Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Stocking Stuffers

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Delta Airlines was one of the first to hike fares last week, despite falling fuel prices. 
Alberto Riva

The major airlines in the U.S. reported their earnings last week, and they are staggering.

If you thought lower fuel prices would lead to lower airfares, think again.

What Goes Up, Doesn't Come Down

U.S. airlines are raising fares on domestic flights even though they are getting a windfall from lower fuel prices.

Last Thursday, a trial-balloon hike of $10 round-trip implemented by Delta stuck after Southwest Airlines joined other carriers Friday in bumping fares up.

Both United Airlines and American Airlines matched it Friday evening making for a very quick success, said FareCompare.com

All the major airlines are reporting record load factors with Southwest Airlines bragging that its flights out of Dallas' Love Field are running over 90% full.

So what we have here is the major carriers doing very well holding down capacity and raising fares and packing planes.

Southwest Airlines, which used to be the friend of low fares and market expansion, is now just like the other major carriers. It seems that the hopes of flyers who want reasonable fares will now fall to Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant.

We're Stuffed

Heading into the holiday travel period, the airlines expect even cheaper fuel, due to a dive in crude oil prices.

Jet fuel price, an airline's biggest single expense, has dropped by about one-fifth since mid-June.

Yet holiday travel will be more expensive in 2014 than in 2013.

A new study by Expedia reports that domestic fares for the Thanksgiving holiday are up 17% over last year, to an average of $467. Christmas airfares are up 2% to an average of $493, the travel site said.

Flights over Christmas averaged $482 in 2013 and are averaging $493 in 2014, a 2 percent hike."

Carriers raised fares five times this year and attempted to do so 20 times.
So even as oil prices dropped, instead of passing the savings onto the customer, the airlines participated in ramping up fares.

Full of Bad Cheer

The airlines like to say that flying has never been cheaper, and they are just starting to dig out of the hole from the 2000s, which resulted in billions of losses. But this is probably the most misleading argument about airfares today.

- All the major carriers except Southwest took a trip through bankruptcy court and unloaded most of their debt onto unsecured creditors, wiping out their shareholders and strong-arming their employees into accepting reductions in pay, benefits and working conditions.

- Adjusted for inflation, each major airline is saving billions in equivalent labor costs achieved though outsourcing - everything from menial jobs in airports, to regional "Express/Connection" flights with contract pilots, to maintenance and aircrft fuelers, to call center employees.

- Service has decreased. A 150-seat aircraft today typically has no more than three flight attendants, down from five-six years earlier. Additionally, complimentary meals are no longer provided to main cabin passengers except on transcontinental flights.

- Fares today do not include ancillary fees, such as those for baggage, seat assignments, meals, etc. that consumers pay extra for now. Tickets have also become more punitive in terms of change and standby fees.

- Aircraft load factors are expected to be in the upper 80th percentile, compared with barely 50 percent years earlier.

Fuel Surcharges Have Nothing To Do With The Price of Fuel

On Monday the price of crude oil fell below $80 a barrel for the first time since mid-2012 as energy prices continue to plummet around the world.

So why aren't the airlines reducing the so-called fuel surcharge? Isn't this just another name for a fare increase?

Fuel surcharges are a convenient way to raise and lower all fares in a market by a mixed amount without having to refile each fare, explains the blog View From The Wing.

Only a few airlines in the U.S. and a few partner carriers impose these fuel surcharges on customers booking award tickets. On flights to Europe, your ticket breakdown still shows fuel surcharges of usually several hundred dollars.

The Huffington Post calls it a pure money grab and rip off that has gone far beyond the price of fuel.

There was a class action suit filed in 2012 against British Airways for failing to disclose what portion of their fees were attributable to fuel surcharges.

FlyersRights believes some re-regulation of our air transportation industry is needed. The existing model doesn't work, except for Wall Street profits.

