Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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Season's Readings
Nov. 23, 2016

Welcome to one of the busiest days
Atlanta airport, Getty
of the year!

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving (and the Sunday after) are like annual stress-tests for America's aviation infrastructure.

Passenger numbers can be between 130-259 percent higher than the average day according to the US Travel Association. Watch their interesting Thanksgiving video here.

Last year broke an all-time high of 26.6 million passengers, but this year will surpass that by 55,000 passengers per day during Thanksgiving weekend, says the industry trade group Airlines for America.

Just as predictable as the crowds, are the comments we get from scrooges informing us that people can literally travel any other day of the year and have just as much fun for far less money and hassle.

True, but these pious observers ignore the fact that the rest of us live in the real world, have real jobs that have to be scheduled around work and life responsibilities, client commitments, and the desire to be with family around the holidays.

What You Should Know

All the airline rules about cancellations and delays are laid out in the carrier's Contract of Carriage as well as in the Department of Transportation's Consumer Guide to Air Travel.  But who reads all that print?

Here are your rights in the event of a problem:
  • Passengers must be notified of any delay longer than 30 minutes, as well as cancellations and diversions. These must be posted in the boarding area, on the airline's telephone reservation system and on its website.
  • FlyersRights signature rule: The maximum limit on the tarmac is three hours (exceptions only for "safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons). And after two hours waiting on the plane, airlines must provide passengers with food and water, as well as working bathrooms.
  • Airlines are required to offer compensation when a passenger is involuntary bumped from an oversold flight, but not when a flight is delayed or canceled.
  • For delays or cancellations caused by a "force majeure" - weather, acts of God, riots, terrorist activity, civil unrest, embargoes, war, strikes, government regulation, shortages of labor or fuel or basically anything the airline says is out of its control - the airline isn't required to help you out.
You will be rerouted, put on the next available flight or your ticket will be cancelled and you'll get a refund, but the airline is not required to compensate you with vouchers or anything else.

Luggage Delays - Your Rights
  • In accordance with your air consumer rights, if your bags don't arrive on the carousel, report it to airline personnel before you leave the airport. Ask that they create a report and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight. 
  • Get a phone number for following up (not the flight reservations number).  Most carriers have guidelines for their airport employees allowing them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases. The amount depends on whether or not you're away from home and how long it takes to track down your bags and return them to you. 
  • If the airline does not provide you a cash advance, it may still reimburse you later for the purchase of necessities. Discuss with the carrier the types of articles that would be reimbursable, and keep all receipts. For example, if the airline loses sporting equipment, it will sometimes pay for the rental of replacements. For replacement clothing or other articles, the carrier might offer to cover a portion of the purchase cost, on the basis that you will be able to use the new items in the future. (The airline may agree to a higher reimbursement if you turn the articles over to them.)
  • Airlines are liable for provable damages up to their liability amount of $3,500 in connection to the delay (you are entitled to claim $3,500 for lost baggage). If you can't resolve the claim with the airline's airport staff, keep a record of the names of the employees with whom you dealt, and hold on to all travel documents and receipts for any money you spent in connection with the mishandling. 
  • While you're still at the airport remember to ask for "expenses money." Get a phone number for following up (not the flight reservations number).  According to DOT, most carriers have guidelines for their airport employees allowing them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases. The amount depends on whether or not you're away from home and how long it takes to track down your bags and return them to you. 

  • How to ask for help; Don't depend on fixing problems at the airport. If you're waiting in a line, call the airline's customer service number while you wait. They may be able to help you faster than you can even get to the front of the line.
  • Occasionally, the airline's airport staff does not give you the correct, legal answer. So you may have to call the airline's customer service team on the phone. Sometimes it's more effective to bypass the people you're arguing with. Do this all while still in the terminal, because it's harder to resolve later. 
  • Social media can help - also try tweeting at the correct airline, and you might be amazed how swiftly they respond. 
  • Lastly, don't sign anything. You can sign your right away to earn cash.

When all else fails - there's a good chance your lost luggage is in Alabama. More accurately, the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a retail store filled with valuables from unlucky flyers' "misplaced" bags.

The airlines sell your luggage and the contents after a short holding period and keep the proceeds. FlyersRights strongly disagrees with this practice.

FlyersRights' founder and spokesperson, Kate Hanni, is available for media interviews regarding holiday air travel from now until New Year's! 
Kate's tips: 
  • Don't wrap your gifts before packing them in carryon or checked baggage
    • No electronics or batteries in checked baggage
  • Keep medications in carryon or purse (high level of theft of medications according to airport crime database)
  • Try to get your flights early in the morning and without connecting flights, especially no connections in Texas due to weather/thunderstorms there
  • Pre-ship anything valuable (Christmas presents) with insurance if you can afford to do so.  That will ensure your gifts and expensive electronics are at your arrival area
  • If you are going on a cruise give yourself 24 hours between the arrival of your flight and departure of cruise
  • Pack all medications in carryon and a set of comfortable jammies or sweats in case you do end up in a "cot city" in Chicago or elsewhere
  • Stay calm.  The holidays are stressful enough!
To reach our airline expert Kate Hanni for interview requests, call +1 707-337-0328.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

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Nov. 16 , 2016

Over a year ago we sounded the alarm about Delta Airline's new  'Last Class' category. 

