Friday, August 26, 2016

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August 24, 2016

Game Over: US Government Sides With Gulf Airlines In Open Skies

US airlines were handed a defeat as the government ended up siding with Gulf carriers in the Open Skies battle.
You may remember way back to last January the warfare between American, Delta, United and the Middle-East trio, (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways) over the Open Skies agreement. 

Opinion in the aviation industry was sharply divided, with some unions backing the three US airlines, but others, including the US Travel Association, and opposing airlines JetBlue and Alaska Air against the move as anti-competitive. 

The US carriers made the argument about patriotism rather than about business, and they ended up losing on both fronts.

Summary from The National:
The US government says talks over the Open Skies policy with Arabian Gulf carriers were constructive and ended without any formal action.
The US State Department held talks with Qatar government officials on Monday and with the UAE the week before over charges leveled more than a year ago by the three largest US airlines alleging the Gulf carriers were competing unfairly.
The State Department said, however, that while it looked seriously at the allegations it has taken no formal action.
Ms Thompson said that while "the US government takes seriously the concerns raised by our airlines, we also remain committed to our US Open Skies policy, which has greatly benefited the travelling public, the US aviation industry, American cities and the broader US economy through increased travel and trade and job growth".
Delta Apologizes for Computer Outage

Delta's CEO finally admitted fault and offered a weak apology for the August 8-12 system meltdown, but still didn't come close to fully compensating passengers.
After bashing the Georgia power company, and probably some gods and nature too, the airline finally took some responsibility for the fiasco.

Airline computer glitches like this that grounded hundreds of thousands of passengers over the summer, are now the biggest cause of flight delays in the U.S. according to the Chicago Tribune.

But sorry isn't good enough for the harmed passengers. For a company of this size, an outage like this in inexcusable.

Great Shoutout To The Work of Kate Hanni, Founder of Flyersrights

Kate Hanni testifies before the House Aviation Subcommittee as to the horrible year it was for passengers in 2008
The New York Times recently featured FlyersRights' founder Kate Hanni (starting paragraph 20).

The write-up was a reminder of what can be done to overcome congressional gridlock and airline lobbyists when the Department of Transportation and White House want it to happen.
From the article:

Kate Hanni, an advocate from Napa, Calif., for the rights of airline passengers, had tried for years to persuade the government to address a series of incidents in which flight delays left passengers trapped for hours on planes that had already left the gate, often in cabins with stinking toilets, weak air and no food. 

The Bush administration put Ms. Hanni on a task force consisting mostly of airline executives, which concluded in the fall of 2008 - over her forceful and repeated objections - that the public was best served by allowing the airlines to make their own decisions.

Weeks after the task force released its report, Ms. Hanni was invited to Washington in December 2008 to meet with Robert S. Rivkin, the head of Mr. Obama's transportation transition team. Democrats in Congress had introduced legislation to address the issue, but Mr. Rivkin asked Ms. Hanni if she would support new regulations instead. She would back anything enforceable, Ms. Hanni said.

"Right answer," he replied.

Over the course of the next nine months, Mr. Rivkin and his team of career regulators at the Department of Transportation developed rules prohibiting planes loaded with passengers from sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours.

In meetings with Ray LaHood, Mr. Obama's first transportation secretary, and his staff, airline representatives argued for flexibility, saying rigid timelines would only increase flight cancellations. They chafed at the regulators' willingness to see the benefits but not the costs.

Sharon L. Pinkerton, an executive at Airlines for America, the industry's main trade group, recalled Transportation Department regulators suggesting that "unquantifiable, unidentifiable benefits" would "outweigh the costs" of new rules for the airlines.
"What are we supposed to do with that?" she asked later in an interview.

But Mr. LaHood had himself experienced long waits on the runway during frequent trips home to Illinois. Just days before Christmas in 2009, he announced a Passenger Bill of Rights, which for the first time levied fines of up to $27,500 per passenger on airlines that leave domestic flights stranded for more than three hours. He challenged the major carriers to provide their service "in a way that is halfway convenient" for their customers.
His department, Mr. LaHood said in a recent interview, had a new sense of purpose, independent of any specific directive from the White House.

"They had other fish to fry," Mr. LaHood said of senior officials at the White House. "We didn't want to wait around for Congress to take five, 10 years to do this. We could do this by rule and regulation, so we were pretty much off to the races."
Your Letters! 
In response to our recent newsletter  'Does Not Compute'

Dear Flyers Rights:

Why are Delta customers not entitled to the compensation rule?

