Thursday, September 29, 2016

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They Told You So
Sept. 28, 2016

This week we congratulate The Washington Post for writing an airline promotional piece and masquerading it as 'news'.

Very well done, airlines. TSA also got their talking points in with no filter or checking of accuracy and facts!

The article ballyhoos that "airfares are down" and passenger satisfaction is up. Flying is perfect.


Like many of you who sent us this story, it was with awe and disbelief we read the piece. The happy-talk was so contradictory to feedback we receive on a daily basis.

Of course, air travel is prone to blunders, such as weather-delayed flights and sporadically lost bags. After all, the word "travel" comes from the Old French"travail", meaning a suffering or painful effort, an arduous journey. Both words "travail" and "travel" have their roots in the Latin Tripalium, an instrument of torture. How apropos even today!

But one big factor within an airline's control is customer service, which can make the difference between a satisfactory experience and a distressing one. It usually isn't the unappetizing inflight food, lagging WiFi or whether the in-flight headphones work that counts as much as how you are treated.

Still, almost no industry in America treats its customers as badly on a day-to-day basis as the airlines - involving delays, cancellations, no leg room, shrinking seats, crowded planes, fees for everything and insolent contract employees.  

Article or Ad? 

Beware of 'sponsored stories'. One tip-off that this article was likely an advertising piece or sponsored journalism was that it celebrated passengers being required to tag their own bags. Shifting more responsibilities onto the passenger with none of the benefits is hardly something to applaud.

FlyersRights did more digging and found that  Airlines 4 America (A4A), the industry's lobbying group, commissioned the Ipsos survey referenced in the article.
The airlines then cherry-picked one ticket to get the 20% taxes number. Overall tax burdens are hard to calculate because some taxes are percentage based and some are flat, but the airlines used a low fare price to inflate the percentage. Business Travel Coalition says the rate should be closer to 16%. We also know the airlines charge ancillary fees to dodge federal taxes.

FlyersRights has proposed that this tax loophole be closed in regard to airline fees, as it is draining the Aviation Trust Fund. We also recommend that ancillary fees be deemed exorbitant and prohibited if they exceed a certain multiple of the reasonable cost of providing the service. 

"We can expect more of these types of planted articles by A4A, which just added two new people to its PR dept, including a social media specialist," said Paul Hudson, FlyersRights' president.

No amount of travel writer happy talk can change the unhappy experience of air travel today.

Therefore, dear airline CEOs, just as the song says - every move you make, every breath you take we'll be watching you.


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Thursday, September 15, 2016

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The Late Show

Sept. 14, 2016

The airlines reported a total of 21 major tarmac delays for July.

For domestic flights there were 11 delays of more than three hours. For international flights there were 10 delays of more than four hours according to a US Department of Transportation (DOT) report released yesterday.  All extended tarmac delays are investigated by the Department.

Also, the Department received 1,963 complaints about airline service from consumers last month.

Pushing the Envelope

This may be the highest number of tarmac delays since the FlyersRights' rule was enacted by the DOT in 2009.

Consequently, we plan on issuing a public statement calling on the DOT to provide appropriate fines, compensation and swiftly identify the incidents and the airlines involved.

We also plan on filing a Freedom of Information Act request, with a copy to the Congressional oversight and aviation committees.

These DOT rules are meant to promise relief from airline maltreatment and protect passengers' rights. They set a fixed limit on the time airlines can keep passengers onboard a delayed flight, and specify what the airlines must provide within two hours of a tarmac delay to make passengers as comfortable as possible. Otherwise heavy fines are levied on airlines who don't comply. 

Curtains Closed
Airlines Divide Coach Cabins Along Invisible Lines 

The slicing and dicing of airline seats continues, and it goes way beyond shrinking legroom, said  NBC News earlier this week . 

Legacy airlines are incrementally  breaking down their coach tickets into components and creating new tiers of monetization. 

This new area of  pricing and value is made possible by advanced reservation-system computerization.

The airlines are determining costs on amenities such as the option to choose your seat or fly standby, basics that had until recently been part of the ticket.

For example, Delta has five cabin classes, but it has far more than five fare classes. For each cabin class, there are a multitude of fare classes with differing booking (and rebooking) restrictions. 