It's an ultra-basic fare below the typical coach class. Delta said it was to compete with low cost carriers Spirit and Allegiant. 

But these new fares come with new drawbacks - such as banning any ticket changes (even for a fee), not allowing advance seat assignments, denying free upgrades, etc. 

We've been closely following this race to the bottom of legacy carriers,  incrementally  breaking down coach tickets into pieces and creating new streams of monetization. Amenities and services that used to be included in the ticket are now behind a paywall. 

Both United and American Airlines will roll out basic economy fares in 2017. So, you'll pay more for the same tickets in two months. 

Yes, the kicker is this base-bottom class will cost the same as the current economy fare, and their standard economy fare will go up.

Until now, booking Delta's basic economy Last Class meant no free ticket changes, no advance seat assignments, no upgrades, etc. United matches this, and adding no ticket changes, no upgrades, or Economy Plus seating, no frequent flyer miles, but also  no carry-ons

That's right, they're really doubling down. Your normal carry-on bag is prohibited. Instead, you can only bring one 'personal item', (United says there's an exception for elite members, Star Alliance Gold members, and those with United's co-branded credit card)

How United will enforce the carry-on ban?

Customers of United's basic last class will be put into boarding group 5, (fittingly, the last class to board), and gate agents will inform those passengers they aren't entitled to a carry-on. 

If these passengers do have a carry-on, they'll be forced to pay a fee for checking it, unlike other passengers, who can gate-check bags for free.


It's hard to believe United could out-do Delta's Last Class basic economy. Now look for all the major carriers to synchronize their 'economy minus' classes.

The cliched phrase "race to the bottom" is becoming more and more fitting for multiple airlines, but especially when they're collaborating and ramming it down your throat while saying it's an enhancement that customers want.

Yes, people expect something like this when buying Spirit Airline tickets, but not on a legacy carrier.

To think that United's new CEO said they're aiming for better customer service. We think United is going in the wrong direction and taking a dive back to the bottom.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) released today states that reporting carriers canceled 0.3 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in September 2016, the lowest for any of the 261 months with comparable records since January 1995. 

Here are FlyersRights' proposed fixes:
  • Reinstatement of reciprocity rule
  • Full compensation and damages for economic cancellation;
  • Damages for lying about reasons for cancellation;
  • Montreal Convention or EU damages for international trip delays;
  • Ready reserves sufficient to reduce delays and cancellations to acceptable levels;
  • Insurance policies that cover loss of time as well as out of pocket expenses;
  • Half of fine for tarmac delays over 3-4 hrs be paid to passengers instead of government; and
  • Support for passenger hotline enacted in 2012 but never funded up to $10 million
FlyersRights' proposals have the answers to reduce and deal with cancellations and delays that now affect one out of five flights. Cancellations alone affect seven million passengers per year.

While the DOT issued a press release showing an abnormally low cancellation rate for September of 0.3% - it omits the very high number of cancellations in the high travel summer months. 

The 2016 stats are August 1.4% (ExpressJet 3.7%, Delta 2.0%), July 1.7% (ExpressJet 5.3%, Southwest 3.0%), June 0.9% (ExpressJet 2.8%, Spirit 2.3%).

"This is worth a mention because Warren Buffett only invests in companies with growing profits and large moats against competition," said Paul Hudson, FlyersRights' president.

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We have enjoyed many hard-fought victories.

The movement continues, and there is a long road of ahead of us as we continue to stand up for passenger rights with our groundbreaking agenda. 

We must remain vigilant and remember there are still many politicians, trade groups and lobbyists of both parties who want to undermine FlyersRights.

For those who have chosen to not support us in the past, we're reaching out to you for your help.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

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Make Flying Great Again

Nov 8, 2016

Flyersrights is taking the FAA to federal court.

Are small airline seats a health risk to airline passengers? 
Sept. 2016 - A fire broke out in the left engine of the 257-seat Boeing 777. 
Before an aircraft is certified for passenger use, the plane maker must demonstrate that a full payload of passengers and crew can evacuate within 90 seconds - but such tests are carried out with volunteers unencumbered by baggage. The BA aircraft at Las Vegas was only half-full, allowing all the passengers and crew to leave within a few minutes despite some exits being unusable because of fire.

We think so. Just as anyone traveling on commercial US airlines knows, passengers are getting bigger, airlines are making seats smaller and knees are getting crushed - unless you pay dearly for an upgrade. 