Is this another "act of god" that allows the airlines not to compensate for their incompetence.
I'm reminded of the Titanic sinking, was the Iceberg an act of God, or hubris on the part of the captain and running at full steam in the North Atlantic ignoring the reports.  Why do airlines get to claim acts of god when standard maintenance and practices or scheduling extra crew avoid outages.
I work with healthcare, we have procedures for when an outage occurs. Why not the airlines? Hubris, or an act of god?


Airlines blame acts of god whenever there is weather anyway involved in flight irregularities, including when weather keeps flight crews from arriving in time for their assigned flights.  I do not think that Delta blamed an act of god in regard to the recent meltdown of their computer system referred to in our recent newsletter. 

There is no incentive for the airlines to claim acts of god to avoid paying compensation to passengers, as in the US there are no regulations requiring compensation for any reason other than involuntary denied boarding (ie "bumping") compensation. 

We urge everyone to continue to support Flyers Rights in our efforts to change the situation and require compensation to passengers, such as is mandated in the EU, for all irregularities in operations resulting in delays and cancellations. 

Joel J Smiler DVM
Hotline Director

Dear FlyersRights:

Passengers should not face a rebooking deadline when the need to rebook was caused by something not under control of the passengers.

My guess (from 12K miles away) is that Delta had their servers in Atlanta running off a UPS that in turn ran off the power company.

Sudden failure of the UPS would crash the servers, corrupting data and make getting back online a difficult and lengthy process.

Happened (sort of) to a company I knew. They tried to save a little money by not replacing a faulty UPS. Worked great until a sudden blackout in a storm crashed their server, then their penny-pinching bit them hard on the butt. 


In a nut shell, for domestic trips that are canceled or excessively delayed, you are only entitled to a refund of the unused portion of your ticket or available travel on the next available flight from the airline that delayed you.  Some airlines provide hotel, meal and ground transportation or future travel vouchers in addition, others do not.  For international trips (where at least one stop is outside the US) you may be entitled to delay compensation (up to about $5,700 under the Montreal Convention) or under EU rules (for trips to, from, or within Europe) 

Delta, as have many other airlines, disclaims liability for delay on domestic trips for virtually everything, including "Weather conditions, acts of God, civil unrest, embargoes, war, hostilities, unsettled international conditions, strikes, work stoppages, slowdowns, lockout, any labor dispute, government regulation, demand, directive or requirement, shortages of labor, fuel or facilities, and any other condition beyond Delta's control or any fact not reasonably foreseen by Delta." 
And it makes no mention of delay compensation rights for international trips.

Passengers should not confuse delay compensation with bumping compensation (for involuntary denied boarding due to over sales of tickets which can result in up of $1350 compensation in addition to transportation). has advocated for restoration of the Reciprocity Rule which prior to 1980 required airlines to honor a ticket issued on another airline whose flights were excessively delayed or canceled on a space available basis.  We have also called for the DOT/FAA to mandate computer backup and reliability standards. 

Paul Hudson, President 

Dear Flyers Rights:

As someone who lives in a city that's not of any concern whatsoever to the airlines, I've been fed up with the major airlines for years. But I can rest a little easier knowing that, on a recent day, I've fooled them at their own game!

Recently I had to take a flight to Charlotte. How much could it cost to fly to Charlotte, considering US Air (a-hem, American) wants to send me there every time I fly? Well, it turns out a flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte isn't that cheap! And, in fact, it's even more expensive to fly to Charlotte direct, despite the fact there's a direct flight there every hour!

My discovery??? I found a flight to Orlando that connected through Charlotte for HALF THE PRICE! So I merely booked that flight and got off in Charlotte. 

This is what happens when airlines are more worried about basing their fees on what the other guy is doing rather than trying to be fair! Instead of doing the right thing and offering a fair price for a flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte, American jacks up that price while discounting the price for the same flight for those headed much further away.

Anyway, feel free to do the same. Caution: you won't want to check a bag if you're doing this, thus it end up elsewhere. However, at $25 a piece, you're probably looking to carry on anyway. Also, beware if you're one of the last to board, as the airlines may spoil the fun by non-voluntarily checking your bag for you.

In the interim, I'm going to continue to look for cheaper flights headed in the same direction as my actual destination. As for the savings: I'm donating them to Flyers Rights! For this particular trip, please look for my $100 donation today. I would encourage others to do the same.

A good reminder of this cost-saving tip. Thanks for sending!

Dear FlyersRights:

My husband and I recently  flew from Los Angeles to Athens and back on United Airlines using their new routes, LAX to EWR and then to ATH. 

We are Premier members so we requested upgrades to Business Class using miles (and a fee, of course!!).  Before we left, we had received an upgrade from LAX to EWR and from Athens to EWR on return.  We paid for Economy Plus on the EWR to ATH flight and the EWR to LAX flight.  

