles they accumulate for future travel being an obligation of the airline and an asset of theirs. However, airlines now generally reserve the right to reduce or eliminate benefits or membership at will.
Studies show that there are radical differences in airline frequent flyer programs, with some airlines allowing as little as 5% of miles to be redeemed for travel and others nearly 100%.

Airport Governance and Consumer Protection

28. FAA airport certificates shall require that the governing board or authority management of all airports with over 100,000 but under 1 million annual passenger enplanements shall contain at least one person representing airline passengers who has not received any significant compensation from the airport, its vendors, employee unions, contractors or creditors in the previous five years and who does not reside within 5 miles of the airport, and at least two airline
passenger representatives for airports with over 1 million annual passenger enplanements, at least one of whom shall be a frequent passenger using said airport.
Current situation: Airports in the US are owned and operated by cities, counties and state or regional government entities, and generally contain little or no passenger interest representation. This often result in policies that tend to increase airport revenue at the expense of passengers and unnecessarily increase passenger inconvenience and travel times. The FAA under 14 USC Part 139 regulates and issues operating certifications for all airports served by airlines.

29. Within 180 days, the GAO and DOT Inspector General shall review airport antitrust exemptions, identify practices that increase passenger expense, inconvenience, travel times, negatively impact national air transportation efficiency and report to Congress with recommendations.

Current situation: Airports generally operate as government monopolies exempt from antitrust laws. This has led to higher air transportation costs, increase travel times, poorer services for passengers, and preventing competing private enterprises from providing lower cost and higher quality services to the traveling public. Examples include monopoly concessions to taxi, shuttle and bus companies, relocation of rental car facilities to remote locations to free up high cost parking spaces near terminals (parking fees being the #1 source of airport revenue), preventing regional airport competition or additional airports to maximize revenue, favoring airline mergers and consolidation to increase gate lease and landing fees, use of airports for political patronage and to reward
donors to political campaigns of elected officials, imposing high and ever increasing fees and charges on passengers, lobbying against needed additional airports to relieve congestion, and covenants in airport bond indentures restricting competition.

30. Airports and airlines as a condition of receiving federal certification for public interstate air transportation shall ensure that consumer rights information is freely available to passengers in written and electronic form.

Current situation: All airlines and airports provide passengers with information and advertising in written and electronic form, but have generally not allowed consumer rights information to be freely available or provided to passengers, whether in leaflet, poster, seat back pockets, airport television, book and convenience retailers, public information desks, telephone hot lines, or on wifi home pages. This even though such information could be provided with little expense and would provide an important public service to passengers (who provide through airline ticket and airport taxes and fees nearly all airport and airline revenue). Passengers must now rely largely on airlines who have a vested interest in not providing passengers with information on their rights, particularly where such may involve passenger compensation or fines for violation of passenger rights.

Sunday, February 23, 2014
Congressman Wants TSA Screeners to Say 'Please'
Threatening to Make it Law

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) wants the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to be more polite. A lot more polite.

At a hearing last week, Connolly pointed out that the TSA and members of Congress are both in the customer-service business. 

"There's no excuse for someone barking orders continuously at the public at any airport in America who is an employee of the federal government, or a contractor for the federal government," Connolly said. "I'd lose my job if I treated the public that way and rightfully so."

According to the New York Daily News, Connolly added, "I counted - in one encounter - 20 barked orders. Take that off ... Move over there ... Back up ... Put your hands up ... Take your shoes off.' Not once was the word 'please' used."

"I don't understand how hard it is to teach people: make sure you use the words 'please' and 'thank you' when you're interacting with our public," Connolly said.  
David Cox, national president of screeners union AFGE, said his members 'face tremendous pressure to keep the lines moving as fast as possible and simultaneously provide the kind of scrutiny that terrorism prevention requires,' and that they are 'overwhelmingly respectful.'  
Connolly wondered aloud whether the public tolerates screeners' brusque behavior as a trade-off for security, or because "lack of respect has just become part of the culture of air travel."
It's not a police state if they say please! 
Boeing Confirms New 787 Battery Incident

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner suffered another battery scare as a component started smoking on a plane in Japan.
A Japan Airlines' (JAL) Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Narita airport in Tokyo on Jan. 15, 2014. (Photo: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO AFP/Getty Images)

Last Tuesday, maintenance workers at Japan's Narita airport noticed smoke and an unidentified liquid coming from the main battery of a 787.  No passengers were on board.

