No other event in 2016 will have an impact as massive as the continued slide in fuel prices.
Oil's fall from grace will influence airline profits more positively than any single event in modern history predicts Moody's Investment Service.
The slump in price has been so rapid that it's been like winning the lottery for the airline industry. Even if the price does not fall as far as previous lows, most airlines have adjusted to being profitable with oil at $100 a barrel, so the windfall will flow straight to the bottom line.
Last week we spoke to the media about the trending story of why savings from falling oil prices have not been passed along to customers.
In earnings reports released last week, executives from the country's biggest carriers bragged about profits that have surpassed those reported before the Great Recession and the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The result is that Americans are being pickpocketed. Airfares and fees are costly because carriers refuse to compete with each other, ensuring they can continue to charge high prices.
At 40 of the 100 largest U.S. airports, a single airline controls a majority of the market, as measured by the number of seats for sale. This is up from 34 airports a decade earlier.
According to an Associated Press analysis of data from Diio, an airline-schedule tracking service, one or two airlines control a majority of the seats at 93 of the top 100 airports, an increase from 78 airports from 10 years earlier.
The airlines are not only oligopolistic, but also exercise considerable power in Washington to squeeze regulators to block rivals from getting a foothold.
So fuel costs have come down, but fares haven't. Paradoxically, airline profits have skyrocketed while quality of service for customers has dropped.
Travelers are now performing a number of tasks previously performed by travel agents and employees - from booking tickets to checking bags.
The price of jet fuel is dropping precipitously. The U.S. economy is improving. Unionism is on the decline. And efficiency is improving with the use of advanced computerization.
Yet some carriers continue to impose extra charges they initiated during the lean years when oil prices were high, such as jet fuel surcharges, fees for each piece of baggage, and charges for in-flight food. All contribute to high airfares.
In particular, jet fuel surcharges have drawn the attention of Washington.
Last year, Sen. Charles Schumer asked the Department of Justice and Department of Transportation to investigate why airfares have remained so high despite declining oil prices.
No one is surprised that flights today are more crowded and more expensive, with more fees and worse service.
2016 will be yet another year of record profitability for U.S. airlines. Unfortunately for airline customers, they should expect more of the same treatment in 2016.
Instead of adding flights, "Almost all of our capacity growth domestically is about putting more seats on airplanes," said American Airlines president Scott Kirby in a 2015 investment conference and echoed by the other U.S. carriers. "We will absolutely not lose our capacity discipline."
If the airline industry was more competitive, carriers would have greater difficulty pulling these stunts. Yet they get away with imposing an outrageous array of fees for services that used to be covered in the price of a ticket. A slew of cost-cutting measures that studies show have contributed to customer complaints, as have lost bags, lateness and overbooking - all of which were up in 2015.
How have we gotten to this point?
Airline mergers and consolidations are taking a systemic toll that is bad for consumers. These robber barons in rimless glasses and Porsche leather driving gloves pick the pockets of Great Recession-hit families as gleefully as any old Andrew Carnegie - except they have little fear of government interference.
It is time for our government to stand up to the airlines in the name of the people.
Pushing the limit - Airbus will pack in 11 passengers per row.
One of the airline trends we're watching in 2016 was started by Airbus last summer - that is, packing in 11 seats per row on a A380 superjumbo jet.
It's become a knee-crushing arms race. Or as the airlines like to call it 'cost savings.' But who really wins?
It's hard to argue that in economy class today, the majority of the seats aren't too small.
Given the lack of competition, the mergers that have shaped the U.S. airline marketplace and the health risks of sardine-esque legroom, there needs to be a simple minimum standard - of at least 34 inches of seat pitch and 18 inches of width.
Last summer, Airbus floated this trial balloon -- an 11 seats per row aircraft, where 10 abreast is considered high-density. The news went over like a lead balloon. Public reaction was almost universally negative.
Airbus achieved this unprecedented sardining by cutting seat width by an inch, slashing armrest widths by just over one inch, slanting window armrests outwards, shrinking the aisles.
At some point, safety trumps capitalism, and that's where government steps in
In August, FlyersRights.org filed a formal Petition for Rulemaking with the FAA to set minimum standards guaranteeing each passenger adequate leg, hip, and shoulder room.
Of course, the airlines hate this and contend that minimum seat standards will lead to higher prices and fewer choices. But the reality is quite the opposite, such standards will level the playing field between airlines and ensure that the price of an economy class airline seat on one airline is truly comparable to that of another airline.