The outbound flight was fine. We made the connection in EWR in time and arrived in Athens on time. But the return flight was a nightmare.  The flight from Athens to Newark was fine, though extremely bumpy-the worst I have ever experienced.   We had a two hour layover in Newark.  Our flight was due to leave EWR at 6:29 pm.  

Upon arriving in Newark, we were told that the gate where the flight was supposed to stop was occupied by another plane and we had to wait til it was free.  After about a 20-30 minutes wait, the plane was directed to another gate and we were able to disembark.  Then began the long walk to Passport Control.  Because we are enrolled in GOES, we were able to speed through Passport Control and then waited for the luggage.  And waited..  And waited.  And waited.  The luggage took forever to arrive.  Our luggage was almost the last to arrive, even though, it had been tagged as "priority" by the staff at the Athens airport. 

When it finally arrived, we sped through Customs and delivered our bags to luggage at 6:20! We had a two hour layover in Newark and by the time we were done with customs, we had already used up most of that time.  We ran to the gate for the flight to LAX-that gate was at the far end of the terminal.  Our flight was scheduled to depart at 6:29. We arrived at the gate at that time.  The plane was still there but there was NO ONE at the gate to get us on the plane. We found out later that the plane did not actually leave til 6:45, so theoretically, we should have been able to get onto the plane. 

We did get booked on a later flight, at 8 pm.  Again,our new gate was at the other end of the terminal and we had to walk a long way to get there.  Thankfully, we were able to get on and we had been upgraded to business class for that flight.  The flight again was very bumpy. 

The scheduled arrival was 11 pm.  The plane landed on the runway at 10:20.  But when we arrived at LAX, we were told that there were no open gates for the plane and we had to wait. The wait was almost an hour long.  By the time we got off the plane and received our luggage, we left the airport at 11:30 pm, an hour after the plane had landed!! 

I have two comments.

1)  How is it that the gates at EWR and at LAX are so full that there is no room for a plane to pull up? Shouldn't a large airport be scheduling planes to arrive and pull up in time and correctly? Our plane was on time, shouldn't it have been able to pull up?

2) It has seemed to me in the last few years that airlines list arrival times at a later time than the plane really takes.  So the ETA is 11 pm, the plane actually arrives and pulls up to the gate at 10:45.  That way, they can claim they were early and beats the scheduled arrival! 

And now, I have another major complaint and that is the whole process of award miles. Reading the rules on the United website, there is no way anyone can understand their complex rules for earning, awarding and redeeming miles with their Premier Qualifying Miles and Premier Qualifying Dollars and the rules that go with it.  It is a total mish mash of rules and calculations. Whatever happened to Truth in Advertising laws and transparency?  

Last year, we had a different kind of nightmare when our fight to Chicago was delayed enough (supposedly because of weather) to miss the connection to Frankfurt and then being rebooked to arrive several hours later than planned to Thessaloniki, thereby missing two big events we had planned on attending in Greece.  

I am not asking for compensation or any intervention. I just wanted to put that into your bag of complaints about the way airlines treat their customers.  

These are the types of problems that are infuriating to passengers and unacceptable. Hotline Director, Joel Smiler, will note the complaints on our log.

Thanks for writing,
Kendall Creighton

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

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(Washington D.C.) - August, 17, 2016, the largest US based airline passenger group, released today a full Airline Passenger Report Card for all 535 members of Congress.  

"The very low scores will come as no surprise to the millions of American air travelers," says Paul Hudson President of and a member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee. "Many members on both sides of the aisle received failing grades." measured Congressional performance in protecting airline passenger rights over the past eight years, using criteria such as voting records, bills, and money accepted from the airline industry. 

Out of over 100 possible points, the average letter grade was a "D" for poor.

New York Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and California Representative Mike Thompson achieved the highest scores with 17 and 25 respectively, while Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) had the lowest scores of 0 and -6 respectively. 

Five Members received failing grades of F: Peter DeFazio (D-OR 4th), Bill Schuster (R-PA 9th), Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and John Thune (R-SD).

"It is important for the public and voters to be aware of and hold Congress members accountable for their slow responses and downright refusal to address the frustrations of airline passengers,"  says Mr. Hudson. "This includes deteriorating service, ever shrinking airline seats, soaring ancillary fees, refusal to publicize information, such as passenger rights, needed to hold airlines and TSA accountable for long delays, lost baggage and other consumer abuses." 

Passengers can search the Report Card here  to check how their members of Congress are performing. 

The Report Card will assist the flying public  as they head to the voting booths this fall and encourage members of Congress to enact needed airline passenger reforms in 2017.

