Now, with few choices of carriers, and airline employees squeezed over pay and benefits, the only people left to bleed are customers.
Last summer we saw several flight diversions due to 'unruly' airline passengers arguing over reclining seats, which has actually spawned a new industry.
Securicare , a UK based company produces a special seat restraint device and provides security training to airlines, to subdue "challenging, disruptive and violent passengers".
The space squeeze
As airlines pack more people and profit into planes, lack of space is only the latest frustration for travelers already frazzled from TSA hassles, charges for checked baggage, food, seat assignments, in-flight entertainment and other once-included services.
Such moves have led industry profits to near-record levels. But have they pushed passengers to a breaking point?
Cramming too many people into too tiny spaces for too long so they explode isn't the only danger. In case of a fire or emergency landing, more people will die because they can't get out of their seats, down the aisle, and out of the airplane in time.
So unless you're willing to pay a ransom for Business or First Class seats, be prepared to feel squeezed, starved, and fleeced.
FlyersRights believes regulations make sense for minimum leg room, limiting extra charges for "luxuries" like taking a bag with you when traveling and requiring food on board flights lasting longer than four hours.
"But that will raise the cost of air fares!"
Probably. But those "cheap" fares advertised are just tricks. When you factor in the extra bag charges, the fees if you try to book on the phone, or try to change or cancel a flight, the the price of food you have to buy, the price of lost hours when there's nospare plane when there's a mechanical problem or your flight's forced to land owing to a passenger dispute - not to mention the value of your life when you burn to death inside an airplane because there's no way all the sardines can get out fast enough.
If a single price covered matters like food and baggage that used to included automatically, and if Congress keeps an eye on fares, prices aren't likely to rise so much that you'd wish you'd gambled your life instead.
Your Congressmember's in charge of this stuff. Here's a list:
So, who on the House Subcommittee on aviation has the spine to stand up and say, "Yes, let's re-regulate the airlines so they can't treat passengers like cattle?"Who isn't in the pockets of the airlines they supposedly oversee? Let's start with the Republican majority of 16, who could make it happen, if they wanted, without a single Democrat's vote:
How about you?....
Chairman Frank A. LoBiondo, of New Jersey
Tom Petri, of Wisconsin
Howard Coble, of North Carolina
John J. Duncan, of Tennessee
Tom Graves, of Georgia
Blake Farenthold, of Texas
Larry Bucshon, of Indiana
Patrick Meehan, of Pennsylvania
Daniel Webster, of Florida
Jeff Denham, of California
Reid Ribble, of Wisconsin
Thomas Massie, of Kentucky
Steve Daines, of Montana
Roger Williams, of Texas
Mark Meadows, of North Carolina
Rodney Davis, of Illinois
What say you?
While the Republicans on the committee outnumber the Democrats 16-13, rendering Democratic votes useless, there are still things the Democrats can do. Your Republican colleagues certainly have favorite projects and other favors they'd like to secure for their patrons. So by delaying and obstructing expenditures for their pet programs as long as possible, you might be able to get their attention.
So how about a minority member revolt from Democrats?... Rick Larsen of Washington Peter A. DeFazio, of Oregon Eleanore Holmes Norton of DC Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts Dan Lipinski of Illinois Steve Cohen of Tennessee Andre Carson of Indiana Rick Nolan of Minnesota Dina Titus of Nevada Sean Patrick Maloney of New York Cheri Bustos of Illinois Corrine Brown of Florida
What say you?
Let's give all these Congressloafers a kick. You might start by copying this piece into an e-mail and addressing it to one of the committee members in your own state. You can find their e-mail address here.
Usually when we talk about 'too close for comfort' we're talking about economy-class.
Rep. Bill Shuster, Chair of the Transportation Committee and Shelley Rubino, VP for Global Government "Affairs" disclosed their relationship last week.
This time it's about lobbyists and politicans.
Last week, Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and chief anti-passenger legislator - whose main campaign contributors are United and American Airlines - revealed that he's been in a 'personal relationship' with a top lobbyist for the airline industry for the past year.
Not until investigated by the media did Mr. Shuster disclose this relationship with the airline lobbyist.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Do you see the conflict of interest here? We do.
Politico broke the story last Thursday about this influential lawmaker's dalliance with the VP for Global Government Affairs for Airlines for America (referred to as A4A), Shelley Rubino.
Why should you care? Simple, because passenger rights legislation appears to have been tainted by this liaison with a lobbyist that spends millions trying to manipulate his committee.