Your Letters!
(In response to "Ebola, The Plane Facts")

 Dear FlyersRights:

    Well it seems that who ever you got your "facts" from about the safety of flying was full of S**T.  CDC HAS now confirmed that a second nurse that treated T E Duncan in Dallas HAS Ebola. AND what's more, she has flown on a commercial flight even after showing symptoms! So your and the Obama administration's approach of burying your head in the sand and telling everyone that it's not contagious and that it's safe to fly with exposed people is WRONG!
  Read this IF you care to know the facts; http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/15/health/texas-ebola-outbreak/index.html

  So from here on out, I don't believe a word that you say. TAKE ME OFF OF YOUR MAILING LIST!


Dear FlyersRights:

I don't agree with you that we should ban flights from West Africa or quarantine everyone coming in from that region.  For one thing, symptoms of Ebola can take up to 21 days to manifest, and there simply is no reasonable way to quarantine large numbers of people for that long at an airport.

Checking for fevers isn't going to be effective either, for the same 21 day reason, and screening questions won't do a lot of good (people can lie; Duncan did).  Further, aid workers and WHO personnel will be a lot less willing to fly to Africa to help with the ongoing epidemic if they don't think they'll be able to get back home.  

There aren't enough personnel now, and losing people will only exacerbate the current situation and create a bigger public-health menace.  Finally, there's more than one way to get back to one's home country, even if flights from that part of the world are banned. Witness the millions of Cubans who flew from Florida to Mexico to Cuba when the U.S. had a travel ban with that country.  Or that guy who flew from Europe to Canada and then drove south into the United States with multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Part of the price we pay for living in a free society is expecting, or at least hoping, that other people will act responsibly.  I believe it is currently illegal in the United States to get on an airplane if you have or think you have a contagious disease.  That includes the common cold, not just Ebola.  (Even if it isn't illegal, it's stupid; not only do you put other people at risk but being in an airplane while sick is a miserable experience, and it's not like they can land halfway there to let you off.)   

I think the public would be better served with a public-information campaign instructing people not to fly if they're sick.  Further, it would be tremendously helpful if airlines would either refund fares or at least offer credits to people who decline to fly when they're sick.  That's the sort of law we should be demanding from Congress; absent the financial incentive to use a ticket they already paid for, I think most sick people would stay home.  I know I would.

Just $0.02 from a civilian. 


(In response to "F Minus")

Dear FlyersRights:

Here is the deal, and I am coming at this from a Pure Sale Perspective.  We live in an era where there is no One Size Fits All.  Each person spends money on things for their own reasons.

So, not that I would want to be in Economy Minus, but there is a Market for that.  Southwest has been doing it for years, but did not call it that.

I focus on Sales and Sales Enablement.  Not trying to sell you anything, but I look at things a little differently.

Sorry if that does not make sense.  Just how I look at it!

Dear Phil, 

The problem with "economy minus" is, where does it end? "Economy minus-minus"? Then "Economy minus-minus-minus"... 

And this would be way for the airlines to charge regular-coach passengers more. Then charge "economy minus" passengers the same price that regular-coach fares were. So you'd pay the same, and get less.

Travelers expections are already getting lower and lower. A few years ago, your expectations for a coach fare were a bag included and some food for the price of the ticket. Now we've all been trained by the airlines to expect almost nothing with the price of a coach seat.

Kendall Creighton

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

       F Minus
                               Tuesday, October 21, 2014
What could be worse than economy class? "Economy Minus"! 

A U.S. legacy airline is shopping around the idea of an "economy minus" cabin in a move to a new four-tier cabin service, reports the blog RunwayGirlNetwork.

"Economy Minus" would offer a bare-bones, reduced-amenty, extremely low-cost E-fares to attract passengers away from Spirit and Allegiant, the two most profitable airlines in the country.

Frontier has already switched to the Spirit-model.

The new configuration would comprise a premium cabin, enhanced economy, regular economy and then "economy minus", reports the blog site.

No, this doesn't exist, yet, but you could've fooled us. So what additional amenties can they remove from coach-class? Seats?

