FlyersRights at FAA Diversion Forum

What American Airlines’ Bankruptcy Means to You

House Wants TSA to Treat Troops Better

What Kate’s Saying

FlyersRights Attends FAA Diversion Forum

In the wake of the Snowtober Stranding disaster, the Department of Transportation Sec. LaHood at FAA Diversion Forum(DOT) saw, as we did, that the root cause of the many extended tarmac strandings was lack of preparedness and coordination among the many players in our complex air transport system. To address that issue, the DOT co-hosted a half-day forum with their Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), inviting members of the aviation community, including FlyersRights. The invitation describes the forum goal as “to identify a number of steps that the aviation community can take to improve coordination and decision making, and, ultimately, travel for consumers, during the winter season before us.”

To underscore the importance of the forum, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and FAAFAA Admin Babbitt at FAA ForumAdministrator Randy Babbitt were keynote speakers for the event.

The forum gave us an opportunity to introduce FlyersRights member Peter Green’s in-progress research project, discovering which of some 65 hub airports have tarmac delay contingency plans. Peter’s approach is to simply ask the airports, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to provide their plans. He has received replies from about half the airports, and a trend has emerged.

To date, only about half of those responding have any sort of contingency plan, even stretching the definition to include any “Irregular Operations Plan.” Of those, many appear to be of little value. For example, one airport’s plan boils down to “Call the airport manager.” We hope to have full results before the end of the year.

Armed with Peter’s research data, FlyersRights member Lee Wallace attended the forum on our behalf. After the opening session, he attended the Airport Operations breakout session-other sessions addressed Airline Operations and Customer Experience.

The Airport Operations panel was chaired by Kate Lang, FAA Deputy Associate Administrator for Airports, who led a panel that included representatives of several airports, airline executives, the FAA, and TSA. Lee found the session very informative, with one exception. Here’s Lee’s account:

I stood up during the Q&A session and noted that was currently undertaking a study on airport contingency planning and that our preliminary results indicated less than 50% of airports had such a plan in place. This seemed to surprise many of the panelists and started a lively discussion.

When the breakout sessions ended and the close-out discussion began, Transportation Secretary LaHood opened the floor for questions. I went to the microphone and again outlined the preliminary results of our study and asked how we could effectively manage the perception at some airports that contingency planning was the responsibility of the airlines and not the airports.

At that point, Deborah McElroy, the Executive Vice President of Policy and External Affairs for Airports Council International North America [ACI-NA], challenged the findings in our study. She insisted that their internal surveys indicated that 84% of all airports have contingency plans in place. I spoke with Ms. McElroy after the session and told her that FlyersRights would be happy to share our data gathering methods and results with her organization, but that we stood behind our findings and that the formal report would be published in December.

Forum recommendations included the following:

  • Airport Information Web Page-to facilitate information exchange between airport operations and the aviation community during severe weather condi
    tions. Attendees generally agreed on the value of the idea, but cautioned that it is not a comprehensive solution. Thoughtful page development, rather than immediate page development, was cautioned.
  • Strategic Planning Teleconferences-increase situational awareness through FAA-sponsored conference calls, including smaller airports, to exchange information on diverting flights.
  • Identification of Diverting Flights-create special data tags for diverted flights on air traffic controller screens. Forum participants did not generally believe this would be useful to airlines, airports, or air traffic controllers.
  • Better coordination of FAA equipment outages.
  • Improving airport contingency plans. NOTE: DOT rules require airlines to have tarmac delay contingency plans, but do not require airport plans for the same contingency.

Airports avoided the tarmac delay contingency plan requirement during the DOT’s 2008 Tarmac Task Force, of which Kate was a member, because ACI-NA representative Deborah McElroy-the same Ms. McElroy who challenged Lee–assured the task force that regulation was unnecessary because all airports had contingency plans. Peter Green’s research project will determine the validity of that statement, and we will share the results with Secretary LaHood and FAA Administrator Babbitt. Remember, ACI-NA is a lobbying force for the airports, and so promotes their vested interest in escaping regulation.

What American Airlines’ Bankruptcy Means to You

American Airlines’ November 29th bankruptcy under Chapter 11 generated greatAA Logouncertainty in the flying public. American Airlines sent amessage to their AAdvantage Club members, assuring them that their accumulated miles were safe, saying “You will continue to earn miles through all our existing AAdvantage participating companies and you will be able to redeem those miles for the same great awards.”

Company assurances notwithstanding, we sent out a press release, offering these observations:

  • There is risk that your ticket will not be honored by AA should their restructuring fail.
  • If you have frequent flyer miles, book your trip now, preferably on a code-share partner of AA that is not at risk of bankruptcy.
  • Ticket holders are unsecured creditors, last on the list of creditors, so if AA shuts their doors there will be little to NO relief for affected ticket holders.
  • Reciprocity rules, under which airlines were required to honor other airlines’ tickets in cases such as this, expired in 2007. Ticket holders will be left holding the bag if AA does fall.
  • Some airlines may have insurance to guard against passenger loss in this situation, but we don’t know if American Airlines has insurance that would cover the kind of volume that AA would have to cover if they fail entirely.
  • American Airlines’ refusal to take bailouts was admirable. They wanted complete management control with no government intervention, but it appears that need for control was fatal.
  • It appears that they filed bankruptcy because of high labor costs and extremely large management bonuses. FlyersRights hopes that other air carriers will take note.

Media commentary on the action has been fairly low key. All point out that Chapter 11 is a vehicle that allows companies to restructure debt and renegotiate labor costs. Many noted that unprofitable route segments are likely casualties, and Fox News warned that “bankruptcy proceedings may bring some humbug behavior from AA’s staff in what is already predicted to be a hectic holiday travel season.”

Should you encounter problems with AA flights, call our Hotline at 877-359-6776. We’re here to help.

House Wants TSA to Treat Troops Better

We’re happy to report further chipping away at TSA’s security procedures. TheTSA LineHouse voted unanimously last week to allow military personnel on duty travel to receive special preference that would move them through the TSA checkpoint faster

. FlyersRights heartily endorses this measure, which acknowledges that troops we routinely thrust in harm’s way in our defense are not security threats. As Kate told the Associated Press, our organization “strongly supports expedited screening for the military and that should be extended to all law enforcement, DOD folks with security clearance and other government officials with security clearance.”

What Kate’s Saying

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What American Airlines’ Bankruptcy Means for You

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TSA Screenings to be Eased for Troops


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