FlyersRights.org

Let Us Change Your Plans

As more passengers are noticing -you can buy your ticket months in advance, then discover your itinerary was changed to a different flight.

  
A recent Wall Street Journal article examined these changes, cancellations and rebookings, some of which alter schedules by 10 to 12 hours, and wreck havoc on customers. 
  
Rental-car reservations and hotels need to be rebooked at higher rates. Travelers may have to leave work earlier or lose out on vacation time.
  
The airlines’ attitude is, we can change your flight and not pay you a dime, but if you want to change it, that’ll cost you hundreds of dollars. 
Of course, if you don’t use part of your ticket, the airlines will cancel the rest of your flights that you have reserved and paid for. Yet the airlines cancel flights all the time and you’re stuck hours until another one.  
  
Barring weather and other extenuating circumstances, FlyersRights believes that the airline should fly on the schedule they sold.  By making drastic changes to seat arrangements, flight times, and destinations, airlines are altering the “product” that was paid for. That violates the contract between the buyer and the seller.
According to the WSJ article, “Airlines say they have been making more schedule changes because there’s been so much turbulence in the industry-mergers and partnerships, planes getting pulled out of weak markets and sent to stronger routes, and the closing of hubs…”
Nice deflecting the blame there, airlines. “Planes getting pulled…” Just who exactly is doing the pulling? So the airlines pull planes and create the very turbulence in the industry that they say is forcing them to make more schedule changes. Ditto “the closing of hubs…” They are the ones closing the hubs!
The audacity of airlines has no boundaries, to act as if their actions aren’t the proximate cause of the “industry turbulence.”
“It’s very one-sided,” said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights. “In most cases, airlines no longer give passengers the ability to use tickets on a competing carrier.”
“When customers make changes far in advance, airlines usually resell those seats yet still collect change penalties. Some suggest airlines should charge smaller fees for switches long before departure. If you make changes several weeks in advance, I don’t see why there is any fee at all,” Mr. Hudson said.
Some valuable information to point out for our members, that’s also mentioned in the WSJ article: don’t confirm the changed schedule, at least until the last minute:
“When airlines cancel weeks in advance of a trip, they have to rebook customers on new flights without any additional fees. If the new flight times aren’t acceptable, travelers can get a full refund.”
Dan P. talked to FlyersRights about this loophole with the change-fee charges:
I bought a ticket on US Airways last March for a friend to fly from Chicago to Dallas in November.  About a month before the trip, he got a notice that the flight times had changed by about an hour each way, asking for his confirmation.  He sent it to me, but neither of us replied.  Ten days before the trip he had to cancel.  I called the airline and found that since we had not agreed to the changes, I was able to get a full refund.

   

Nevertheless, this problem is costly, an inconvenience to travelers and potentially in violation of FAA rules.
 
FlyersRights needs to collect case info to present to the DOT and Congress. 
If you’ve bought tickets in advance only to find an itinerary you didn’t sign up for, email your story to Kendallc@FlyersRights.org.
  
Last week FlyersRights submitted comments to the Justice Department regarding United States v. U.S. Airways Group, Inc. and AMR Corp.  
 
In summary, we said:
 
This merger, if approved, would create the largest U.S. airline in history and reduce the number of air carriers to four major airlines. As such, this is a watershed event that could determine if the era of price competition that began in 1978 with airline deregulation will be transformed into a new oligopoly system that supports anticompetitive behavior.
 
Due to the lack of low cost airlines in the U.S., FlyersRights now supports allowing selected foreign low cost carriers to fly domestic routes.
 
The DOT has the sole authority to issue and enforce regulations to prohibit “unfair or deceptive” airline practices, but it has rarely done so without the approval of the airlines.
 
Its record of enforcement by fines is dismal, with fines regularly reduced by 50% or more and nearly all violations settled by consent orders or findings in favor of the airline with zero fines.