The Traveling Public Always Loses In These Situations
"When there's politically incestuous relationships between a regulated industry and the leadership that oversees it, I don't see how any legislation could come out that would not be tainted in some way," said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org and a member of the Federal Aviation Administration's Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.
He said Mr. Shuster has shown partiality to the industry at the expense of consumers, and that he wields so much power that other committee members seem afraid to oppose him.
Mr. Shuster, he said, is allowing the industry broad latitude in writing FAA legislation, while he has ignored input from others, including Mr. Hudson's organization, which proposed 30 reforms.
"So far we have seen no hearings on any passenger-rights legislation. We've been told by some committee members they wouldn't even introduce anything because it might displease the chairman," Mr. Hudson said.
Pay To Play
1. Close personal ties between Shuster and A4A coincide with their nearly identical policy views and goals:
As of the end of 2014, A4A was lobbying on the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014. Shuster personally introduced this legislation that would hide the true cost of airfares.
This is not the first time Shuster's personal life has been found to have issues pointing towards involvement with other female lobbyists.
He was one of a half-dozen Republican congressmen who were scolded by House Minority Leader John Boehner in 2010 to keep their distance from the lady lobbyists who prowl Capitol Hill.
Shuster got divorced last year after more than 27 years of marriage.
2. The House Transportation Committee: the new 'Mile-High Club'?
The connections between Shuster's office and committee with A4A appear to run very deep.
Rubino is listed by the trade association as one of its lobbyists in disclosure forms filed with Congress. The association paid her nearly $460,000 in salary and benefits in 2013, according to tax records.
Shuster recently hired Chris Brown, A4A's vice president for legislative and regulatory policy, to be staff director on the subcommittee that writes FAA bills.
Shuster's personal office chief of staff, Eric Burgeson, is married to Christine Burgeson, senior vice president of government relations at A4A. Shuster is reputed to be close personal friends with Nick Calio, A4A president and CEO.
Shuster also has expressed support for the US airline industry's stance against the Persian Gulf air carriers in the current 'Open Skies' argument.
Shuster has also spoken out against new taxes on the airline industry. FlyersRights has urged taxing the billions of dollars airlines earn from baggage and other fees.
3. A4A and the airlines have contributed significantly to Shuster
A4A and its employees "contributed more than $20,000" to Shuster (making him the only congressman A4A made the maximum contribution to). The airlines and other companies comprising A4A's membership have together "given hundreds of thousands more to Shuster throughout his career." In total, A4A spent $6.8 million on lobbying efforts in 2014.
4. Like Father, Like Son: Shuster's father resigned over similar issues
Bud Shuster, Bill's father, was also a former chairman of the Transportation Committee. Following an investigation, the Ethics Committee found Bud Shuster engaged in a "pattern and practice" of allowing his former top aide Ann Eppard - a transportation lobbyist - to appear before him on behalf of her clients after she left his staff.
There is a one-year ban on ex-employees lobbying the members or committees they worked for. Bud allegedly accepted gifts from and gave preferential access to Eppard.
Following the Ethics Committee investigation, Bud resigned from Congress in 2001 but denied any wrongdoing. Bill won his father's seat after his resignation.
Tossing Aside The "Appearance of Impropriety"
A philosophical conundrum: Is mutual impropriety, impropriety at all? Apparently not under the House ethics rules drafted by Congress.
The conflict-of-interest rules don't prohibit family members, including spouses, from lobbying lawmakers, although members are barred from taking action on an issue in which they have a direct financial stake. Other romantic relationships aren't addressed in the House Ethics Manual.
The airlines like to convey that sardine conditions are a "passenger's choice".
They say they are offering "choice" to the economy customers who care more about price than being able to sit comfortably in the seat.
But the truth is that squeezing more and more passengers into limited space, while shrinking lavatories, is for the sake of cost-controls and carrier profits.
And yes, it's likely the CEO of American, United or Delta have ever flown in the middle seat in coach.
In February, FlyersRights held a media advisory on petitions to reduce airfares and end airline exemptions from consumer protection & antitrust laws.
Our Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 calls for the FAA to set standards guaranteeing each passenger adequate leg, hip, and shoulder room. FAA currently has no standards limiting how small seats can be or how tightly they may be placed.
Passengers are not powerless to stop the trend to smaller seats and overcrowded airplanes. You can insist the FAA act now to set standards, and you can have a say in what those standards will be.
It was passenger pressure that forced the DOT to set reasonable rules on tarmac delays.
The tragic plane crash in Taipei was the result of mechanical and psychological failures.