It should also be remembered that there is no magic in the supposedly lower fares (and higher fees) charged by airlines that have cut back on legroom and seat sizes. Passengers still pay the price for smaller seats one way or the other -- if not in cash, then in bruised knees, broken laptops, increased respiratory illness, increased risk of DVT, air rage leading to diverted flights.
No middle ground
This is clearly a situation where the market has failed. Consumers desperately want a choice between crammed economy class and super-expensive first class. There is little middle ground for seat width, and people keep getting bigger. It's not like most consumer products, where you get a range of options to suit your budget.
The airline industry's argument that consumers already have a choice is laughable.
Business and First Class are almost completely cost-prohibitive for the average leisure traveler, so regulation is needed to ensure minimum comfort.
This reduction of passenger space in the quest for higher profits has created a critical situation -- by pushing the limits, not only of safety and comfort but of health as well. Being confined in a small seat for several hours can be life-threatening.
We urge readers to insist the FAA act now to stop the trend to smaller seats and jam-packed planes. You can have a say in what those standards will be.
"Tombstone mentality" is a mindset of ignoring design defects until people have died.
Looking at how passengers struggle now getting into and out of seats makes one wonder how they will escape in an emergency. One day, we will find that they cannot. Then, after hundreds of people have died, there might be a change.
No, we're not advocating a nanny state. We're simply saying that government must insist airlines offer reasonable seating and traveling conditions.
It's time for governments to stand up to the airlines in the name of their people. This year more than 3.6 billion passengers will fly in 2016. That's almost half the world.
There is a great effort made by this country's elites to keep people complacent and out of touch - the public must be kept in line. To separate people from one another, because they are disruptive when together.
Today we look back at the 10 most popular newsletters of 2015. What a year it was! So many victories big and small. So let's jump right in.
Shame On You
August 11, 2015
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In 2015 we saw a many new terms coined: "Last Class", "Stacked" or "Hexagon" seating, but our favorite was, "Hate Selling".
Our most popular newsletter dealt with the shaming of customers into buying extra services during the online buying process.
Like used car salesmen, 2015 was all about upselling. Many of the US carriers have redesigned their websites to maximize the trickery to scare you into upgrading.
Either via 'Hate Selling' or creating uncertainty about your choice of a 'low cost' basic ticket, the airlines have become experts at making you feel like a cheapskate.
They defend these change fees by insisting they also sell "fully refundable" tickets without the fees.
But who can afford paying four times the normal price for the 'luxury' of a refundable ticket? This argument is a sham that just creates a false appearance of choice.
The pop-up window you get when you choose a 'a Delta 'Basic' price ticket.
Agree to the evils and sign off on them.
Stop Fueling Around
January 27, 2015
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We asked this question last year, will the airlines ever lower fares?
Nope, said the experts, and they were right. No need to when they're filling more than 85% of their seats at current prices. And, to add insult to injury, the airlines all hiked their fares last week. What 'discipline'!
FlyersRights demanded airlines reduce airfares and fuel surcharges in light of the dramatic drop in jet fuel prices last January. but it was an exercise in 'fuel'tility.
We heard nothing but crickets from the airlines.
Of course, when fuel prices were sky-high, the airlines never missed any opportunity to tell passengers and the public about their suffering which led to the excuse for "unbundling" airfares, baggage fees, reservation fees and countless others.
June 2, 2015
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Our June newsletter about the airlines prohibiting mobile phone calls by passengers, even in an emergency, helped lead to a September DOT committee recommendation that airlines - not the federal government - should decide whether passengers can make phone calls during taxiing and flights.
n April 3, 2015, Karen Momsen-Evers, a Southwest Airlines passenger, received a text message from her husband shortly before her plane was to taxi that read, "Karen, please forgive me for what I am about to do, I am going to kill myself..." She told the flight attendants, who refused to let her communicate with her husband.
After the flight, she was informed by police that her husband had killed himself.
FlyersRights recommends advising the crew that you have a matter of life, and death and in a loud voice if necessary. Say you must be allowed to exit the plane, refuse to sit down, make a fuss so the pilot returns to the gate. If you're in the air, WIFi Skype calls are possible, and you can demand in writing and verbally the captain be made aware of your situation and need to communicate.
TSA Gets An F
June 16, 2015
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The nation was in an uproar when a report leaked in June that said investigators from the Department of Homeland Security could easily slip weapons and fake bombs past airport screeners 95% of the time. FlyersRights declared that TSA is failing at every level.
