Airlines Greet Fines with Scare Tactics

FAA Bill Controversy Heats Up

Aerotoxic Syndrome Update

EU Bans X-Ray Body Scanners

A Great New Travel Information Site

What Kate’s Saying

Airlines Greet Fines with Scare Tactics

In the wake of the DOT’s landmark decision to find American Eagle $900,000 forDOT Logothe May 29th stranding of nearly 600 passengers on Chicago O’Hare’s tarmac, the airline industry immediately sought to spin the airline passenger rights victory through the use of scare tactics. Remarkably similar stories appeared in national media pieces and all over the internet, claiming that the fines would terrify the airlines and drive them to cancel huge numbers of flights.

The fact is that American Eagle was fined for loading 15 aircraft that they knew hadAmerican Eagle Logo no chance of making an on-time departure and for those flights’ passengers spending hours on the tarmac as a direct result of their decisions. The $900,000 fine is far from fatal for American Eagle parent company AMR, and is a small fraction of the $1.7 million they could have been fined.

Moreover, AMR management earns bonuses that vary with their stock price. Even at the stock’s recent price in the $1.75-$2.00 range the ‘Performance’ bonuses management will divide could amount to millions in 2011, well in excess of the DOT fine amount.

Some stories cited a recent GAO report that suggests a relationship between implementation of the DOT’s Three-Hour Tarmac Rule and a slightly increased cancellation rate in the final months of 2010 when compared to 2009. FlyersRights.org views that study with skepticism. The GAO study has many flaws. It compares one year to one other year, but history shows that cancellation rates vary wildly from year to year. In fact, the 2009 and 2010 cancellation rates are lower than those of 11 of the last 16 years. What about the other 11, higher years? They can’t be attributed to The Rule.

The GAO study concludes only that there “appears” to be a relationship between the rule and cancellations, and recommends that DOT “should collect and publicize more comprehensive on-time performance data to ensure that information on most flights, to airports of all sizes, is included in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ database.” That is, more data and analysis is needed to interpret the issue.

The DOT is completing a more comprehensive study, which we hope to see by the end of the year. We believe that study, based on much more comprehensive data and methodology, will yield far different results that that from the GAO’s questionable approach.

Implementation of the Rule has made airlines more circumspect, and they are now proactively cancelling flights that they know are likely to be cancelled in any event during bad weather periods. They acknowledge that those actions provide them with better operations management and give their customers many more options for rescheduling to flights that are more likely to operate on time.

See the What Kate’s Saying section below for her take on the fines and the airlines’ reaction.

FAA Bill Controversy Heats Up

The FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, popularlyknown as the FAA Reauthorization Bill, is in the news again. After years of debate and endless extensions, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, expressed his anger and frustration at the bill’s lack of progress in the House. He said that there was blame enough to go around, with an aviation industry that apparently doesn’t understand the need to press lawmakers for action and lawmakers no longer open to negotiated compromise.

“This is a serious matter,” he said. “The repeated extensions and stopgaps don’t work and they are sapping the life out of this industry.” The senator pointed out that failure to modernize the air traffic control and aviation system would jeopardize safety and lead to a seriously inadequate, gridlocked air travel system. “It’s pathetic, it’s shameful, it’s an embarrassment and it’s unsafe,” Rockefeller said.

At the same time, Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that the bill could be ready for the President by Christmas. “I was pleased to meet with Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member (Kay Bailey) Hutchison (R-Texas), and Ranking Member Rahall today to discuss completion of the FAA reauthorization, hopefully by the time Congress concludes its business for the year,” Mica said in a statement.

Senator Rockefeller does not share Mr. Mica’s optimism. Who’s right? As with all things Washington, it’s difficult to know. According to a Politico.com article, the “big four” have directed staffers to iron out the remaining issues, except for a labor disagreement that they say they will work out amongst themselves. However, Rep. Mica told attendees of a major transportation conference last week that he wants “no more FAA shutdowns.”

One of our beltway insiders noted that the House dropping the labor issue would be a major concession, presumably requiring something of considerable value from the Senate in exchange. The labor issue is a provision in the bill that would make it easier for Delta Airlines employees to unionize.

So, in short, while agreement is possible, separation of the outstanding issues into two resolution mechanisms makes it less than likely. A longer continuation measure that falls short of full passage may

Aerotoxic Syndrome Update

Flyersrights has been at the forefront of safety in the airliner environment on a number of issues. One of those is the very air in the cabin. In October, Boeing settled a lawsuit brought by former American Airlines flight attendant Terry Williams over her claim that faulty aircraft design allowed toxic fumes into the cabin.

