US SUPREME COURT HANDS DOWN ANTI-AIRLINE CONSUMER PROTECTION RULING
February 22, 2017
The intent and purpose of the Montreal Convention was to clarify, harmonize, and achieve uniformity of rules governing claims arising from international air transportation. It was to create an orderly development of international air transport operations and the smooth flow of passengers, baggage and cargo.
Although the intent was to unify rules governing claims arising from international air transportation, there is no uniformity of process - a plaintiff can be treated differently depending on what Member Country they file in. It is creating unnecessary confusion as to the process frustrated passengers must take to get the redress afforded them by the Montreal Convention.
The Supreme Court has allowed an anti-consumer 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 2-1 ruling to stand, requiring consumers to file lawsuits in multiple countries to preserve protections afforded by the treaty that governs all claims against airlines arising out of international flights, reports FlyersRights.org and Travelers United, Inc. The travel groups had filed an amici brief in December with the US Supreme Court in support of international consumer protections in the Montreal Convention.
The Court declined to hear an appeal from a controversial 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 2-1 ruling which dismissed a passenger claim for personal injury, because her lawyers filed the case timely in South Africa but not in the US within 2 years.
Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights.org noted, "This decision leaves passengers with the onerous burden of having to file lawsuits in multiple countries to preserve their rights to recovery for personal injury, death, baggage or delay compensation against airlines. Passengers now face another expensive and time consuming hurdle, adding to the mountain of technical legal defenses already employed by airlines to defeat any passenger claim."
"This US Supreme Court action undercuts the expressed intent of the Montreal Convention to make passenger claims uniform and simple, while limiting claim amounts. It is also a slap in the face of 200 other nations whose court filings will not be recognized by US courts, contrary the express intent and language of the Montreal Convention," according to Charlie Leocha, President of Travelers United.
Johanna von Schoenebeck was injured on an international flight to San Francisco when a seat back collapsed on her neck, causing spinal injuries. After originally filing in South Africa, where the flight originated and where von Schoenebeck lived at the time, KLM Airlines waited for the two-year statute of limitations to expire before requesting a $23,000 bond for its attorney fees and suggesting that von Schoenebeck move the case to the United States. When von Schoenebeck re-filed in California, KLM immediately moved to dismiss for untimeliness, which was granted by a US District Court in San Francisco and affirmed by a split 2-1 decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A copy of the brief filed in the US Supreme Court is available at MOTION AND BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE FLYERS RIGHTS EDUCATION FUND AND TRAVELERS UNITED IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONER'S PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI.
FlyersRights.org is the largest airline passenger advocacy organization. It is best known for spearheading the Passenger Bill of Rights and the rule against lengthy tarmac confinements. Flyersrights.org operates a toll-free hotline 877-FLYERS6, publishes a weekly newsletter at flyersrights.org and maintains a staffed office in Washington, D.C. It is also appealing the FAA's refusal to issue minimum seat and leg room standards to address shrinking seat size and leg room by airlines: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (Case 16-1101, FlyersRights Education Fund v. FAA) will hear oral argument on March 10, 2017.
Travelers United is the country's leading consumer travel advocacy group dealing with airlines, hotels, rail and bus transportation. Travelers United was the main consumer advocate that developed with DOT rules that provide 24 hours to correct mistakes in airline bookings, full-fare advertising rules, increases in lost/denied/delayed baggage compensation and denied boarding compensation. Travelers United also has lead efforts to eliminate hotel resort fees and develop cruise line consumer protections.
Class Warfare Get less for more with Basic Economy
Well, we warned you it was coming - now it's official:
American Airlines yesterday trotted out its new Basic Economy fares at its hubs, DFW, PHL, MIA and CLT and TPA, MSY, BWI and FLL.
If you've flown economy class recently, you know it's already extremely "basic". how much more "basic" they can go?
As their press release enthuses, paying more for less is a good thing! It gives consumers "choices" as to which services to pay for.
Except, it's not giving customers more options when you're taking away options they had, for the same price. This is a hidden fee. It's also a blow to consumers in an industry reporting record profits. United Airlines made it clear it expects Economy Basic to collect $1 billion by 2020 - proof it isn't intended to produce lower fares, it's designed to restrict the number of the lowest fares being offered and increase auxiliary fees.
However, airline defenders still sell it as a way of keeping fares low. But, in reality, this new low fare was the old, you-get-to-choose-your-seat-and-bring-a-carry-on-too, fare, (and that fare just got raised another $60.)
Today, for example, let's say FLL- JFK is $200 round trip. With the new Basic Economy ticket, FLL-JFK will remain $200 but the regular economy ticket, what you used to get for $200, will now be $220.
Probably the biggest impact will be restricting interline agreements when rebooking passengers in Basic Economy. That is, in the event of a flight cancellation or severe delay, AA's interline agreements won't help you, because AA has stated that Basic Economy passengers are not eligible to be reaccommodated on other airlines.
Needless to say, Basic Economy fares are not welcome news to many business flyers who are required to book the absolute cheapest base fare. Monkey See Monkey Do - Following the Spirit model?
These legacy airlines say it allows them to compete with low-cost Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier. But that's not the case since their fares will not be any cheaper. AA's president said it himself, "its not a new discount, its a new set of features for our lowest fares" - as in, a new set of reductions in features for our lowest fares.
The usual response from airline advocates is 'nobody is forcing anyone to pay these fares' - and - 'air travel is not a constitutional right.'
But air transportation is very much a commodity and an essential service.
Presently, the domestic airline industry is very much an oligopoly. It's all about reducing competition, squeezing your patrons and diluting the offering. Legacy carriers also dominate gates and slots at key airports and create barriers for new entrants.
Business class passengers may say, "Why should I be concerned? It doesn't affect me." But once the airlines begin on this path of diluting product and services, they will eventually work their way to every class of service.
It will be interesting to see just how much more people are willing to put up with before standards bottom out.
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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.