We wait in long lines, in crowded security checkpoints, shuffle along in socks, remove our belts, (what does TSA have against belts anyway?) and put our hands up in the body-scanner like we're under arrest - for what?
Unfortunately, it's a security blanket full of holes.
August 4, 2015
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We reported on the fraying state of civility in air travel and revolution brewing at 30,000 feet.
The moving of seats closer and closer together, reducing the number flights per route, all to keep flights as packed as possible is leading to more stressed passengers and air rage.
The number of stories in the news about planes diverting due to violence onboard is up. Violence brought on by increasing stressers of overbooked of flights, sardining and bumping of passengers, endless fees, limited space for carry-ons and the ever-diminishing value of frequent flyer programs.
FlyersRights spoke in this newsletter with the inventor of the 'Knee Defender' about the powerful appeal of vigilante justice with this product.
September 16, 2015
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United Airlines' CEO, Jeff Smisek was ousted -and we're Shocked! Shocked! -at how long it took.
Things have not gone well for United in recent years - once known for its white-glove service back in the '80s and '90s, even in coach.
Over the objections of Flyersrights, the FAA choose to 'study' not act on the problem of helicopter manufacturers ignoring air crash safety measures for new helicopters.
Helicopters are 85 times more dangerous than autos and 350 times more dangerous than travel by airliner.
Over 20 years ago, the FAA issued regulations requiring safer helicopter designs to improve air crash safety.
However, the fatality rate has not improved because only 10-16% of the fleet have safety devices needed to prevent fires and ensure crash-worthiness survivability.
On average, there is a civilian helicopter accident three times per week and one fatality per week.
Sorry, We Think
October 6, 2015
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Just give us a few inches of legroom back in coach and we'll call it even.
That was the weary public sentiment to United Airlines' new CEO Oscar Munoz's hangdog face in ads and video in October during his apology tour for "failing their employees and customers".
Apparently, in the past five years, there were no problems noticed in the executive suites. Only after the previous CEO got caught up in a New Jersey corruption scandal about some lane closings, were Jeff Smisek's problems noticed.
This sort of apology is too silly to even comprehend.
Will an apology get passengers more leg room, or good customer service? Will it stop the unlawful collusion to fix prices and cut services?
Will it keep the airlines from calling a flight cancellation "weather" when the reason is maintenance? Will it stop the airlines from turning a profit on your lost luggage and crippled mileage program?
No, we didn't think so.
Due to Mr. Munoz's recent heart transplant, it's unclear if his customer service overhaul will continue into the future.
In November, singer and dancer Tamar Braxton, 38, stunned fans when she announced that due to blood clots, allegedly caused by frequent flights, she will leave Dancing With The Stars.
It's a reminder that DVT (deep vein thrombosis) can easily strike the young and fit.
We've known for a long time that passengers' risk of DVT (also knows as economy class syndrome) is high on long-haul flights of over three hours.
DVT is caused by immobility over a sustained period and claims the lives of a number of airline passengers each year.
People who fly four hours or more, the World Health Organization found, have three times the risk of developing clots compared with periods when they did not travel.
The blood clot is, in medical-speak, a deep vein thrombosis. If it stays in the leg it can cause stiffness and pain, but if it moves up the body it can cause real trouble.
Shake a leg!
Airlines Attack 3-Hour Rule
January 6, 2015
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While no one was looking, a few days before Christmas, the airlines launched a sneak attack against FlyersRights' Three-Hour Tarmac Rule.
They had their henchmen over at MIT/Dartmouth's 'Global Airline Industry Program' release a new paper bashing our landmark ruling. It stated that the Three-Hour Tarmac Rule actually leads to more passenger delays.
The study was also timed to convince both Congress and the DOT to extend the rule to three and a half hours and reduce the fines imposed - which does nothing to help airline passengers.
Instead it would allow the airlines more flexibility to oversaturate airport schedules and prevent passenger migration in the event of a long ground delay.
FlyersRights has a history with this MIT/Dartmouth avionics program - which is funded by the airlines. We testified against them in Congress back in 2009 when fighting to pass the Three-Hour Tarmac Delay Rule.
Passengers overwhelmingly state that they'd rather be delayed inside the airport, where they can advocate for themselves and find alternative transportation, than be stuck, helpless inside a plane.
WE'RE NOT DONE YET
Help us pass new rules to require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly.
Airline passengers have rights!
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.