Human errors in the cockpit have been the focus of media attention over the past few weeks.
An interesing article by Nautilus last week discussed the human errors in the airline community lately and speculated that the human brain might not be completely caple of handling multiple alarms in the flight deck.
For people in the grip of a life-or-death emergency, fear has a tendency to spiral.
In this state, we experience what's known as "cognitive tunneling." Our attention narrows as we focus on the danger at hand, resulting in an elevated heart rate and quickened breathing, and all our mental resources are focused on the main threat.
Yet there is also a flipside. With a narrowed focus it becomes hard to multitask, to think complex thoughts, to decipher instructions, or to generate novel solutions. Our judgment can be clouded, and experience thrown out the window.
In extreme cases, we lose the ability to consciously control our behavior at all, and find ourselves willy-nilly engaging in ancient stereotypical behaviors like fighting, running, or playing dead.
In other words, when a pilot who's managing a complex modern airliner realizes that his plane is going to crash, he needs the mild fight-or-flight response appropriate for taking a multiple-choice test, but what he gets is a five-alarm response better suited for surviving an animal attack.
A common, deadly mistake of overwhelmed pilots is to put the plane into an aerodynamic stall.
When a plane is flying slowly at low altitude, there's an instinctive human reaction to want to move away from the immediate danger and pull back on the controls to gain altitude.
Doing so, however, can have exactly the opposite effect.
Climbing causes an airplane to slow down, and if its airspeed falls below a critical velocity, the wing dramatically loses its ability to generate lift.
Instead of gaining altitude, the plane suddenly drops, often with fatal results.
From the very start of flight training, pilots are taught to be extra careful not to raise the nose when low and slow. But every year, pilots panic, forget their training, and die.
Has Your British Airways Account Been Hacked?
British Airways quietly disclosed two weeks ago that hackers gained access to the company's frequent flyer program.
The airline said the stolen data did not include Personally Identifiable Information, but many hacked companies such as Target have said this initially, just to admit later they were wrong.
The incident raises new questions about the airlines collecting more customer data online, including a variety of financial data, which is in turn, attracting cyber criminals. Read more in FlyersRights' January newsletter: All Mine.
When Machiavelli wrote that it's better to be feared than loved, little did he know he was foretelling the airline business.
The theory is that basic coach service, without fees, must be sufficiently torturous enough to make people want to pay to escape it.
So that's where the suffering begins, a strategy that can be only be described as "calculated misery."
The airlines deliberately cultivate bad service, multiple add-on fees, exorbitant change and cancellation penalties as an underhanded way to make you pay more to to escape the misery.
Calculated misery is when a business intentionally designs a miserable experience to increase profits. Of course, in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid.
This explains why, over the past decade, the major airlines have done everything possible to make flying basic economy, particularly on longer flights, an intolerable experience.
This puts the airlines in a heated race to the bottom, where everything is considered a optional extra, and the consequence is a steep reduction in baseline quality, comfort, legroom, and things which are difficult to quantify, until it becomes unbearable.
This model has worked well in the banking industry, where one of the main reasons consumers don't bother switching financial institutions is that it would be a huge pain to do so.
Same with the cable companies, that want you to fear them (and their onerous processes) rather than love them for being convenient.
Allegiant's Pilots Warn of Safety Concerns
Two weeks ago Allegiant Air's pilot's union published a letter to passengers warning that the carrier's profits "are propped up by the extra workload placed on its understaffed, underpaid and overworked workforce and its minimalist approach to maintenance and safety."
The pilots claimed that Allegiant is forced to "cannibalize" parts from other planes in its fleet to fix aircraft, owing to a deficient system of maintenance.
These pilots exposed plenty of abuses involving their airline's low-cost business model, including overworked, underpaid staff and lax maintenance practices.
A pilots strike was called for April 2nd, but fizzled when Allegiant management won a temporary restraining order.
The business model of budget airlines such as Germanwings, Ryanair, Alligent and Spirit Airlines has proved lucrative around the world, but only because of those carriers' relentless push on keeping costs as low as possible.
As former United Airlines pilot, Amy Fraher toldFlyersRights last week, "The public needs to recognize you get what you pay for. So the public needs to pay more, and we need better airline leadership to improve the airline culture for employees. At the moment, it's a race to the bottom."
Getting on a plane?
Put this number in your phone.
The FlyersRights HOTLINE!
Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights with Paul Hudson, President
Consider making a secured donation to FlyersRights!
The loudest advocates and largest organization representing airline passengers
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.