Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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Fuel To The Fire

April  26, 2017

For the past few weeks, FlyersRights has been hounded by the media for comments on BumpgateLeggingsgateStrollergate and Delta's recent weather meltdown.

It's as if normal customer service rules don't apply to the airlines. The industry seems immune to normal corporate pressures that influence any other customer service business. 

This is an industry that has transformed the customer experience into one that most people hate. No one is happy about boarding a domestic flight in North America.

So, what are you buying when you purchase a ticket? You're agreeing to a one-sided contract called the Contract of Carriage. Known in the law as a contract of adhesion. You either take it or don't fly.
A panoply of punishment for passengers over the past month, involving; forcible removal from plane (United), a crew member vs. passenger blowup (American), compulsory wardrobe change from leggings (United) and Delta's cancellation of 4000 flights in Atlanta due to severe weather.

The airlines can pretty much say or do whatever they want in these contracts. 

Recently they've gone above and beyond the normal things and redefining what were always normal terms, like "Force Mejeure" or "Act of God", which traditionally referred to the weather or war.

Now, airlines are saying "Act of God" includes the lack of equipment or personnel - something that used to be their responsibility.  

The airlines write these one-sided contracts and get to enforce them at will. They have the protection at every level of government to do basically whatever they want. This isn't a good thing for consumers. 

The airlines are now over-consolidated corporations.  It's an industry with very high barriers to entry. You don't see someone casually deciding they want to start a new airline in the United States. That's why we've ended up with just three large network domestic carriers -  plus the smaller Southwest, Alaska-Virgin and JetBlue. Ironically, people prefer to fly on the smaller carriers. It shouldn't be this way.

But, cracks are emerging. Years of bottled up resentment has resulted in the blowups we're seeing now. The public's frustrated at how awful Economy Class has become, and fueled by how much better Business Class and First are, that they shuffle past on the way to the rear of the plane.

The passengers on Dr. Dao's flight saw United's Polaris branding all over the terminals at Chicago O'Hare. Images of incredible Business Class seats with glamorous crew members, all smiles, beckoning you to take a nap. This Polaris product marketing seems to be everywhere, in every airport around the world. So, everyone is aware. What a difference!

Your shuffle past First Class is intentional too, of course. Just like making everything miserable in the back of the plane is a carefully calculated strategy. It's like two planes in one, catering to two different markets . The front is the posh, private jet, and in the back is a low-cost, discount carrier. This is a problem.

Passengers should expect to be treated with the same level of respect as they'd get in a hotel or restaurant, but instead, the experience in Economy Class on US domestic carriers does not match that.
Next time you're on a LA to New York flight, Listen to the international passengers' conversations, who've just gotten off their transpacific flights on Cathay or Qantas. Hear their dismay at the quality of the travel experience on US airlines by comparison.

The general American spirit of friendliness does not exist in the airline industry.

A Message From our President:

The lopsided power of airlines, however, goes far beyond one sided contracts of carriage. Airlines have in the Patriot Act a draconian statute making it a federal felony to disobey a flight attendant's instructions (interference with flight crew) punishable by up to 20 years in prison plus a fine.  

Hundreds of passengers have been charged under this law since 2002 for minor infractions including declining to desist from overly amorous conduct and breast feeding a baby. Things that used to be punished by a fine or misdemeanor charge.  In the United-Dr. Dao case, but for passenger video on YouTube, the report by the Chicago Airport Police stating they only used "minimal necessary force" and blamed the passenger.

Then there is the exemption of airlines from all state and local consumer protection laws and most tort law, recently confirmed by the US Supreme Court in Ginsberg vs. Northwest Airlines.  

Airlines also have the right to transfer any case in state or local court to US District Court where litigation costs far exceed any normal passenger claim, other than those involving death or serious physical injury. 

