Your Rights, Left Behind

Tuesday, April 2, 2013
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. As the number of air travelers grows, so does the chance you may find yourself left behind.  

The percentage of seats filled rose to 82.8% last year, the highest for scheduled air service since 1945.  Now, a delayed or canceled flight can wreak havoc on a planned excursion.
FlyersRights President Paul Hudson spoke at length toThe Wall Street Journal‘s Middle Seat columnist Scott McCartney, last week on this topic. Here are some excerpts.
“Passengers have very few rights and many of the ones on paper are not really enforced,” said Mr. Hudson. “One of the biggest problems is that Congress exempted airlines from state laws so consumers can only take disputes to federal court, not state court. That raises the cost and the legal threshold to sue an airline.”
“In every other industry you have consumer protection laws that are state and local,” Mr. Hudson said. “Airlines argue they can’t be regulated by patchwork state laws, but Wal-Mart is.”


DOT says over the last four years it has taken a more aggressive stance on passenger rights, pushing through regulations to curb long tarmac delays, increasing compensation for ticketed passengers involuntarily bumped from flights and requiring airlines to display the full price of airfares. Airlines now let passengers either cancel or hold a reservation without penalty for 24 hours and reimburse baggage fees if bags are lost.
Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood grew outraged at passengers stuck on planes for nine-plus hours in deplorable conditions.  With FlyersRights, he pushed through hefty penalties for airlines that keep people on planes longer than three hours. The tarmac delay rule has dramatically curbed lengthy strandings.
Passengers have some other protections:
*Airlines typically provide meals and hotels when travelers are stranded overnight due to an airline problem, though not because of weather or other exceptions.
*When airlines lose bags, they’re on the hook to pay out as much as $3,300 per passenger for domestic trips. (Carriers set the value of possessions lost, however.)
*Fliers bumped from overbooked flights and stuck for hours are entitled to four times their ticket price, up to $1,300, on the spot in cash.
Last year Congress created a four-member committee to advise the DOT on what passenger protections were needed.
The panel, which included airline and airport officials, advocated some basic principles like knowing the cost of the entire trip before purchasing a ticket.
The only firm recommendation? That DOT require airports and airlines to provide “animal relief areas.”
Flight attendants take no-knife fight nationwide

The Association of Flight Attendants continues a series of leafleting events
at airports around the country to directly enlist passengers in the fight to keep knives out of the aircraft cabin.
Leaflets encourage passengers to sign the petition to the White House and call members of Congress to overturn TSA Administrator Pistole’s policy change.
A public hearing is being held on April 10 at JFK airport press room at 10 AM by the NY State Senate Transportation Committee regarding knives on airliners.  New York may be poised to take action.  Michigan already has a state law banning knives at its airports.
A confrontation is brewing as states and perhaps Congress move to overturn TSA knife policy.
Paul Hudson, FlyersRights president, will be testifying at the hearing and the public can attend and submit statements.
Newark Liberty Airport: 4 Screeners Fired and Dozens Suspended For Incompetent Baggage Screening 
After a yearlong investigation of lax luggage screening procedures at Newark Airport the TSA fired four of its employees and suspended numerous others last week.
Back in 2011, the airport initiated a probe as a result of numerous reports of items being stolen from checked luggage in a baggage screening room inside Terminal B. This soon broadened into an investigation of lax baggage screening led by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security.
With the help of hidden cameras, the TSA caught dozens of screeners failing to physically search bags that had been flagged during the X-ray screening. The investigators also accused managers and supervisors of failing to ensure that bags were being searched properly. The implicated employees range from entry-level transportation screening officers to the airport’s TSA leadership team.
A few weeks ago, an undercover inspector managed to get through two security checkpoints while carrying a fake bomb in his pants. The inspector was then cleared to get on to the plane.
Events like this one call for far better implementations of security procedures. One of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 took off from Newark.
Outrage of the Week! 
Lost Airport Merchandise Sold at Local Goodwill Stores
Stacks of lost luggage at Miami International Airport will no longer be auctioned off. They are now heading to the store bargain racks.
A storage area of the Goodwill store in Little Havana looks like TSA’s lost and found.
They purchased over 800 suitcases that were at TSA’s lost and found and plan to open each and every one of them, process it, and then sell it on the floor.
“About two days ago, we were able to send the Goodwill trucks to the lost and found of the airport,” said Lourdes De la Mata-Little, “and we were able to receive two truckloads and spent two days of bringing the luggage over. Goodwill is getting all of the stuff that was left behind, and no, it’s not just suitcases. There’s lot of boxes, a lot of loose items, belts, sunglasses, accessories.”
“This is a brand new men’s two-piece suit,” said a Goodwill employee.
DOJ Objects to Huge Payout for AA CEO 
Payday: American Airlines CEO Tom Horton is slated to receive $20million for stepping down if his company completes a merger with USAir.
One of the most surprising developments of the American Airlines/US Airways merger was the AA airline unions’ silence about the massave $19.9 million golden parachute provided to their top exec.
This is clearly a case of the unions wanting to get rid of hated management, no matter what the cost. Fortunately, the Department of Justice is not letting this bonus -unheard of in bankruptcies – move forward. The U.S. Trustee questions whether the payment is permissible.
On Feb. 22, eight days after the merger was announced as the vehicle for AMR to exit from bankruptcy protection, the two airlines filed a motion outlining some salary and benefit increases for AMR’s non-union customer service, reservations and support employees, as well as for front-line management and senior executives. For the executives, the arrangements include incentive plans, awards related to the merger integration, severance benefits and a retention program.
The U.S. Trustee said in Friday’s filing that the parties failed to “identify the actual beneficiaries of these programs, what dollar values are involved, and other relevant information.” The document also questioned whether the nearly $20 million payment to Mr. Horton is permissible under bankruptcy law, and pointed out that it is more than 10 times the amount of the mean severance pay to be given to non-management employees.
Your Rule at Work!
DOT Fines Caribbean Airlines in Lengthy Tarmac Delay 

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Caribbean Airlines (Air Jamaica) Boeing 737-8Q8 9Y-BGI. By Igor Koltsov.
DOT reported that Caribbean Airlines, a carrier based in Trinidad and Tobago, violated federal rules last August by not providing passengers with an opportunity to leave a plane that was delayed on the tarmac at New York’s JFK Airport for more than four hours.
In addition, the carrier failed to provide customers with food and water until almost four hours after the plane left the gate during the tarmac delay. DOT fined Caribbean Airlines $100,000 and ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further violations.
Under DOT rules, foreign airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats that fly to and from U.S. airports are prohibited from allowing their aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than four hours without giving passengers on board an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons. There is a three-hour limit for tarmac delays on domestic flights.
FlyersRights’ Partnerships!  
  • Flybag™ – the must-have TSA-compliant toiletry kit for the efficient traveler.  Enter code: ISTILLFLY and you’ll receive one dollar off AND another dollar will be donated to FlyersRights! Visit