The Fight To Be The Lowest Fare On The Search Engine

This huge growth of the Ultra-Low Cost Carrier (ULCC) market is almost entirely due to the major carriers abandoning an entire segment of the traveling population over the past five years. 

The mergers, capacity tightening, and lack of competitors have led to fares rising above what highly budget-conscious and discretionary passengers could afford.

The major carriers have been chasing that high dollar fare (corporate contracts, first class passengers, international itineraries) while neglecting those at the lower end of the fare scale. 

Majors Want A Piece Of The Action

As much as we complain about Spirit's service, fees, and lack of leg room onboard, passengers still book flights on them because they value price over comfort. 

The ULCCs have been racking in the money. Now the majors want a piece of the action. 

They see Spirit, Allegiant, Ryanair and the others making very real, regular and solid profits to their shareholders with their a la carte, cheapskate business model. 

The major carriers are in business to make money for their shareholders so if that means squeeing people into a 28 inch pitch or less, limiting carry-ons, no in-flight entertainment and overpriced snack offerings, they will do it and passengers will book it to save $10-20 on a ticket.

As the Associated Press's Scott Mayerowitz points out, Wall Street is rewarding airlines for the profit-boosting practice of cramming passengers on planes. 

Where Is It Going To End?

This will certainly fan the flames of discontent. Where is it going to end? When a passenger dies from the crammed seats?

It's time for public action to curb the airlines. FlyersRights is asking Congress to pass a Passenger Bill of Rights that calls for regulations on seating space, fees and pricing.

It remains to be seen whether this "Economy Minus" plan actually pans out.

But it's clear that airlines are intent on boosting profits by taking away from economy class. Worse airline service is now the norm rather than the exception.

You may as well mail yourself there in a big box! 

We have it all covered now, airplanecruise shipbus and now a train station. Last week, all four modes of mass transit in our country suffered Ebola "scares".

According to the Associated Press, travel agents say customers are asking whether it's safe to fly, and what steps they should take to guard against Ebola.

And some travelers are reconsidering their holiday plans amid Ebola fears, according to KTAU.com.

Anxiety was high last week when officials disclosed that a nurse tested positive for the virus just over 24 hours after getting off a Frontier Airlines plane from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth. Frontier has grounded the plane and notified hundreds of passengers on seven flights involving the same jet.

Frontier President Barry Biffle emailed employees Friday to tell them the nurse may have been at a more advanced stage of the illness than previously thought. He said the CDC has assured the Denver-based airline that crewmembers on the flights she took are at a very low risk of exposure.

The airline put the pilots and flight attendants on leave for 21 days, which health experts consider the outer limit of how long it would take someone exposed to Ebola to become sick. Biffle said passengers on the flights have also been notified.

Tim Husted, a traveler-services executive for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a huge agency with offices around the world, said that fewer than 1 percent of the company's leisure travelers have changed a booking because of Ebola. There is even less of a reaction among business travelers, he said, although a few have requested routes that avoid Dallas.

Maryann Cook, a travel agent in New York, said that a Florida doctor who booked a $197,000 family safari trip to South Africa for 30 people next year wants to rebook it for 2016, even if it means losing a $60,000 deposit.

"He didn't feel a real urgency because South Africa is so far away from the problem spot," Cook said, "but he got a lot of stress from his children and his children's children." She said most of her other customers are still booking and still traveling.

Blake Fleetwood, another New York travel agent, said that a client who booked travel to India is worried about a stopover in London, where there could be a greater chance of exposure to travelers from West Africa.

"We're hearing from everyone. Even people flying domestically are very nervous," Fleetwood said. He reassures them that flying is safer than other forms of travel. But he understands - and shares - their anxiety.

"I wouldn't fly on Frontier Airlines," Fleetwood said. "I know that's a crazy thing to say, but I just wouldn't want my mind to be bothered. I would take another airline."

Calls about travel insurance are also rising. Some people who bought insurance and now want to cancel their trip because of anxiety are finding out that the insurance won't help, said Megan Singh, marketing manager for SquareMouth.com, a travel-insurance-comparison website.