Boeing said it appears that a single battery cell 'vented', or released gas. The company has recently endured a series of safety incidents that led airlines all over the world to temporarily ground their Dreamliner fleets in 2013. 

The incident comes a year after a fire in a lithium ion battery aboard a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston's Logan International Airport. That was followed nine days later by another battery incident that forced an emergency landing in Japan by an All Nippon Airways 787.
Those problems prompted the FAA and other authorities to ground all 787s for more than three months. The planes began flying again after Boeing changed the battery system, adding a tougher box to hold the battery and measures to contain any short-circuit or fire.

Boeing said those changes appear to have worked as designed in the battery incident on Tuesday.

If the Japan Transport Safety Board opens an investigation, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board 'would certainly participate,' NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

The NTSB said the incident was reported to it as a 'smoke event'.

The NTSB expects to finish its investigation of the 787 fire in Boston by the end of March and present findings at a public meeting this fall.
'Anything we can learn about the (latest) battery failure would be helpful (to the ongoing investigation),' Knudson said.

The FAA said it is working with Boeing and with the Civil Aviation Bureau of Japan to investigate the latest malfunction.

United Airlines is the only U.S. 787 operator.


July 28 2012: A fan shaft fails during runway tests in South Carolina
December 2012: A Dreamliner was forced to make an emergency landing in New Orleans
January 7 2013: An unoccupied Dreamliner flight bursts into flames at Boston airport
January 15 2013: A flight made an emergency landing in Japan after a smoke alarm went off. The string of incidents led to regulators ordering a global grounding of the entire Dreamliner fleet, which lasted for four months
June 2 2013: Battery-related problems were reported on a Japan Airlines aircraft forcing the airline to use an alternate plane
June 12 2013: A flight in Japan was cancelled after one of the engines failed to start
June 18 2013: A United Airlines flight was diverted to Seattle due to an oil-filter problem
June 24 2013: A Dreamliner operated by United Airlines had to make an emergency landing in Denver due to a brake problem
July 3 2013: Polish airline LOT cancelled a Dreamliner flight to Chicago because the aircraft had 'problems with the power supply'
July 12 2013: Ethiopian Airlines plane catches fire on the runway at Heathrow, forcing the closure of the whole airport
July 18 2013: Japan Airlines plane bound for Tokyo had to return to Boston's Logan airport after take-off because of a possible issue with the fuel pumps
August, 2013 Battery wire damage disables locator transmitter
October 16, 2013 fuselage panel (4' x 8' ) falls off in midair reports Air India
October, 2013 Japan Airlines flight diverted due to 6 toilets unusable
November 2013: Japan Airlines pulls 787s from two international routes amid concerns about ice forming on the planes
November, 2013 Windshield cracks 2x in India and Australia, Air India
reports 136 technical problems 9/12 - 11/13 with 787
November 10, 2013 JAL reports emergency landing due to battery warning
November, 2013 FAA issues directive warning 787 engines  can ice up and lose power near cumulonimbus clouds, airlines to stay away from such clouds with 787 GE engines
December, 2013 Norwegian ASA reports 275 passenger delay claims due to 787 estimated at 600,000 Euros
December 6, 2013 LOT airlines 787 grounded in Chicago with damaged spoiler
December, 2013 LOT Airlines settles 787 claims with Boeing for $32 million
January 11, 2014 Air India 787 grounded in Hong Kong after actuator for wing spoiler broke

The FAA has advised FlyersRights' president Paul Hudson that its "technical department" is still considering the FlyersRights' May 2013 petition to reduce the maximum range of the 787 from 3 hours to 2 hours to the nearest landing zone.  And the National Transportation Safety Board has announced that it will not issue a report on the January 2013 battery fires until at least March 2014.
Survey: Many Passengers Dislike 'Slim-Line' Seating
For years FlyersRights has been railing against cramped seating and shrunken aisles. If we didn't complain, the airlines would have us standing and holding on to poles
The slimline seats are for coach customers. First-class seats won't be affected.
thinner seats are the new trend because they squeeze more passengers into a plane.
But these seats may not be so popular with passengers.

new survey by the travel website TripAdvisor shows that many passengers who have tried slim-line seats are not fans. 

