A sweltering situation was recorded on Spirit Airlines at O'Hare, June 24, 2014
It's the perfect storm. While raising fares and adding fees, airlines have cut domestic capacity, reducing service to midsize and smaller markets and cramming more people into smaller seats than ever.
Last fall, Delta announced it was reducing flights from the Memphis airport by 40 percent, while United announced reductions at its Cleveland hub by 60 percent. Since the recently announced merger between US Airways and American, virtually all domestic carriers have reduced their capacity in an effort to fill every available seat.
This is not just a reduction in capacity, but in flexibility, rendering the airlines incapable of absorbing even minor weather disruptions or other adverse events, creating a disastrous ripple effect across the entire air travel system.
This short-sighted policy will have particularly dire consequences during the summer travel months, when unexpected thunderstorms combine with mechanical problems to create a nightmare for both business and leisure travelers.
We can count on the summer travel season for a variety of air travel horror stories.
Last week, a Spirit Airlines flight scheduled to depart from Chicago's O'Hare Airport was held on the tarmac for over two hours without a functioning air conditioner. The situation on board became so bad that some passengers actually lost consciousness. Police were called to the scene and eventually had to force the Spirit employees to open the plane's doors to release "the hostages"!
According to the Chicago Fire Department, four people were transported to the hospital - a pregnant woman, a diabetic and another passenger with anxiety - all with non life-threatening symptoms.
Once inside the terminal, the remaining passengers were eventually told around 7:45 p.m. that the flight was cancelled.
A spokesperson from Spirit's media relations said the plane was having mechanical problems when it landed at O'Hare but could taxi and land safely.
For the aircraft's next scheduled flight to Orlando, the crew noticed mechanical issues that they claimed made it unsafe to take off. As far as the air conditioning unit, they simply admitted that it wasn't working, with no additional explanation.
A/C - Available For A Surcharge?
The true measure of an airline is how well it manages a crisis.
If our proposed Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 had been in place, the situation aboard the Spirit Airlines flight would have been addressed and the airline held accountable for not having a viable contingency plan, no working temperature control or even water for its passengers.
Summer thunderstorms at DIA last month, but contingency plans were ready.
Aircraft are not designed to be occupied without ventilation. A plane can't sit on a taxiway with no air conditioning and passengers aboard for any amount of time.
Every flight needs to have a good contingency plan, especially with summer thunderstorm season approaching, or situations can quickly spiral out of control.
YOUR RIGHTS 101
Over the past decade, the European Union became the world leader in air passenger rights, enacting a variety of laws to protect travelers. While the U.S. government left it up to the airlines to provide for distressed passengers.
FlyersRights reversed that course in 2011 and had the DOT implement a round of passenger rights policies like the tarmac delay rule and initial Flyers' Bill of Rights laws.
However, since then, the U.S. government has tried to avoid additional legislation that addresses seat space standards, excessive bag fees and ticket change fees, making it even more important to push for the Flyers' Bill of Rights 2.0.
A REFRESHER: YOUR RIGHTS WHEN YOU FLY
Note: Just assume the airline will defraud you here.
Airline employees are trained to either downplay your rights or spin them so that you won't take advantage of them. Don't accept vouchers - cash only.
Denied Boarding Compensation ("Bumping"):
If denied boarding involuntarily, carrier must pay:
·For Domestic Flights the Rules State:
-No compensation if alternate transportation is provided with less than a 1 hour delay
-200% of the one-way fare (max $650) if alternate transportation is provided with a delay of 1-2 hours
-400% of the one-way fare (max $1,300) if alternate transportation is provided with a delay of 2+ hours or no alternate transport is provided
International Flights the Rules State:
-No compensation if alternate transportation is provided with less than a 1 hour delay
-200% of the one-way fare (max $650) if alternate transportation is provided with a delay of 1-4 hours
-400% of the one-way fare (max $1,300) if alternate transportation is provided with a delay of 4+ hours and no alternate transport is provided
Downgrade: Carrier must reimburse the passenger the difference between the fare paid and the fare for the seat provided
In general, there are no laws entitling passengers to any compensation or benefits if their flight is delayed (exception: Tarmac Delays discussed below). Instead, the carrier's Contract of Carriage will specify any rights in the event of a delay (see Flight Cancellations below)
Upon request, a carrier must disclose the on-time performance of a specific flight
Carriers must indicate on-time performance for each flight displayed on their website
Carriers can be fined or enjoined by the DOT from operating "chronically delayed" flights
- defined as more than 30 minutes late or cancelled more than 50% of the time
Passengers have the right to cancel tickets within 24 hours for a full refund
(Airlines may try to issue ticket credits that are increasingly hard to use, do not accept a voucher, go for cash.)
In general, there are no laws entitling passengers to any compensation or benefits if their flight is cancelled.
FlyersRights Bill of Rights 2.0 proposes:
-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.
-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 the airlines. However, they are rarely, if ever, fined and passengers never receive compensation for this misbehavior. This borderline criminal action certainly enhances the profitability of the airlines, but does so at the expense of their customers and must be addressed by Congress
-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.
Lost, Damaged, or Delayed Luggage
The DOT increased the federal maximum to $3,300 per passenger and has a built-in mechanism for inflation increases
Carriers may not place any limitations on liability for lost/damaged/delayed luggage (e.g. "not liable for laptops", "$25 maximum per day" only liable for necessities")
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.