"That really is canceling out of fear, and it's not covered by most standard policies," she said.

Singh said consumers can buy a policy that lets them cancel for any reason, but it will cost 40 to 50 percent more than standard policies that run about 6 to 11 percent of the trip's cost.

Some notes about Ebola and travel:

- The U.S. government cautions against nonessential travel to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The Obama administration has resisted Republican calls for a ban on travel from those countries.

- Travelers leaving those three countries are screened at the airport for fever, a symptom of the disease. U.S. officials say about 150 passengers a day from one of those countries enters the United States. They are screened again if they enter at one of five big international airports.

- Health experts and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk of getting Ebola in the U.S. is extremely low and can happen only by direct contact with vomit, diarrhea or other bodily fluids of an infected and sick person. Dr. Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health at Northwestern University's medical school, said there is only a minuscule chance of catching Ebola on an airplane in the U.S. because the virus is not airborne. His recommendation for travelers? Use hand sanitizer - to protect against the flu virus, which is airborne and much more common.

- Airlines say they clean their planes every night according to CDC recommendations, including the use of heavy-duty cleansers on armrests, tray tables and in lavatories.
FlyersRights Comments To DOT on Ancillary Fees
Read our comments to the DOT regarding the need for transparancy on airline ancillary fees. The DOT received over 700 supporting comments or over 98% in favor.

The DOT must now go through the comments and respond to them and then issue a final rule.  

Note our comments support the forcing airlines to disclosure of the ancillary fees in real time but do not support the extremely broad and vague definition to regulate ticket sellers, as it could apply to virtually anyone publishing airline fare info, as potentially chilling to free speech etc.

Follow Us @FlyersRights for the latest reports!

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with Paul Hudson, President
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

       The Plane Facts
         Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Newark Liberty Int'l Airport, Oct. 4, 201

That's where many of us find ourselves.
Whether we're boarding a plane or simply traveling through an airport. We are a nation that feels a bit on edge.

Ebola was the furthest thing from our minds a month ago, even as the disease spread through parts of West Africa. The American public easily dismissed it as an exotic ailment confined to the underdeveloped world.
So it has been incredible, if not alarming, to see how easily global travel can spread pathogens from continent to continent.    
In August the world's airlines moved to cut most flights to West Africa, but planes continue to fly out of Ebola impacted countries.
Just over the weekend the U.S. saw its second Ebola case confirmed, a Boston hospital evacuated and an LAX plane locked down when a passenger became sick.   
Take a Fortress USA or Fortress Europe Strategy?   
Although the U.S. has not yielded to calls for a travel ban, enhanced screening began Saturday of passengers arriving from West Africa at five major gateway airports: JFK, Newark, O'Hare, Dulles and Atlanta. 

Infrared screening of passengers
This week, Heathrow, Gatwick and Israel's Ben Gurion airport will follow the U.S. with airport screenings for Ebola.

African and Asian countries have been screening airline passengers for months, with some using infrared cameras to detect fevers. 
But mainland Europe will 
not follow, claiming the measures are ineffective, because people carrying the virus won't necessarily be spotted.  
Travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the countries hardest hit by Ebola, will also be questioned about about their health, travel and contact with the sick, and have their temperatures taken. Quarantine is an option for those suspected of being ill.
Most experts agree that these screenings are unlikely to stop the disease, as it can take up to 21 days for someone to show signs of Ebola and desperate people can lie on the questionnaire. 
Can TSA agents handle being doctors for $12/hour?

The screenings, which will affect only a tiny fraction of overall passengers, are being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP), under direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

Currently there are no direct flights from the affected countries to the U.S., so CBP staff identify passengers to screen by looking at trip information and checking passports, the CBP commissioner told a news conference at JFK on Saturday morning.

Using infrared temperature guns, staff are checking for elevated temperatures among passengers whose journeys began or included a stop in one of the three African countries.