In a recent survey involving 1,391 travelers who had tried the new seats, a whopping 83% said they were less comfortable than traditional seats, with 8% saying they were more comfortable and 9% saying that they couldn't tell any difference.

Among the critics of cramped cabins is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who fired off a tweet last week about his flight to Washington from Phoenix.
"Are you as frustrated as I am that the airlines keep moving the rows of seats closer and closer together?" he said.

Charging More Money for Less Space

Airlines now charge for everything from carry-on luggage and food to additional leg room.  They have even contemplated charging for the air they provide and even the use of the onboard bathrooms!  Of course people like getting the lowest fares possible, but this should not be at the expense of basic amenities.  

It appears that airlines are making economy class seating intentionally less comfortable to create incentives for passengers to upgrade. 
We'd all love to fly business or first class every time, but it's insanely expensive for most of us. However, it doesn't mean that airlines have to treat passengers like cattle with no room to exhale.

All we are asking for is adequate standards for flying. The FAA and DOT are failing the public. 
Government agencies require complex rules for on-board devices and safety instructions, but when passenger accommodations gets squeezed, the FAA is absent.  
Frequent Flyer with Metal Implants Takes TSA Pat-Down Policy to Court 

Does TSA's enhanced pat-downs of handicapped passengers violate the Fourth Amendment and federal law?

On January 7th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard Ruskai v. Pistole. Mary Beth Ruskai accused TSA of running afoul of the Rehabilitation Act, which bars federal programs from discriminating against people with disabilities.

Ruskai, a 69-year-old frequent traveler with metal knee and hip implants, was appealing a February 2012 decision that dismissed her complaint against TSA.

Basic Fourth Amendment law holds that "you balance the need for intrusion against the intrusiveness of the search, and the search is highly intrusive," said Inga Bernstein, a partner at Boston-based Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein who represents Ruskai.

Ruskai says she's been subjected to "enormously invasive" pat-downs and TSA is diverting resources to passengers who pose a low security risk.

Ruskai's enrollment in TSA's Pre-Check program did not help, and she says that at foreign airports her airport screening is far less invasive.
"It usually takes the court of appeals at least 2-3 months to issue an opinion, said Naomi Shatz of Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein who is also representing Ruskai. "So we're just waiting to see how they rule on the case.  I hope we'll know in March 2014."
Your Letters: 
Flight Cancellations Caused by Snowstorms

Question 1 of 2: 
I'm stuck right now in Atlanta, (Jan. 4), where it definitely did not snow. When my 6 am United flight to Tucson, where it most definitely does not snow, was abruptly cancelled.
The snowstorm in the Northeast caused about 1,500 flight cancellations yesterday, a fairly routine number for a snowstorm. 
But some airlines, United in my case, seem to be cancelling flights that do not seem to be affected by the actual storm. My 6 am flight, for example, was to have originated in Houston for Atlanta.
Is there a consumer/passenger rights issue with the way airlines are canceling flights, using weather as an excuse? Shouldn't they be required to REFUND your money for a cancelled flight, rather than 1. Arbitrarily putting you on a flight a day or two later than may be utterly unacceptable to you? or 2. Magnanimously telling you that you have a year to rebook the flight without paying a penalty, even though the fare will likely be higher?

...and this one:

Question 2 of 2: 
I thought you would like to see this message Delta sent me.  I traveled over New Year's and got stranded for a couple days. I was actually luckier than most people.  In Detroit, there were people camped out on the floor like homeless people.  A couple people told me they were stranded there for 5 days, and had 6 flights in a row cancelled.