Previously, FlyersRights  lampooned Delta's latest creation as a ' Last Class', also known as Delta's Basic Economy fare, which doesn't allow for ticket changes or a seat selection  - even with a fee. 

So, the question becomes: How shall we name the airlines' new class levels? A few that come to mind are: Last-Last Class, Bottom Class, Cattle Class, Baggage Class, Pilgrim Class or *drumroll*,  Steerage!

* Remember, write your congressman and senator about horrible flight experiences, file complaints with the DOT and copy us at


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Thursday, September 8, 2016

September 8, 2016

Back in 2014 United announced an increase to its ticket-change fee to $200 from $50. Of course, the other major carriers quickly jumped on this gravy train.

These days, the standard change fee for legacy airlines is $200 plus the fare difference, (Southwest is an exception).

This raises a dilemma, when your airfare runs close to the $200 mark and you need to make a change, do you trash the original ticket or pay up? Most people just ditch it, (knowing the remaining connecting flights will be cancelled too.

But the airlines are wising up to this no-show maneuver.

Introducing the 'no-show fee'
Can't make your flight? There's a price.

Some airlines are now charging a "no-show" fee for people who book a seat and then don't use it.

It's another perfect ancillary fee for the airlines that is exempt from the 7.5% US domestic airfare excise tax.

Internationally, Korean Air announced that effective October 1, in a move to "minimize seat wastage," it will charge fees or people who don't show up for their international flight - $50 - $120, the amount of which will be charged to the credit card used to make the booking. 

Singapore Air charges $75 for no-shows, while JAL has a $300 nonrefundable "cancellation after departure" fee.

Similarly, Emirates also has a no-show penalty for its passengers, but even costlier. By not showing up for your flight, you are subjected to pay an additional fee of at least $400 and $800 for economy class and business class respectively. 

Dubious Fees 

 A ticket breakdown of a Delta int'l flight,

For those with lots of patience, take a look at the breakdown of your international ticket. Notice the fee tacked on that inflates the fare by hundreds of dollars, notes BusinessInsider.

Usually called a carrier fee or carrier-imposed fee, there is no clue as to what the fees are for, how steep they can be and why they're seemingly handed out in an arbitrary manner. 

Well, it appears that these fees are a sneaky way for airlines to keep the fuel surcharge, despite the price of oil dropping.

Since 2012 the Department of Transportation has required the term 'fuel surcharges' reflect a 'reasonable estimate of the per-passenger fuel costs incurred by the carrier." Since then, the use of that term has vanished - only to reappear as a 'carrier fee.' 

A British Airways flight codeshare with American Airlines includes $518 in carrier-imposed fees on a booking using rewards miles. -WashingtonPost


Computer Failure
This week, British Airways apologized to delayed passengers following an "IT glitch" that affected check-in desks worldwide - the fifth in just three months.
This has been a summer of data problems for airlines.  

Last month, Delta Air Lines canceled more than 1,500 flights after the failure of a piece of equipment in Atlanta led to the worldwide shutdown of its computer systems. A similar malfunction affected Southwest Airlines in July, forcing it to cancel about 2,300 flights over four days.

Malicious cyber attack or cost-cutting?

Earlier this year, British Airways fired hundreds of their IT department after an Indian firm was hired to handle its computer systems under the new management of their latest CEO, hired from low-cost carrier Vueling Airlines.  Many are blaming the CEO for the decline of BA, once a national treasure, into becoming a version of Ryanair.

However, dozens of travel-related websites have experienced data breaches in 2015 - raising cyber attack worries. Data from those websites is sold on underground forums by cybercriminals. Travel-site data is fetches about the same price in the criminal underground as that from dating and employment websites, both sought by criminals.

Last year, United, American and Sabre detected incursions into their computer systems. Investigators linked the United attack to a group of China-backed hackers they say were behind several other large heists -- including the theft of security-clearance records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and medical data from health insurer Anthem Inc.
Your Letters! 
Dear FlyersRights:

Flying the airlines used to be a gala affair that people got dressed up
for and looked forward to. Nowadays, it's like going to prison.

In prison, angry-looking people in uniforms with badges put you through
metal detectors and frisk you before letting you in.
At the airport, angry-looking people in uniforms with badges put you
through metal detectors and frisk you before letting you in.