Screeners will also assess passengers for signs of illness and ask about their health and whether they may have come into contact with an Ebola patient.
This 'controlled openness' is called a compromise. It isn't as tight a seal as a rigid 'travel ban' or 'quarantine', but it allows a certain higher risk of exposure in exchange for a higher level of freedom of movement.
Most airlines have cut service to West African countries, and the few remaining: Royal Air Maroc, Air France and Brussels Airlines are reportedly charging exorbitant ticket prices and price-gouging humanitarian aid workers.

Bringing in Ebola by the Planeload?

As always, the flying public is reliant on the quality and reliability of the information available.
Ebola screening for arrivals from West Africa starts at JFK 
Ebola screening for arrivals from West Africa

"At this point there is zero risk of transmission on flights," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, supporting other public health officials who have voiced similar assurances, saying Ebola is spread only through physical contact with a symptomatic individual or their bodily fluids. 
"Ebola is not transmitted by the air. It is not an airborne infection," said Dr. Edward Goodman of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where the Liberian patient remains in critical condition.

Public health officials and some columnists have voiced similar assurances, saying Ebola is spread only through physical contact with a symptomatic individual or their bodily fluids.

However, Dr. Philip K. Russell, a virologist who oversaw Ebola research while heading the U.S. Army's Medical Research and Development Command, and who later led the government's massive stockpiling of smallpox vaccine after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said much was still to be learned. "Being dogmatic is, I think, ill-advised, because there are too many unknowns here."

Statement by the President of FlyersRights:

It is time to stop West Africans and others from the infected countries from entering the U.S. without quarantines and blood testing for Ebola.

Airlines who knowingly transport passengers from the infected areas may face massive lawsuits, and their insurance carriers, especially AIG the main carrier, also need to step forward before it too late.

The FAA and TSA cannot escape responsibility as they have primary jurisdiction over air safety and security. Ebola is being transported to the U.S. solely by air transport. 

The death and infection rates are so horrendous that decisive measures are essential regardless of sensitivities.

Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights

Your Letters

(In response to last week's newsletter, 'Foreign Invasion')

Dear FlyersRights:

You complain about horrific service from US airlines, then praise the possibility of an airline such as RyanAir coming to the US. Are you aware that RyanAir's service is SO atrocious that riots occur among pissed off passengers on their planes on a regular basis?

This is an airline that is trying to eliminate safety requirements, such as seats and seatbelts on on their planes. If they had their way, their planes would be packed like sardine cans of STANDING ROOM ONLY.

RyanAir already puts passengers at risk by not allowing their planes to carry adequate fuel reserves. This has caused some RyanAir flights to have to declare an emergency because they ran dangerously low on fuel.

RyanAir also pushed to have PAY TOILETS installed on their planes. So far that has not come to fruition. However, they DO try to make their travelers go to the toilet 20 minutes prior to flight (to save weight, reduce costs).

Is this REALLY what you want for the US airline industry?  Be careful of what you wish for... You just might get it!


Dear NF,  no we don't want that, but it's disingenuous to say Ryanair stinks when U.S. carriers have reduced themselves to that of a Ryanair - by strangling capacity, cutting flights, packing planes, contracting out customer service and charging the same fees as Ryanair.

Additionally, U.S. carriers have successfully kept airfares high and charging fees while Ryanair charges a much lower base price before adding on fees.

In short, U.S. carriers have copied the king of a-la-carte pricing, without reducing their fares.

Look at air ticket prices around Europe. A two-week advance fare from London to Frankfurt - 498 miles - on Ryanair is £19 GBP ($30.50).

A two-week advance fare on a major U.S. carrier, for about the same distance - San Diego to San Francisco, 493 miles - runs approximately $242.

Everyone wants to be profitable, but isn't as if the employes of these U.S. carriers are reaping the benefits of higher ticket prices. Their salaries and benefits have been steadily chipped away over the years. It's the shareholders and CEOs who are reaping the rewards.  