What people don't understand is why they try to say the flights were cancelled for "weather" when the weather is perfect in both the departure and arrival city.  Also, saying a flight has "mechanical problems" is often an outright lie.  Especially when they cancel it 30 minutes before departure.  People aren't stupid and they also notice that the flights getting repeatedly cancelled are in smaller airports.

Standing people in airports for days - there has to be a better way for the airlines to do business.  I hope you mention these items in your next newsletter.

Lincoln, Nebraska

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Delta Air Lines
Sent: Saturday, January 11, 2014 8:39 PM
Subject: Please Accept Our Apology

On behalf of Delta Air Lines, I would like to extend my personal apology for the inconvenience you experienced as a result of the cancellation of Flight DL4560 on January 07, 2014.

In light of the current state of the economy, and in today's competitive airline industry, travelers expect the best value for their travel dollar. Delta strives to provide this value through a mix of safety, on-time performance, courteous and professional service, and a wide range of destination options. We want to make travel on us a convenient and trouble-free experience for our passengers and I am truly sorry we failed to do so on this occasion.

To demonstrate our commitment to service excellence and as a gesture of apology for our service failure, I am adding 5,000 bonus miles to your SkyMiles account. Please allow three business days for the miles to appear. If you would like to verify your mileage balance and gain access to all of our mileage redemption programs, you may visit us at

It is our goal to provide exceptional service on every occasion, and I hope you will provide us with an opportunity to restore your confidence. Your support is important to Delta, our Connection carriers and our SkyTeam partners. We look forward to your continued patronage and the privilege of serving your air travel needs again soon.


Jason Hausner
Director, Customer Care   
You can definitely get a refund if your flight is canceled and you did not fly.  You can take another form of transportation or request passage on another airline, although the right to use another airline to the same destination is not a right (one that our proposed Airline Bill of Rights 2.0 that has now been presented to the DOT, FAA and Congress and is supported by many other consumer advocates and is on our web site, would fix.
If you are stranded overnight away from your home city, you should be able to get hotel and meal vouchers.
Some airlines are not satisfied with high change fees, but are magically seeking to generate more fees by unilaterally changing schedules or canceling flights. 
This is, in my opinion, an unfair and deceptive practice that should be investigated and fined by the DOT.  Even if such fees are waived, it is clearly an inconvenience to passengers and should result in bumping-type compensation, an upgrade, or at least a more convenient flight in the future or perhaps even a ticket to a more distant destination.
All airlines and airports are required to have filed and approved contingency plans with the DOT for large storm events. Such plans should include extra crews and equipment to minimize system-wide delays and cancellations.
But it appears many airlines do not and prefer to dump cost onto passengers and have the entire country suffer an air transportation near slowdown rather than have reserves or do proper contingency planning. Our Bill of Rights would fix this, but even now the DOT could correct the problem by making approval of the plans contingent on having adequate crews and equipment arrangements with other airlines.
Also the DOT needs to crack down on the practice of falsely reporting weather as the reason for a delay or cancellation when it is really due to lack of crews or equipment or poor contingency planning which is in an airline's control.
The current situation is analogous to an electric utility failing to bring in extra crews to restore service after a big storm and telling its customers to freeze and wait, but still be sure to pay their bill on time. Or a city not hiring extra plow trucks. When mayors or utilities do this, there are big consequences, airlines need to feel the same heat.
Paul Hudson, President

Your Letters on Allowing Foreign Airlines to Fly US Domestic Routes...

Dear FlyersRights: 
You are so right. If you want to see dysfunctional concentration visit Canada and fly on Air Canada.
I have lived in Asia for 13 years and even the worst of the lot (Air China and China Eastern) are light years ahead of all American airlines. Service, food, seating, comfort rank less than 5/10 compared to the average Asian airlines.

If I had to live in the US I would go out of my way to take a train, car or bus. Now I haven't even mentioned the draconian netherworld of US airport insecurity and the dreaded TSA......!

good luck America!

