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A Job Well Done,
But Still Far To Go
December 8, 2015
Back in December 2006, in what now seems like a simpler but more lawless time, FlyersRights was born.
We’re approaching the ninth anniversary of the organization, which began with the formation of a definitive piece of government regulation. the 3-Hour Tarmac delay Rule. This unglamorous but critical piece of legislation saw millions of passengers clash with Washington insiders and airline executives.
FlyersRights was doing groundbreaking work, focusing squarely on the issue of passenger strandings, which wasn’t being taken seriously and not central to political discourse. In the spring of 2010 the US Department of Transportation began imposing severe penalties against airlines that kept passengers stranded onboard aircraft during lengthy tarmac delays.
So far this winter, as snowstorms have delayed thousands of flights, this rule has helped ease countless of frustrated travelers. Comfort that wasn’t going to be provided voluntarily by the airlines, so the DOT rightfully stepped in
So the airlines have changed, yet customers have never been more unhappy. The Air Travel Consumer Report from the U.S. Department of Transportation finds that in the first six months of this year, complaints from air travelers were up 20 percent over the same timeframe in 2014. It’s nothing short of amazing that as airline profits and revenues go through the roof, customer service is worse than ever.
The usual scenerio is if you’re unhappy with a business, you can take your money elsewhere, but that’s long gone for passengers. Following several rounds of mergers over the last seven years, 85 percent of the nation’s air traffic is reduced to four airlines – American, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.
Challenging the Oligarchy
An oligopoly is where there are a few firms and involves substantial market power. Thankfully, this summer, the Department of Justice has launched its own investigation into America’s major airlines, which it suspectsed of collusion in order to fleece passengers out of billions.
Much like the case of broadband Internet. Many of us are at the mercy of our local cable company for Internet service. Resulting in broadband that is both slower and far more expensive in the US than in other countries.
Yet, high airline profits aren’t helping make the average air travelers experience better. Just like the oligopoly dominating your local Internet service – their big profits aren’t an incentive to invest in faster networks – it’s the other way around, they have less incentive to upgrade service than if there was more competition and lower profits
Here are a few ways the oligolipy airlines make your flight an overpriced nightmare. FlyersRights addresses these our proposed Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0:
Charging unreasonable fees for checked baggage.
American commercial airlines are expected to record a combined net profit of $13.2 billion in 2015 according to IATA off of fees on checked luggage. Which is a huge haul by any measure, but particularly noteworthy considering bags used to be free.
Most airlines now require $25 for one piece of checked luggage, with costs increasing for each additional bag, and reaching as high as $200. JetBlue, which for years separated itself from the bunch with free baggage check, u-turned and began charging for checked bags this past summer. That leaves Southwest as the lone airline that doesn’t charge for checked bags.
Charging unreasonable fees for ticket changes.
The industry standard for ticket change fees for American commercial flights is now averaging $200. (For some international flights, that figure can rise to $300 and more.) This has earned the airlines a collective $3 billion in flight change fees between June of 2014 and 2015.
Yes, it’s true that poor weather and aircraft maintenance can throw off flight times, it’s also true that some delays are completely unnecessary.
The Air Quality Rating report, released in April of this year, found that industry on-time arrival percentages worsened between 2013 and 2014, dropping from 78.4 percent to 76.2 percent.
Some offenders were far worse than others. Spirit continued its streak of worst at everything; its flights have only a 50-50 chance of arriving within 15 minutes of schedule.
United was a distant second, with 33.7 percent of its flights arriving late to their destination.
Booking (and overbooked) flights.
Sardined flights have a many obvious downsides, among them “boarding headaches, overhead bin shortages and increases in involuntary bumping.” When airlines overbook flights, customers usually lose. Between 2013 and 2014, there was an increase of 3 percent in customers that were bumped from flights
Expensive ticket prices.
Remember a few years ago when airfare prices shot up, and everyone grudgingly went along with it because fuel costs were so high and it all seemed legitimate? Well, gas prices have nose-dived since then, yet ticket prices haven’t budged. In fact, domestic fares actually crept up by about 3 percent last year.
Unbundling services and upselling everything.
What is the definition of ‘airfare’? The airlines have reduced the term to an increasingly meaningless base price with dozens of gotcha fees, which leads to deceptive advertising.
Small seats getting smaller.
Airlines are now aggressively reducing seat and passenger space on both new and existing airliners to squeeze out more revenue, and charging extra for what had previously been standard seat space, to the point that health and safety is threatened.
According to USA Today, “[f]light attendants say it’s harder to provide passengers with medical care in tightly packed seat rows, and doctors warn of ‘economy class syndrome,’ or deep vein thrombosis, which can afflict passengers who can’t move their legs on longer flights.”
Flyersrights is requesting that Congress establish a minimum standard for seat pitch. Our petition has been signed by nearly 34,000 people and can be found here .
Air travelers need an advocate now more than ever. Are we up to the challenge?
FlyersRights has never shied away from big ambitions.
Subject: typical airline torture
I'm a longtime supporter. Just a quick note - if you keep track of experiences like this - to say that my husband has just gotten off a nearly-2-hour phone holding session because his Delta tickets for flights to Canada TOMORROW "changed flight #s" and he was unable to check in. Had to call Delta's 888#, and was put on hold over and over and over again as the customer service rep (who sounded absolutely clueless) fixed the problem.
He was never notified about this problem via cell phone though his phone is indicated for message alerts.
This has been an incredibly frustrating incident as he's been trying to handle business before leaving on a long trip very early tomorrow. It seems so typical of the abysmal service we're all encountering now in this new world of cattle-car airline operations. It's such a shame, and very discouraging. We used to look forward to travel; now it's nothing but torture.
In closing, I have to say that Southwest is still the holdout on this for us; we continue to have good experiences, free bags, and smooth checkins w/ Southwest. We try to fly SW whenever we can, sometimes even when it means renting a car and driving a distance if the only alternative is multiple flights on code shares and/or regionals (I don't fly regionals at all anymore).
Thanks for your great work.
Thanks for your letter.
If you think passengers need FlyersRights, then we need people to act now. Our goal is to raise at least $40,000 by year end.
If all members pledged 1% of their travel budget for 2016, or $5 per month, we can get there. Your charity funds a weekly newsletter, a toll free passenger hotline and full-time staffed watchdog advocacy office in DC for passengers.
For those interested in tax deductions and year-end gifting we can offer a direct line access and personal concierge advocacy and air travel assistance well as advice with contributions over $500 .
For contributions of $5,000 or more you can enjoy use a resort condominium at for up to a week in Las Vegas, Sarasota Florida and a host of other locations.
We would like to improve and grow FlyersRights, but that will depend on public support.
You already fund IATA and A4A with your ticket revenue - organizations that oppose nearly all service improvements.
Congress is hopeless cause, with not one out of 535 Members willing to introduce any of our 30 airline passenger improvements, and only interested in measures to further fatten profits and flatten remaining competition. Under the present climate though it could improve next year if FlyersRights gets stronger, and in 2017 when a new President and Congress take office.
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Posted by K at 10:45