Kendall Creighton

Dear FlyersRights,

My wife and 3 yr. old son were on United 763 from Dallas to Denver they delayed the flight 2hrs causing them to miss the connection from Denver (DIA) to Gypsum (EGE) the next flight was 24hrs later.  

This caused us both a day off work and a gas mileage trip 200 miles to collect them with our 1 yr. old the next day and a hotel room for them both (United wouldn't cover the flight and said "tough' on the phone.  So basically we end up out of pocket 2 days work, 200 miles *2 driving and 1 hotel room, United Airlines loose nothing and still have the full price for the ticket.

Thanks for advice.

Dear PSR,

There is generally no compensation in the US for excessively delayed or cancelled flights unlike in Europe, Canada or international flights. 

The normal damages for breach of contact when one party fails to perform is the out of pocket cost to cover the default and sometimes foreseeable consequential damages. 

US airlines with the cooperation of the DOT have of course exempted themselves from all these pesky responsibilities. Airlines use to allow you to fly with your ticket on another airline or provide alternate transportation by ground and would usually pay for lodging and food for stranded passengers, but no more.

You can, however, receive a full refund even on a non refundable ticket if you decline to take an excessively delayed flight. I recently had a Jetblue flight canceled in Sarasota to JFK that would have caused me to miss an international connection. The counter agent tried to say that they could only give me a voucher. When I insisted on a full refund the supervisor had to show her how to process an "involuntary refund" which was obviously a very rare transaction for this and most airlines. We then got another flight to LaGuardia on another airline for a higher price, a cab ride and a dash to just make our connection. 

Our Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 would fix this and we suggest you contact your Congressional reps to demand they support and sponsor fair rights for airline passengers. Otherwise it will only get worse.

Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights
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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Foreign Invasion
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Today, with planes flying as full as sardine cans and the holiday travel season around the corner, it would appear that U.S. airlines are determined to tell air travelers to take a hike.

At least that's what passengers might infer from the number of flights cut at many of the nation's airports.

Nearly three dozen midsize airports saw a quarter of their flights cut in the past 5 years -in such places as Milwaukee, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and San Antonio. A group of 76 small airports lost 20 percent of their pre-2007 flights. And 23 airports lost all their air service. 

Airfares continue to rise, up nearly 12 percent since 2009, according to an Associated Press analysis.

With four airlines now serving 85 percent of the domestic market, domestic carriers haven't had to worry about the one factor that could disrupt their cram-'em-in strategy: competition.
That is, until now.

The summer of 2014 marked a new chapter in the development of the global passenger air travel market. Only a few media sources including FlyersRights covered Norwegian Air Shuttle's ambitious launching of international air service to the U.S. 

Back in July, Norwegian launched flights from London Gatwick to three USA-based destinations with some tickets starting at $300, or approximately half the price of traditional carriers. 

Norwegian's proposed Honolulu-Oslo transpolar route goes over the North Sea, Arctic Sea, and Pacific ocean.
U.S. airlines said no fair! How dare they? 

In unheard-of unity, airline executives and labor groups worked together to get Congress to block Norwegian from operating these routes.  

But the floodgates had cracked, proving there was great pent up demand for clean, modern air travel in the U.S., as well as courteous, friendly staff, cheaper fares, and newer planes. 

"We believe that the U.S is low-hanging fruit," Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos is quoted as saying by Bloomberg News. "People love to fly cheap and they love to fly far." 

Norwegian's latest ambition is low-cost transpolar flights nonstop Oslo-Honolulu, reported the Hawaiian Tourism Board on Monday.

Emirates is also interested in flying into America, causing panic amongst U.S. airlines. It currently flies to nine U.S. destinations, including brand new A380 service to Dallas-Fort Worth. 

The U.S. represents just 7 percent of revenue for Emirates, but the Dubai-based carrier is "looking for more points" on the map and hopes to boost its presence in America, said Emirates President Tim Clark at an aviation conference in Chicago last month.
Ryanair, too, has been eyeing a low-fare, transatlantic route for several years. Back in 2007, it was reportedly planning to start a new airline that would operate long-haul flights between Europe and the United States.

Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary said that the new airline, RyanAtlantic, would offer flights to five or six US cities with fares starting at €10.00 and a business class service at a higher rate. It's intended to rival Virgin Atlantic. 

RyanAtlantic is on hold until it can take delivery of 40 to 50 newly-acquired aircraft within a two-year period at opportunistic prices, said O'Leary.

O'Leary mentioned he hopes to avoid the problems that faced Norwegian, which he believes is too small to enjoy economies of scale.

Foreign Exchange 
As things stand now, the United States allows foreign airlines to serve its major cities as part of international agreements that have been around for decades. 

The EU-US Open Skies Agreement allows any airline of the European Union and any airline of the United States to fly between any point in the European Union and any point in the United States. 

Airlines of the United States are also allowed to fly between points in the European Union. Airlines of the European Union are also allowed to fly between the United States and non-EU countries like Switzerland.

Imagine if foreign carriers could offer flights in the United States, competing head-to-head with our domestic airlines. What lessons could U.S. airlines learn from their global peers?

"Foreign airline competition and capital investment in U.S. airlines could quickly improve passenger service, lower fares, result in new start-up airlines, and relieve overcrowding," Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org told USA TODAY in January.

US Airlines Pushing Govt to Reject Open Skies Treaty

Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines are planning to urge the U.S. government to re-evaluate its approach towards open skies agreements with other countries, amid increased worry over competition, reported FlightGlobal last Friday.
Sources told Flightglobal that chief executives from the three airlines had scheduled a meeting with senior White House officials, including Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, during the week of October 6, but the meeting had been postponed.

Delta, American and United all declined to comment on the meeting when contacted by Flightglobal.  The US Department of Transportation, however, confirmed that the meeting had been rescheduled.

The request to seek a meeting with White House officials by the three U.S. carriers comes as the airlines are growing increasingly annoyed with DOT consumer protection regulations that have been rolled out in recent years, championed by FlyersRights.
Your Letters

(In response to last week's letter subject, that airfares are higher today than decades ago, when factoring in the myriad of fees)

Dear FlyersRights:

We are not talking about services, conveniences, or freedoms in air travel here. Those things are a thing of the past, period. No amount of discussion or Congressional rhetoric is ever going to change that. The reality is that airlines will never capitulate and return to the classic standards of comfort and customer care of the past. The question presented here is value per seat per flyer. And the per mile traveled value cannot be beat by any other means of travel today when time and distance are the major factors.

As we all know, airlines are big business and big business requires a lot of capital to stay in business. Currently, about 1.4 billion people a year travel by air and that number increases every year. This means a lot of people rely on the airlines to get them from point "A" to point "B". This provides major capital for Delta, United, American, Alaskan, KLM, Quantas, and every other airline out there. There is more than enough competition in the industry and flyers are not going to go away any time soon. Most major airlines operate in capitalistic countries and societies with investors and owners that are in business to make money. Right now they're doing just that, making money.

Why do I bring this into the rhetoric here? Because I am talking value per dollar and even with airlines making record profits in some cases, the price you pay to fly is still an unbeatable value. You can never again make comparisons between value and personal service. As long as flyers continue to search the internet and other sources for the cheapest fare available to their desired destination the airlines will continue to have the upper hand on flyers. And in the weak economy we are still in today, flyers will continue to look for those bargains. The proof of this is all the websites that are available to search for those bargain fares.

I wish FlyersRights.com all the best in its endeavors to advocate for flyers and I have supported FlyersRights for several years now. But the entire airline industry has changed greatly in the past several years and I seriously don't see any major reversals in their current operations. As a free market society, unless laws are being broken, all industry, including the airlines, will continue to seek every method of producing revenue. Here again, I don't see any laws making it through Congress that will change the airline industry in any major way. The same goes for the DOT and the FAA. Free market... As American as apple pie.

Economics tell the truth, and the numbers indicate flying is still a good value. The service and customer care may stink at times but there's always the choice of flying first class.