Well, FlyersRights is fighting back against this racket.

A week ago we filed a lawsuit with the United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit refuting the only arguments in the FAA opposition brief, that: 1) the FAA lacks jurisdiction to regulate seats and pitch based on health concerns, and 2) the the FAA has secret information showing that shrunken seats and leg room will not affect emergency evacuation.  

"The fact that the FAA has had to resort to flawed technical legal arguments and ignored the merits of the rulemaking petition evidence FlyersRights submitted showing safety and health dangers of shrunken seats and pitch, shows the weakness of its position in denying any rulemaking for seat or leg room and refusing a moratorium on further shrinkage." said Paul Hudson, FlyersRights' president.

In recent court papers the FAA indicated seat space was not a concern for the agency. They further said it's none of their business to think about tiny seats on planes.
Oct. 2016 - An American Airlines 767 caught fire at Chicago O'Hare Airport. Passengers evacuated on inflated slides as flames and smoke poured from the aircraft. Escape was delayed by some passengers retrieving bags. No serious injuries reported. The flight was only 70% full. See video taken inside the aircraft. For another take on evacuations see AskThePilot.

FlyersRights is challenging this faulty thinking.

"The fact that the FAA has had to resort to flawed technical legal arguments and ignored the merits of the rulemaking petition evidence FlyersRights submitted showing safety and health dangers of shrunken seats and pitch, shows the weakness of its position in denying any rulemaking for seat or leg room and refusing a moratorium on further shrinkage," stated Hudson.

Making Airports Great Again

Clinton & Trump planes cross paths in Cleveland. Sept 2016
"Our airports are like from a Third World country," said Donald Trump in September during a discussion on American infrastructure. 

He was specifically referring to New York's three international airports and Los Angeles International Airport.

A few years earlier, Joe Biden made the same remark, in reference to LaGuardia Airport.

This raises the questions; Should presidential candidates be insulting developing countries by comparing US airports to those of the developing world? Also, how much time has Trump, or his rival Hillary Clinton, spent in commercial airports anyway?

It's laughable to allege to understand the flying public from the comforts of your own personal jet - regardless of political party, and avoid dealing with security checkpoints, time-sinking endless waits and nickel and diming.

Skytrax released their annual ranking of the world's top 100 airports. This year's list puts five airports in developing countries ahead of the top American airport - Denver International, which comes in 28th place.

What makes American airports so bad? Chronic underinvestment in public infrastructure across the country. (Actually, Trump and Clinton agree on the need for much more infrastructure spending, arguing only about who is promising to spend more.)

Your Voice!

Dear FlyersRights:
It looks like my complaining to the flight attendants on Korean Air last year on my trip to Bali about the discomfort of the tilted-flat seats in Business Class worked.  They've gone level-flat.  Surely solely attributable to my having expressed dissatisfaction.  See, it pays to complain!  Your vote counts!


Dear FlyersRights:

I've been a long time supporter of Flyers Rights and have a question for you.  I just came back from a trip to Ireland, booked through American but flown round trip from the Los Angeles to Dublin on British Air.  I used my FF miles and paid $975 in taxes to BA. Taxes on American are typically about one third that amount but there were no FF seats on American when I booked.

The outbound flights (3 of them) were fine but I missed a connection on the return from London to Los Angeles, the longest leg of the flight. I missed it because there was only one hour and 5 minutes between the flight from Dublin to London and the departure time from London to Los Angeles.  I had to go through Passport Control, Customs and Security, all of which took an hour.  When I got through and ran to the departure gate for my LA flight, it had just left.

Since there were no more flights available to Los Angeles that evening, they booked me on an American flight the next day, which meant staying in a hotel in Heathrow that night.  I took the American flight the next day, which brings me to my question:  Am I entitled to a refund on the taxes I paid to BA (approx. $450) for the leg I missed?  I have asked American to return those taxes minus the taxes American would be entitled to, but to no avail. They first passed me off to BA for the refund but BA passed me right back to American.  I have told American that I didn't think any government agency was entitled to collect taxes on services or goods not received. 

Will you please tell me what the policy (if any) is on this?  I am grateful for your help.


Dear DB:

The Montreal Convention article 19 may give you a basis for delay compensation as the airline should have known that the connection time was too short. 

As to a tax refund for a flight never taken, that has been court tested in Massachusetts and passengers lost even where the airline never actually paid the tax to the government. 

Not sure how this would turn out in another court in CA or in Europe.

There may also be a possibility of compensation under EU rules buy you would need to consult an EU law firm that specializes in this.

I have seen airlines even unilaterally change bookings of reservations to as little as 45 minutes for connections.  I make it a practice to provide at least an hour for domestic and at least 1.5 - 2 hours minimum for connections internationally, as incoming flight delays, customs, security, passport or visa control and/or walking between airport terminals can eat up lots of time.