Couple these laws with exemption from antitrust laws granted by the US DOT for most international airline joint ventures (aka alliances), exemption of airport authorities from antitrust laws,  prohibitions on most foreign competition or foreign investment in US airlines, FAA regulations making new airport construction by private entities virtually impossible, approval of nearly all airline mergers by the Justice Department, and we have in US air travel the worst of all worlds: Lack of both reasonable regulation and competition, allowing airline abuses to fester and passengers to suffer under a regime of tyranny not tolerated for any other industry.

Paul Hudson

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Plane Of Thrones

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Plane Of Thrones

April  20, 2017

Last week, United managed fuse oligarchy, police state, profits and the erosion of passenger rights in one fell swoop - and provoking  a firestorm of opposition when a passenger was dragged off a flight.

A real-life Game of Thrones

Where the customer is never right. The letter from United CEO repeatedly emphasizing the passenger's crime and failure to obey. He "refused" to give up his seat for a United employee. Dumbing down of language to relay talking points fits perfectly with authoritarian communicative behavior.

The email continues:
The rage against the airline seemed universal: across demographic & ideological lines - that everyone can be the target of corporate authoritarianism.

Ways to tell if your airline is autocratic
Authoritarian regimes rule by some combination of repression, cooperation, and effort to appear legitimate.

Disdain for human rights

The public who fly autocratic airlines are tricked that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The passengers tend to look the other way and not interfere - as was apparent on the United flight last week.

The police are given almost limitless power to enforce rules. The people are often willing to forego civil liberties in the name of 'keeping order'.

The Chicago Airport Police, who were filmed roughing up and dragging the passenger off the plane, fits this special police force. It was created years ago by the infamous Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The chief of Mayor Daley's bodyguard detail, when he retired, was sent to O'Hare to head up a new security detail called gate guards. It was all about patronage and clout to get those jobs.

Just like United's CEO Oscar Munoz is in this job because his predecessor resigned after being caught up, along with New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie and his Administration, in the
Bridgegate scandal. 

That sordid tale had to do with United offering one of Christie's cohorts at the Port Authority a special flight that made his commute easier, in hopes of getting better gate assignments at Newark. 

Develop a thug caste

The question becomes, why is law enforcement using violence to enforce a contract freely entered into by two private parties?

You may think that buying a ticket and boarding a plane and even sitting in your assigned seat means you had some right to fly on the plane. Legally and contractually, you do not.

Thugs dragging bloodied passengers off an aircraft shouldn't happen in a world where people vote with their wallets and corporations compete with one another to attract consumers. This is the disconnect that has puzzled so many. 

The first hint to the answer comes in noting that this was not an isolated incident, and that this sort of corporate mistreatment of paying customers is not limited to United.

The years following 9/11 have been a bonanza for 
United gives the press the run-around.
America's security contractors, with the government outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. 

In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by contractors at home and abroad.

The big US airlines don't need to do anything to convince people to fly with them. They've all merged and consolidated until there are just four companies controlling the majority of domestic flights. These airlines have determined that it's not in their best interest to compete with one another.

From 2008-2014, four airline mergers combined eight big carriers into four; American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest.

Yes, there used to be competition, which was like what we were taught in high school economics - that brought down prices and offered more services, such as more routes to more destinations. But the airlines weren't making enough money, so they consolidated into a few huge carriers, reduced service and raised the cost of flying through both increased fares and skyrocketing fees.

This is called oligopoly, and, for airline shareholders it's great. It is also why United is not too worried about people sharing the incriminating video. They're not embarrassed, and you won't embarrass them.

Airlines feel no need to perform the dance of corporate penitence. If you've chosen to fly somewhere, it's probably because you have no good alternative.

At 40 of the US's largest airports, a single airline controls a majority of the market. At 93 of the top 100, one or two airlines control a majority of the seats, an increase from 78 airports from a decade ago, reports an AP analysis of data from Diio, an airline-schedule tracking service.