In prison, they tell you what personal items you can have and a have a
list of contraband items you can't have.
On a plane, they tell you what personal items you can have and have a
list of contraband items you can't have.

In prison, they run your life and tell you when to stand up, sit down,
and eat.
On a plane, they run your life and tell you when to stand up, sit down,
and eat.

Prison is a place most people would rather not be.
Airplanes are a place most people would rather not be.

In prison, they stick you next to a surly stranger and you have nothing
to say about it.
On a plane, they stick you next to a surly stranger and you have nothing
to say about it.

In prison you sit on uncomfortable chairs bolted to the floor.
On a plane, you sit on uncomfortable chairs bolted to the floor.

In prison, you sleep on a lumpy cot with a thin blanket and a tiny pillow.
On a plane, you sleep on a lumpy seat without any blanket or pillow at all.

In prison, the food is lousy.
On a plane, the food is lousy.

In prison, you can't get out until they let you out.
On a plane, you can't get out until they let you out.

In prison, sometimes there are riots brought on by intolerable conditions.
On a plane, sometimes there are riots brought on by intolerable conditions.

In prison, if you don't like it, tough luck.
On a plane, if you don't like it, tough luck.

In some ways, prison is better than an airplane. In prison, you can get
a college degree and make a few bucks learning a trade. With the
airlines, you pay them for the exact same treatment. And no time off
for good behavior. Top 'o the world, ma!!

- MD

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Monday, September 5, 2016

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Mirror Mirror
The Blame Game

September 1, 2016

American Airlines is in the final stages of its merger with US Airways, which makes it the world's largest airline by passenger traffic.

What better time to unveil a new advertising campaign!

But in a unique twist, the airline's decided to focus on your attitude, instead of talking about how great it is.

The new campaign, which will be
unveiled next week, and will run about two months.

Centered on the phrase; "The world's greatest flyers fly American," it makes no commitment to be a better airline.

Instead, it cheekily says that you should sit down and shut up.

One ad reads, "Always upbeat, great flyers make the best of their situation no matter where they're sitting."

It shows merry passengers asking before reclining their seat or lowering the shade -indifferent to most passengers' reality of being stuffed into middle seats or battling for the armrest.

American claims they want you to be happy, but rather than increasing legroom or decreasing junk fees - what passengers really want - they'd rather focus on it being your problem that you're unhappy.

Aloof and Obtuse 

According to an American spokesperson, the carrier's new, more "sophisticated" campaign is designed to "humanize" its message.

In this current gilded age for US aviation, of near-monopolistic  power, it's  doubtful any ad campaign can make much of a difference in people's choice - or lack thereof. It's not as if 10 or 12 airlines are vying for travelers' business.

A spokesperson for the carrier said t he new ads are designed to "raise the level of decorum on aircraft and create a great environment where people are nice to each other."  

So the airline advises you turn your frown upside down and smile on that cramped, unpleasant plane - rather than just closing your eyes and pretending to be dead.

Blinded by Hubris

Except American Airlines has created many of the customer service issues they complain about. You wouldn't have to ask the passenger behind you if it was ok to recline your seat, if you weren't so crammed together.

The spin out of American's PR department seems oblivious to the fact that it's ranked one of the lowest carriers in the world in passenger satisfaction - behind Ethiopian Airlines

The airline should spend less on ads and more on customer service; from its employees, to the gate agents, the flight attendants and baggage claim personnel.

Okay American, and all other airlines, want to make us smile? Here's a good start: 
  • Make seats wider and leg room longer.
  • Stop canceling flights for phony reasons.
  • Stop treating musicians with carryon instruments like pariahs. Stop breaking instruments.
  • Get rid of long check-in lines.
  • Stop losing and damaging luggage.
  • Bring back meals and snacks onboard flights. 
  • Get rid of outrageous fees for checked luggage.
  • Make flights more affordable.
  • Make changing or rescheduling flights easier and less expensive.
Yes, modern air travel is a dehumanizing experience, and it's laudable to make an effort to humanize it, but airlines have more than their fair share of work to do as well.

Until next week - know your rights. Do not go gentle into that good night. 


Followup - Crisis Averted!

Remember those huge, long TSA security lines that plagued airports across the country back in April and May? Well, they're  gone!

Upcoming elections do wonders for government efficiency!

Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:
1 (877) Flyers6
  1 (877) 359-3776
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