Overall, the fix is that tighter rules are needed to make connection times realistic and to place the expense and burden of missed connection compensation on the airline including refunds of any taxes paid for a flight missed. 

Sometimes airline warn of close connections at booking, but that is now left up to each airline.

Paul Hudson 

Dear DB,

It makes sense that he would be due a refund for the BA taxes minus the AA taxes as he states, but I have done a bit of research and I cannot find much on this subject.  Since this ticket used AA FF miles and AA originally collected the taxes on behalf of BA I would think that AA would be responsible for the refund.  If they refuse, this may be a good small claims case. 

Joel Smiler 

FlyersRights Hotline Director

Dear Colleagues:

The White House and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced today (Oct. 18, 2016) enhanced protections for air travelers to spur competition.   Together, the actions announced will help consumers to know how airlines are performing, as well as make sure consumers don't have to pay for services they don't receive, can easily find the best flight options, and have a voice in how airlines are regulated. That will create a more competitive market, with better outcomes for American consumers.

The White House Fact Sheet has been posted at, the DOT press release is available at, and the underlying documents referenced in the Fact Sheet and Press Release are publicly available on our website at

Best regards,

Jonathan Dols
Deputy Assistant General Counsel
Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (C70)
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E.   W98-312 
Washington, DC 20590


Unfortunately this does not do much and only somewhat complies with Existing law.
Overall it's very disappointing. It fails to implement any of the 30 measures called for the Airline Passengers Bill of Rights 2.0 we first presented in 2012. It fails to issue long delayed rules on timely disclosure of ancillary fees, ignores DOTs anticompetitive decisions denying or indefinitely delaying foreign airlines access to US domestic markets in violation of Open Skies Agreements and its granting of numerous antitrust waivers to airline joint ventures, continues the refusal of FAA and DOT to halt dangerous shrinkage of seats and legroom or to set minimum passenger space standards, fails to address 2015 consumer rulemaking petitions to prohibit exorbitant change fees on international flights, or require plain language notice of passenger delay compensation rights. 

The DOJ since 2009 has also presided over a consolidation of the US airline industry into 4 airlines controlling 85% of domestic flights leading to reduction in service to most cities and has never stopped any merger or any anti competitive practice that I am aware of.  

When I traveled to Paris, Berlin and London last month, I was surprised to see far more airlines,  much lower fares, and robust consumer protection and representation, the polar opposite of the US situation. It used to be the reverse, the US had lower fares, better service and more competition. Last summer I also received several calls from foreign journalists covering the Republican and Democratic conventions, expressing astonishment at how bad US domestic air travel has become. 

The record of the Obama Administration and Secretary Foxx since 2013 has essentially been a reversion to pro airline industry self regulation and protectionism.
You have only a short time left to reverse this record, but it is still possible.


Paul Hudson, Pres.
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee

Dear FlyersRights:

We recently flew on an AA Airbus from DFW to LGA.  The left side of the plane had less space than the right side!!!  My husband and I each had aisle seats, and we had to switch because he was so uncomfortable on the left side.  Also, the rows were not aligned!


Dear FlyersRights:

One thing I would not miss from the era of the upper photo is the smell of tobacco which probably permeated everywhere. BTW did you see how wide that aisle is? (- In response to Those Were The Days).


Dear FlyersRights:

From your August 2, 2016 news letter:  "But customer dissatisfaction rewards the airlines. The industry has worked out that the more awful the experience, the more passengers will pay for the most basic services.

Under the guise of "consumer choice," passengers get bilked into spending more for this sham "premium" service."

My wife and I recently returned from a trip from San Francisco to Madrid, Spain and return on American Airlines.  Nearly six months prior to departure, I tried to reserve seats on all the flights.  For the first leg, from San Francisco to Dallas (DFW), American had blocked every window and aisle seat in regular coach seating.  All that showed on their seat map were middle seats.  In order to get two seats together, I was forced to pay extra to move to an upgraded section of the aircraft.  Just another one of their nasty tricks to get us to pay more.
Also, regarding the article about not wearing glasses in a passport photo, I have worn glasses for seventy years, since I was eight year old, had had a passport since 1954 when I was 15 years old.  I have never been allowed to leave my glasses on while the picture was being taken.  But I know that today with the "selfie" movement, fewer people get their pictures done by people who know the proper way to take a passport photo.  Too bad.
One final note.  On our return from Madrid this week, we used Global Entry for the first time.  What a breeze entering the USA.  While there were several hundred people waiting to have their passports checked manually, we went to the Global entry kiosks where there was about a one minute wait and breezed through.  Although my wife did not get a clean entry pass, there was a CBP agent right there to approve her entry.  Less than a minute delay.  And, of course, the Global Entry pass also gives you TSA Pre-check as well.

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