Paul Hudson / President 

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Friday, August 12, 2016

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Does Not Compute
August 10, 2016

Chronic, widespread computer shutdowns have caused many thousands of airline delays and cancellations, which have delayed passengers from many hours to several days.
The flying masses have the time and the inclination to wonder: Is this fair?

That is the sentiment following the latest fiasco with Delta, which is still ongoing. 

In addition, the airline is not making passengers whole and may even be trying to profit from it.  Passengers must rebook by Aug. 21 (originally it was by this Friday), otherwise Delta's usual fees kick in.

FlyersRights has received many interview requests this week on this.

Here's what we know:
  • Delta still can't get their system together 3 days later- customers face another day of delays and cancellations for Wednesday
  • Power outage crippled the airline and led to 1,700 flights being grounded
  • A 'critical' piece of equipment failed at the airline's Atlanta headquarters, the airline said
  • The wait to talk to a rep is over 2 hours 
This latest computer meltdown nicely complements what the airlines have done in recent years to make you miserable.
While Delta insists it was a power outage and not a hack, the Atlanta power company has been quite vocal in its condemnation of Delta saying no other Atlanta customers lost power, that the problem was entirely Delta's fault, which has lead many to surmise it was a hack, not a glitch and Delta does not want to tell anyone their systems are that vulnerable to hacking.

Delta is just the latest airline to have a massive system failure:

  • Southwest canceled 1000 flights: July 21, 2016
  • Southwest October 11, 2015: 836 delays: check-in software failure
  • American Airlines September 17, 2015 at hubs DFW, ORD, MIA
  • United in July 8, 2015, 4900 flights: faulty router
  • United June 2, 2015, 1 hour: flight dispatching system
  • American April 2015, 50 flights: software glitch preventing maps on pilot tablets
  • Southwest June 22 2013: system wide, cancelling 57
  • American April 16, 2013: intermittent outages: cancelling 970 and delaying 1068
  • United series of problems in 2012 when switching to Continental system: hundreds of flights delayed: Nov. 15
  • United June 18, 2011: 5 hours

  • ATC Outages:
    • Aug. 15, 2015: Leesburg, VA
    • Apr. 30, 2014: U2 spy plane in California caused glitch
    • Sep. 2010, Southern California
    FAA Outages
    • May 26, 2016 in San Diego
    • April 30, 2014 in Los Angeles
    • Sep 2008 around Chicago

    There is a fix: restore the reciprocity rule that FlyersRights has championed - (known as Rule 240 that allows passengers on a significantly delayed or canceled flights to use their ticket on another airline's flight at no additional cost).

    Furthermore, mandate a robust backup of airline and ATC computer systems as critical to the national infrastructure, and discourage airlines from using their high profits for stock buybacks and ever higher executive compensation, instead of needed capital investments to stop the slide in service and reliability.

    "No other infrastructure industry - electricity, electronic communication or roads - has less backup and reserve capacity than US airlines," said Paul Hudson, FlyersRights' president.

    The airlines have created a monster - and should bear the cost of these avoidable shutdowns by making passengers whole instead of dumping the cost and inconvenience on the flying public.

    FlyersRights is writing to the CEO of Delta, calling for passengers be made whole. In addition to urging FAA administrator Michael Huerta and DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to issue emergency regulations and orders under their legal authority and duty to protect the national
    air transportation system from disruption and chaos.

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    Tuesday, August 2, 2016

    A Job Well Done But Still Far To Go - August 2, 2016

    The Newsletter couldn't miss a chance to take advantage of the Brexit-devalued Pound Sterling, so it''ll be touring the UK until mid-August, and experiencing several flights as a refresher of passenger rights abuses, Albeit, nothing like in the US. Until then, we'll be bringing you some Timeless Greatest Hits from older editions. Stay tuned...
    A Job Well Done
    But Still Far To Go
    orig. published December 8, 2015

    Back in December 2006, in what seems like much simpler times, FlyersRights was born.

    We're now 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 last winter, as snowstorms 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 time frame 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 scenario is if you're unhappy with a business, you can take your money elsewhere, but that choice is 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 a case of limited competition, in which a market is controlled by a small number of firms. Thankfully, the Department of Justice launched its own investigation into the US major airlines, long suspected of collusion 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 more expensive than in other countries.
    Remarkably, high airline profits aren't making 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 oligopoly 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 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.
    Being late. 
    Yes, poor weather and aircraft maintenance can throw off flight times, but 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 35,000.

    Air travelers need an advocate now more than ever. Are we up to the challenge?
    The answer is yes - FlyersRights has never shied away from big ambitions.

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