Dear FlyersRights: 
Clearly you lack understanding of the challenges of cabotage. Although you acknowledge that employee groups have strong (and rational) objections to the idea, your subsequent dismissal of such concerns makes absolutely no attempt to establish the basis for your opinion.

You can be sure that LH, BA, AF, or any of Gulf States carriers will use their subsidies to displace U.S. workers and U.S. airlines if domestic flying is opened to them.

The idea that air fares are too high for today's travelers can only be proffered by an individual who is totally ignorant of the economics of airline operation. Take a few minutes to look at the operating margin of even the most successful U.S. airline and then compare that to the average of other equal-sized U.S. entities. I'm sure you will learn a great deal about the rationale for the price of commercial airline trips.

Best regards,
Dear FlyersRights:
Do you realize how few domestic cruise lines exist? To get around the
restrictive labor laws, cruise liners just sail under different flags.
The problem with allowing foreign airlines to fly is that domestic
airlines and jobs will disappear.
What we need instead of foreign airlines is to lessen some of the
restrictions that prevent small startups from getting started. The
busses in Chinatown competing with Greyhound is a good example of how
this could be more feasible.
Dear FlyersRights:
This is precisely what my husband and I want to happen.  To bring back competition in the U.S. the government must allow foreign carriers to operate flights solely within our borders.  If Flyers Rights plans to begin working seriously toward this goal, let me know and I'll make a contribution.  Our first choices would be Thai Air and Cathay Pacific. 
Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of airline passengers.
Dear FlyersRights:
Brilliant idea.  I, too, prefer foreign airlines and despise "American" carriers.  Flying from Asia to the US it was a noticeable and unpleasant change from service to the pretense of service, which is so "American".  Where's the petition?  Where do I sign?  We allow everything else foreign in this country, why not airlines?

Dear FlyersRights:
Let's start a petition aimed at the FAA and whitehouse.
(Do you know 

Dear FlyersRights:
I bought a ticket on US Airways last March for a friend to fly from Chicago to Dallas in November.  About a month before the trip, he got a notice that the flight times had changed by about an hour each way, asking for his confirmation.  He sent it to me, but neither of us replied.  Ten days before the trip he had to cancel.  I called the airline and found that since we had not agreed to the changes, I was able to get a full refund

Pitch In and Help FlyersRights!
Volunteers are needed in all areas, and intern positions with stipends are available for students and recent graduates.  
Email Paul Hudson, (globetrotter1947[at]hotmail[dot]com.
Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights
FlyersRights depends on tax-deductible contributions from those who share our commitment to airline passenger rights. 
You will be sent the latest FlyersRights publications and newsletters. You aren't merely supporting our mission, you become a part of FlyersRights. 
Thank you. 
  FlyersRights 4411 Bee Ridge Road 
Sarasota, FL 34233
No Snow Job 
Many Flights Canceled, But  Zero Stranded On Tarmac 
Thanks To FlyersRights
The relentless snow and ice storms this winter have led to the most flight cancellations in more than 25 years, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
It's hard to remember now, but being trapped on an icy tarmac used to happen many times a year before passengers united to form FlyersRights.
The Valentine's Day fiasco of February 14, 2007 was the breaking point.  An ice storm in New York trapped thousands of passengers for up to 11 hours on grounded jets at JFK. Most were operated by JetBlue Airways.
People were outraged and fed up. A revolution had begun, fueled by weeks of television coverage, newspaper headlines and congressional hearings. The passenger Bill of Rights spearheaded by FlyersRights caught on fire.