If you live or work in United Airlines territory, at some point you'll face the no-choice scenario given to consumers in a post-consolidation industry: flying with them, flying a more time-consuming and circuitous route with some other, probably equally horrible airline (if such a route is available) or not flying anywhere.  

Do you need to get from Fargo to Denver in a hurry? Congratulations, you are now a United customer.

Another factor is the US government's ultra-lax enforcement of anti-trust law in the last few decades. The airlines have taken advantage of this and what's left is customers facing fewer companies with more monopoly power - and thus, fewer alternatives if those companies treat them horribly.


Stoking public fears about safety and well-being is a classic autocratic tactic.
A frightened flying public tends to think first about its own safety, and forget about fundamental liberties.

In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and opposition leaders. In the aviation industry there are three: A Watch List, a select list and a No-Fly list. Once you're on a list, it's hard to get off.

Class struggle

Airlines have cut economy-class service to the bone, while showering high-end customers with top treatment. Maximizing profits via overbooking squeezes more revenue out of the customer base. 

Airlines have been very profitable by investing heavily in first- and business-class, while downgrading economy-class. But why stop there? Economy can also be subdivided, and then subdivided again. 

First there was the creation of premium economy, which charges passengers extra for what used to be the standard amount of legroom, then for the exit-row seats that were previously the dominion of in-the-know flyers. Now there is a new class, a cut below standard economy, "basic economy", known to some as "last class".

Amid the airlines' divide between the haves and the have-nots, they're also busy segmenting customers between the haves, the have-lesses, the have-somewhats, the have-nots and, now, the have-nothing-at-alls.

Foreign competition?

Not only are foreign investors barred from having an over-25% stake in a US based carrier, foreign airlines are barred from flying from one US destination to another.

For example, British Airways can fly from London to New York, or London to Los Angeles, nonstop, but they cannot fly London to New York, pick up passengers in New York, then fly to Los Angeles. The New York to Los Angeles run has to be handled by a US-based carrier.

Back the 1970's Japanese cars were considered by many to be a joke. But by the mid 1980's Japanese cars had gained a growing market share because they were better than American cars for less money. The US auto industry responded by demanding quotas but also started to improve their low quality so they could compete. Either improve or disappear.

Competition is the only way, short of regulations, to motivate companies to improve service and contain costs. To improve America's dismal airlines, allow foreign airlines to fly domestically within the US.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

No Seat For You!

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No Seat For You!

April  12, 2017

(Here is FlyersRights' letter to Blane Workie, Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings at the U.S. Department of Transportation:)

A passenger rights crisis has finally boiled over with the viral video of a doctor being violently and dragged, bleeding off a United Airlines flight.

We have proposed numerous times solutions to what airlines call "disruptive passengers" and what passengers often call airline abuse, to no avail.

We are calling on Transportation Secretary Chao to hold a summit meeting with Airline CEOs, passenger reps and pilot and flight attendant union heads to resolve this and appoint a task force to work out new regulations to stop this. This should take place next week on 4/19  or 4/21 as 4/20 is an important meeting at FAA for repeal of regulations.

After seeing that video and United Airlines response, blaming the passenger, no one believes that continuing to give airlines carte blanche to abuse and assault passengers will make air travel great again. Instead unless DOT acts I am afraid President Trump and Secretary Chao will send air travel into the dirt. 

The next time this happens we may well see passenger riots.

As with tarmac confinements that were affecting 150,000 to 250,000 per year, passenger abuse and disruption is far worse than just one incident.


Paul Hudson
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee

Passengers crowd the gate at the airport waiting to board. This is when flyers usually learn from a gate agent if a flight is overbooked. (photo: FlyerTalk)

The disturbing United Airlines  video proves the time is now for government to step in and protect consumers.

The cellphone clip fell on fertile soil, as the majority of Americans despise or even hate their major airlines.

To recap, on Sunday four 'must-ride' United crew members needed to board a flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky,

When no passengers accepted an offer of a $400 voucher to be placed on a later flight, it upped the ante to $800 (plus a night in a hotel).