Its handling of consumer complaints is even worse. It rejects 90% of complaints as not within its jurisdiction as allegedly not violating any DOT rule and merely asks the airline to respond.

Legislation blocking anti-competitive practices is now essential to continue the era of price competition and consumer choice.
 
Price competition is rapidly eroding in the airline industry. We call on the DOT to eliminate anti-competitive airport practices and empower airline passenger interests to balance the interests of the air transportation industry.
 
The 2011 acquisition of Airtran by Southwest Airlines is instructive. It discontinued service to Sarasota Florida (and five other medium size cities) in favor of Southwest service at Tampa (65 miles away) thereby reducing Sarasota enplanements by over 300,000 per year and raising airfares, travel time and expenses for passengers.
 

No other low cost carrier has come in to replace Airtran which provided real price competition for Southwest and other carriers and no other one really exists except on very limited routes (Southwest is no longer a low cost carrier by most definitions but competes largely on service, lack of baggage fees and more liberal cancellation policies). The USAirways-American merger will certainly reduce competition further.
 
The record of prior airline mergers makes clear that fares generally increase and service is reduced to smaller and medium size cities and concentrated at fortress hubs.

Unless stopped, the airline penchant for mergers (USAir-America West 2005, Delta-Northwest 2008, Republic-Midwest 2009, Republic-Frontier 2009, United-Continental 2010, Southwest-Airtran 2011) coupled with the lack of new entrants and the loss of most low cost air carriers, will soon result in oligopoly or to re-regulated monopolies, with air transportation operating more like AMTRAK.

Airline mergers also mean thousands of jobs lost, contractors replace union workers, retirement plans are reduced or wiped out, airplanes are sold, routes are eliminated, quality of service typically plummets during costly airline merger transitions. Safety margins may also be reduced, and passengers will pay more, while retiring executives take golden parachutes and remaining ones cash in with higher pay.
 
American Airlines plans to cut at least 14,200 jobs and void union contracts -the perks of Chapter 11.

Competition and even Chapter 11 bankruptcy can be great mechanisms for fostering efficient low cost air travel, and are not necessarily unprofitable. 
 
USAirways is already quite profitable and seeks to be more so, while its CEO seeks to realize his dream of leading the largest U.S. airline in history.
 
There is little doubt American, which has a very large cash reserve, would also be profitable if it emerged from bankruptcy as a stand-alone company after shedding unaffordable union contracts, add more passenger and labor friendly management, and increase passenger representation on its board of directors. 
We believe this proposed merger of American and USAirways should be restructured or disapproved by the Justice Department, unless competition is clearly not reduced and passenger rights are well protected by new legislation and rulemaking.  
 
 

Just over a decade ago, there were 10 major airlines. Now the merger of USAirways and American will leave only four carriers -American, Delta, Southwest, and United.

These four carriers will control nearly 85 percent of U.S. air travel, leading to less choice, higher fares and fewer flights.

As we’ve been writing about for years, fares have been rising, planes are packed and flying has never been more of a hassle.
 

The future of commercial air travel appears bleak.
LaGuardia ‘A Third World Country’?
Finally, truth in politics. 

The US airport situation has gotten so bad that when Vice President Joe Biden wanted to illustrate the dire state of infrastructure in the United States, he chose La Guardia as the prime example, likening it to what one might find “in a third world country.”
Joe Biden Says LaGuardia Airport Like a
Joe Biden Says LaGuardia Airport Like a “Third World Country”
 
“If I blindfolded someone and took them at 2:00 in the morning into the airport in Hong Kong and said ‘where do you think you are,’ they’d say, ‘this must be America, it’s a modern airport,'” Biden said during a speech on infrastructure in Philadelphia. 

 

“But if I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you must think, ‘I must be in some third world country.’ I’m not joking,” he added as the audience broke out in laughter. 

 
We can’t imagine what he thinks of Newark’s.
 
 
Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights

 
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