We reported this story in an October newsletter and told you of Dr. Susan Michaelis, a former Australian airline pilot grounded by aerotoxic syndrome, who, like Kate Hanni, both refused to capitulate and turned herself into one of the world’s leading experts on the issue. She earned her PhD in Workplace Safety Science with her 2010 thesis, Health and Flight Safety Implications From Exposure to Contaminated Air in Aircraft. Now Head of Research with the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive and an independent health and safety, Dr. Michaelis is a fantastic source of information about this serious, poorly-understood problem.

We wrote to Dr. Michaelis seeking more information, and she provided two fact-filled documents. The first is her presentation to a meeting of the Aerospace Medical Association, a fascinating PDF-formatted PowerPoint presentation of her thesis findings. She also sent a guide for healthcare workers titled EXPOSURE TO AIRCRAFT BLEED AIR CONTAMINANTS AMONG AIRLINE WORKERS, a project funded by the FAA Office of Aviation Medicine.

Her message is clear:

Breathing heated synthetic jet engine oils is not in any way acceptable for either airline workers or passengers. The toxicity and hazards associated with breathing these oils has been known since at least 1954. It is a design problem and in no way rare as the industry likes to say. The airline industry could do something, if it wanted to, to address this problem now; however it has put profit before people, and the steps they are taking are far from adequate and effectively non-existent. Passengers need to wake u
p to the fact that in all larger commercial aircraft except the new Boeing 787, they are breathing unfiltered air taken directly from the engines. This is a total injustice given the knowledge known by the industry since the 50s. Passengers should demand clean air or demand to travel on the new bleed free 787 – a design that no longer takes breathing air from the engine–you could say ‘back to the future’.

Dr. Michaels’s story of unraveling the almost six-decade-old problem is told in two documentaries, both available on DVD. The first is the recently completed ‘ Angel without wings’, tells the story of Susan’s investigation into aerotoxic syndrome.

The other is the 2007 DVD, Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines, an in-depth exploration of the problem.

Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines Cover

NOTE: The two DVDs are recorded in different formats. Weocome Aboard Toxic Airlines is in NTSC, playable on almost any player sold in the US. Angel Without Wings, however, is recorded in PAL, which is the Euoropean standard. While it should play on PCs and Macs, US DVD players will likely have difficulty with it.

Dr. Michaelis extends FlyersRights members an offer of 30% off by applying this discount code at checkout: FNFF14101947. Just click on the pictures and we’ll take you to the DVDs’ web sites.

The Global Cabin Air Quality Executive representing workers exposed to turbine oils globally, (currently updating its website) is working to help aircrew, ground crew and offshore oil workers exposed to turbine oils, while the Aerotoxic Association provides additional great information for those affected including passengers.

EU Bans X-Ray Body Scanners

The European Union has long expressed concern about the safety of the X-ray-based body scanners. Last week, they banned use of the X-Ray scanners. In theirEU Logo report, the European Commission wrote, “In order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at E.U. airports.”

FlyersRights wonders why the EU’s 27 nations regard the machines as unsafe when our TSA has been assuring us all along that they’re not only safe but more effective than the alternative, millimeter wave variety. We also wonder why, then, the TSA’s latest 300-machine buy consists solely of millimeter wave machines.

Are the millimeter wave machines suddenly acceptable, or are we just putting lipstick on the Airport Security Theater pig?

iFlybags-A Great New Travel Information Site

With the approaching holiday travel season, we want to inform FlyersRights.org members about theiFly Logolaunch of iflybags, a new, free website that makes it easy for travelers to find out just how much checked baggage they are allowed to take on a flight and what it’s going to cost them.

While the majority of airlines today charge for checked bags, baggage allowances and fees differ by airline
, creating confusion for travelers. With iflybags, travelers simply enter their airline, origin, destination, and cabin class to determine the airline’s baggage allowances.

To calculate specific fees, travelers enter the same flight information, but also the number of travelers, number of bags, and each bag’s weight. Even travelers carrying obscure items – such as javelins and scuba equipment – can figure out the cost. The site even takes into consideration frequent flier status and presents the best combination of checked bags for multiple travelers on a single itinerary.

What Kate’s Saying

MarketWatch

Airline Scare Tactics Follow Tarmac Delay Fines

WWL (Great Radio Interview)

http://audio.wwl.com/m/audio/48672477/11-15-11-11-10am-kate-hanni.htm

Associated Press

At least 4 jets strand Conn. passengers for hours

CBS Chicago

http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/11/14/flyers-rights/

WFAA

http://www.wfaa.com/news/national/American-Eagle-fine-could-lead-to-canceled-flights-133840923.html

Sacramento Bee

Airline Scare Tactics Follow Tarmac Delay Fines

New York Times

Pornography on Airplanes, Where You Can’t Look Away

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Airline tells passengers to pay extra for fuel

Huffington Post

Kate Hanni Airlines Play the Victim After Hefty Delay Fine


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