That infamous incident along with several similar ones involving passengers trapped onboard aircraft forced DOT to act. 
In December 2009, DOT instituted the landmark rule, setting a three-hour limit on such tarmac delays. Violators would be faced with fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.
So, in one of the greatest victories for the consumer against an industry, this winter has seen no incidents of passengers stranded. 
See Me After Class :(
New "Detention" Pods at Airport Exits
TSA's all about slowing you down, whether you're coming or going. 
TSA and airports want to save money by not staffing airport exits. 
Apparently, there is no such thing as an easy way out.
These unmanned portals have replaced officers at the security exits of two small Northeast airports, adding several seconds incased in a bulletproof glass pod to the end of every passenger trip.
New Exit Portals at the Syracuse Airport
A "security" culture getting out of control?
New Exit Portals at the Syracuse Airport
Travelers step into the elevator-sized cylinders and wait as a door slides closed behind them. After a couple seconds, another door opens in front with a robotic voice stating, ''Please exit.'' 
These machines could become the wave of the future as TSA prepares to shift exit-monitoring duties to local airports next year as a way to save $88.1 million. The manufacturer, New York City-based Eagle Security Group, Inc., says it is in talks with other airports. 
Claustrophobic passengers obviously won't be impressed by this system. Why do you need to be locked up in there? Those pressed for time won't be either. The pods are simply too slow. 
This technology creates the possibility of a bottleneck at the point of exit in case of an emergency. We would hope that both doors would open in the event the fire alarm goes off. Just look at the Rhode Island nightclub fire to see what happens when there is any kind of problem at an exit. 
These 'exit pods' are like another Chertoff costly boondoggle that will require 'upgrading' at taxpayer expense within a few years.
Bait And Switch
First Class Benefits, Free lunch, no travel
A man in China purchased one first-class ticket on China Eastern Airlines and used it to scam a year's worth of free meals at the VIP lounge in Xi'an airport, according to a report from Malaysian Chinese newspaper.

The would-be traveler tricked China Eastern into buying him food for a year. The man never actually took a flight; he used his first class ticket to gain access to an airport's premium lounge, feasted on free food, and then re-booked his flexible ticket to another day. Queue the next flight time, and the process was repeated over and over again. The Chinese-language Kwong Wah Yit Poh newspaper, the source of the report, claims he did this 300 times before airline staff got wind of the ruse.

A brilliant way to recoup some of those "fees" the airlines keep piling on us! 

China Eastern called the customer's actions a "rare act".

However, the majority of passenger victories involve mileage programs. As we know, frequent-flyer miles are not solely earned by travelling. According to The Economist, a correspondent for the American magazine Pacific Standard says he accrued more than 64,000 frequent-flyer points-enough for a First Class transatlantic flight with Virgin Atlantic by repeatedly buying $3,000 in dollar coins from the US Mint. He promptly deposited the coins at his local bank, replenishing his funds for the next mileage-eligible purchase. 

The Age newspaper says a Melbourne man earned 380,000 Qantas frequent-flyer points when his bank ran a promotion offering 100 extra points for every credit card purchase, but failed to specify a minimum amount to spend. There followed 3,800 one-cent transactions, mainly with a toll-road operator, over a three-day period. 

The paper also cites the case of David Phillips, an American civil engineer who accrued 1.25 million miles by buying 12,150 servings of packaged chocolate pudding for $3,000. 

Alternatively, you can try to outsmart the airline industry's antiquated IT infrastructure with a complex ruse called "fuel dumping". This process, whereby you dupe online booking systems into removing the fuel surcharge from your airfare (which, confusingly, has no relation to actual fuel costs), is explained by The Economist here. Once you get your head around the concept, this website outlines some specific strategies.

If all else fails, your only hope may be to pray for a website glitch. In September, United Airlines inadvertently sold some tickets for between $5 and $10 due to an input error. Such mistakes are surprisingly common. Delta Air Lines made a similar blunder just three months later. 

Lady Luck doesn't always smile on you, in the case of Southwest in 2012, customers who thought they were buying half-price tickets ended up being charged up to 20 times each for their bookings.  
You'll Think You've Flown On This Airline! 
No Frills Airline - The Carol Burnett Show
No Frills Airline - The Carol Burnett Show
Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights
FlyersRights depends on tax-deductible contributions from those who share our commitment to airline passenger rights. 
You will be sent the latest FlyersRights publications and newsletters. You aren't merely supporting our mission, you become a part of FlyersRights. 
Thank you. 
  FlyersRights 4411 Bee Ridge Road 
Sarasota, FL 34233