Dear CJK:

You raise a number of interesting points.

First, as to airfares being an "incredible value", there is a widespread public misconception that airfares are lower since 1978 due to deregulation.  Actually, airfares were declining rapidly prior to 1978 under regulation, and some studies show that deregulation retarded the rate of decrease.  See Did Passenger Savings Occur After Airline Deregulation? by David B. Richards, Journal of Transportation Research, Vol. 46, No. 1, (Spr. 2007), pp. 73-93 http://www.trforum.org/journal.

In any case, it is clear that airfares did drop after 9/11 and have soared since 2010.  For example average airfare for international flights increased 23% in one year.  http://www.marketwatch.com/story/airfare-soars-as-carriers-keep-capacity-tight-2010-05-14.
High taxes by EU on transatlantic airfares, now as high as 200% (vs 21% for US domestic flights) are also hurting both the US and EU economies. 

US airlines have had a dramatic recovery.  This is due to several factors:  Consolidation, breaking union contracts and debt elimination mostly through bankruptcies, ancillary fees and restriction of competition.  See IATA Press Release No. 30, June 2, 2014.

The "free market" only works if there is easy entry into a market and controls on monopoly type pricing power as well as abuses through antitrust and consumer protection laws.  This has broken down for air travel.  

Only 4 airlines control 85% of domestic flights, airports and the two international alliances (joint ventures) now have antitrust waivers, and US carriers are protected from foreign competition by Cold War era legislation. 

Airlines are also exempt for all state, local and most federal consumer protection law plus common law torts not involving death or physical injury. 

The state of the airline industry is currently best described as a monopsony with minimal regulation, quite similar to the position of the railroads in the late 1800s when they were the only practical long distance transportation (the term being railroaded was coined to describe their multiple abuses) or cable TV companies today.

If the free market was working, there should be lots of new carriers and an expansion of new flights and routes.  Instead the opposite is happening, and planes are at a record 84% capacity vs an historic 50%.

Second, no one disputes that service has declined dramatically under deregulation. Even longtime CEO of American Airlines Robert Crandell bemoans the fact that US carrier service is now inferior to virtually all foreign carriers and calls it unacceptable.

It is clearly possible for service to improve without higher airfares, but it requires reasonable regulation (see the FlyersRights Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0) to prevent abuses and preserve public safety, comfort and convenience (all things that a FAA certificate to provide public transportation is supposed to ensure) and competition.  

There has never been a safe, stable and affordable public transportation system without regulation, no where & at no time. The mantra that unregulated mass air transportation is best and will handle any problems is a fantasy.  

As for airfares, they should be declining as fuel costs, labor costs and capital costs have all declined since 2009. Instead, profits are up over 300% and stock prices over 100% for US carriers since 2012.     

Paul Hudson, Pres.
Is It Time For Airline Seat Standards?
Christopher Elliott, Special for USA TODAY October 6, 2014

It's not your imagination. Airline seats are shrinking.

A wave of air-rage incidents has exposed the problem like a threadbare economy class seat on an aging puddle jumper.

"Airlines are aggressively reducing seat and passenger space to squeeze more revenue out passengers, despite health and safety being threatened," says Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, an advocacy group for air travelers.

Actually, the solution is as simple as developing minimum seat comfort standards and enacting common-sense government regulation to enforce them.

Over the years, many carriers have quietly moved the seats closer together, reducing both seat pitch and cushion sizes, and insisting that their customers demanded it. How so? They claim that we only wanted cheap fares and were willing to sacrifice space for it. But they didn't have any compelling numbers to back that assertion.

Truth is, as a consumer advocate, I've never received a request from a passenger to reduce the amount of space on a plane. No one ever asked to be squished into a seat in exchange for a deal.

That must end. One fix is for a pro-consumer U.S. Senator to slip a sentence in the next FAA Reauthorization Bill, asking the Transportation Department to establish minimum seat space standards.

FlyersRights.org is also pushing for legislation that would require the FAA to set seat standards.

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