That was enough to tempt two passengers to leave. At that point, rather than raising the price further, the crew randomly selected a pair of travelers, apparently using a computer (do gate agents have a special algorithm for this?). The unlucky flyers were told to collect their things and disembark.

One man, who claimed to be a doctor with patients to attend to the next day, refused to go. The airline called for police back-up. Officers boarded the plane, and removed him against his will, to the obvious distress of both him and the other flyers.

Yet United was unrepentant, apologizing only for overbooking the flight, not the use of force.

In classic Orwellian form, United released a statement:

Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities.

"Re-accommodate"? Not only is it one of the most appalling actions taken by an airline, their response is even more appalling. All they had to say was, we take this situation very seriously and are performing a complete internal investigation.
The question becomes, at what point should total authority be granted to airline employees to use to deal with an overbooking? Never.

The airlines' 'We-Do-This-To-Stop-Another-911' argument - which hands them the right to do anything under the guise of public safety - has now worn very thin.

Involuntary flight bumps should be illegal

United's gate staff chose to force a customer off the flight - risking physical harm - to him, and other passengers - so they could board an employee. This should be out of the question, if not illegal.

Last year, US airlines denied boarding to 40,000 passengers
Too little, too late. No point praising UA's CEO although he's finally buckled to public anger and disgust.

According to an article from AP, the crew members approached the gate staff after the boarding was complete.

At the bare minimum, once you're boarded and strapped in, your contract with the airline should be honored.

Kate Hanni, FlyersRights founder said, "I think we call out both Congress and the President to make "air travel great again" by pointing out there seems to be no oversight by the Senate Oversight committee, no followup by FAA or executive branch, and no flying public consumer issues being considered due to the money free-flowing into Congress from the airlines and their well funded lobby."

United's Contract of Carriage allows it to boot a passenger off for pretty much any reason. When was the last time you read it? It's a nice read:

United Airlines reported full-year profits of $2.3 billion in 2016

"Our fourth quarter financial and operating performance capped an outstanding year for United Airlines," said United CEO Oscar Munoz in January 2017.

"In 2016, we put into action our plan to become the best airline in the world, and last year's results demonstrate we are on our way to achieving that ambition. We will continue delivering on this commitment by investing in our employees, elevating our customer experience and driving strong and consistent returns for our shareholders."

When you find yourself on an oversold flight,
your rights:

Different airlines have different protocols for determining who gets bumped. Some airlines bump the people who don't have seat assignments. Other airlines decide based on who checked in last. Others decide based on status and the booking class you have.

If you're involuntarily denied boarding, the Department of Transportation regulates what you're entitled to. Here are the rules, as published by the DOT:
  • If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
  • If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 maximum.
  • If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum).
  • If your ticket does not show a fare (for example, a frequent-flyer award ticket or a ticket issued by a consolidator), your denied boarding compensation is based on the lowest cash, check or credit card payment charged for a ticket in the same class of service (e.g., coach, first class) on that flight.
  • You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an "involuntary refund" for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.
  • If you paid for optional services on your original flight (e.g., seat selection, checked baggage) and you did not receive those services on your substitute flight or were required to pay a second time, the airline that bumped you must refund those payments to you.
As you can see, in many cases you're entitled to a sizable cash payment, up to $1,350. However, the airlines never divulge this, nor do they offer to give you cash - but instead a travel voucher for a future flight, which carries restrictions and may have an expiration date. 

Demand Cash:

Airlines are required to pay via cash or check to flyers they bump involuntarily who are owed compensation. 

And, if you paid for extras such as premium seating or checked bag fees, a refund is required for services you didn't receive.

FlyersRights' founder and spokesperson, Kate Hanni, is available for media interviews on passenger rights and protections:

To reach our airline expert Kate Hanni for interview requests, please call +1 707-337-0328 or

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