October 12, 2013 | Kendall Creighton Past, Present, Future Soaring Achievements, Enthusiasm for the Future Tuesday, October 8, 2013 Welcome to ‘times-past’ Tuesday. Today we’ll look back at airline passengers’ days of yore, review what FlyersRights has accomplished and layout our blueprint for the future. We’ve Come A Long Way Baby FlyersRights has a short history, founded just seven years ago. What a year it was – 2006. Airline staff’s power had grown to a ridiculous extent since 9/11. Passengers were at a breaking point when Kate Hanni and thousands of others were stranded on tarmacs all over the country. No food, water, working toilets or medical attention for nearly 10 hours. Back then, false imprisonment on the runway was routine. Passengers were too afraid if they spoke up, they would be arrested. The airlines kept us cowed and silent in the name of security. Pay up, put up and shut up. The Wild West of Travel Back then, if you ever were bumped or paid a bag fee and had your bag lost, you were at the mercy of the airline. If you had to cancel or change a reservation, you were charged an outrageous fee to do it. Abandoned was passenger safety, comfort and customer service. The urge to mimic the Police Force and “arrest” someone (generally a person who failed to keep quiet and do what they are told) took over and replaced any semblance of courtesy. A Look Back Prior to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, air travel times decreased in each decade andreliability improved. Since 1978, US airport capacity has not kept pace with increased flight numbers, so skies around major cities such as New York and Chicago have become more and more congested. Deregulated airlines have discontinued the use of wide bodied jets carrying up to 500 passengers in favor of more frequent flights with narrow bodied airliners and regional jets carrying 20 to 140 passengers, thereby nullifying increased airport capacity. Flight delays of more than one hour have increased dramatically since 1980. Turning the Tide In 2007, it was discovered that passenger strandings and involuntary commitments were far more prevalent than previously thought. FlyersRights began aggressively petitioning Congress during this time to pass the first wave of legislation that led to significant consumer protections: May 2008: “bump fee” doubled from $200 and $400 respectively, to $400 and $800. October 2008: Tarmac data mandate; airlines must report tarmac data for cancelled, diverted and multiple gate return flights. December 2009: The 3-Hour Tarmac Rule for domestic flights. August 2011: The 4-hour tarmac rule for international flights. Refunds of baggage fees for lost baggage. Flyers 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. January 2012: Ban on post purchase price fare increase. Ability to hold a ticket for 24 hours without a re-issuing fee. Full Fare advertising: All fare advertising must include base fare plus any mandatory taxes, surcharges and booking fees. Mandatory notification of flight delays every 30 minutes by any available method, including airport overhead announcements, overhead displays, e-mail, phone, text, etc. Airlines are now required to disclose baggage fees online and/or on the phone when making a reservation, and they must make clear where all ancillary fee information can be found prior to booking a ticket. Addition of “tarmac delays”wording to Contract of Carriage. Passengers have other protections: Airlines typically provide meals and hotels when travelers are stranded overnight because of 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.) The Future of FlyersRights: Better compensation for passengers for excessive flight delays Airlines that cancel flights due to too few passengers amounts to breach of contract or fraud. If a flight has so few passengers that the airline wants to cancel it, it should do so at least two hours before so passengers do not come to the airport unnecessarily, and provide passengers with alternate transportation within an hour of the canceled flight time plus a ticket refund. Otherwise, the airlines should provide passengers with compensation that is equivalent to breach of contract compensation or equivalent to bumping, perhaps capped at several thousand dollars. There is presently no meaningful compensation provided to passengers for excessive flight delays. Any action brought in state or small claims courts gets transferred to federal courts based on airline claims of federal preemption, where the cost of litigation far exceeds any potential recovery. Airlines should be required to tell passengers of their delay compensation rights, which are generally ignored or denied by the airlines. Passengers should be entitled to ground transportation and overnight accommodations when stranded overnight by airline delays and cancellations. The come-on for Flight Insurance Airlines offer “insurance” for flight or trip cancellation that is deceptive in that such policies fail to cover the overwhelming number of situations, and the coverage excludes inconvenience or consequential damages. For example, a passenger whose vacation or business trip is ruined cannot claim for that loss, and generally cannot cancel their trip except in situations of serious illness or death. FlyersRights has received complaints on their toll free hotline of next of kin providing a death certificate and airlines still not providing a refund. Lost and Mishandled Baggage complaints represent the second largest category of airline passenger complaints to the DOT Over 40,000 checked bags per year are never returned to passengers because they do not have tags. Instead of looking inside the bags for identifying information, most airlines treat the bags as abandoned property and auction them off with the proceeds going to the airline. The handling of lost baggage claims is scandalous with the overwhelming majority of claims being rejected and lost baggage sold after 90 days with no attempt to identify or return baggage. Theft by the airline workers, TSA inspectors and other baggage handlers is aknown problem and one that is covered up by thieves who rip identifying tags off bags that they have looted. The DOT should produce a consumer report that “unbundles” mishandled baggage and reports lost, damaged and stolen items separately by airline, and a report on the claims made vs claims paid. Frequent Flyer Fraud Frequent Flyer programs are a source of revenue for airlines which sell miles to credit card, car rental, hotel and other businesses that seek to provide customers with a low cost inducement to buy customer loyalty. Most consumers view frequent flyer programs as an important benefit, with the miles they accumulate for future travel being an obligation of the airline and an asset of theirs. But as airlines now fill a higher proportion of their seats than ever before, over sales are increasing. At the same time, the use of non-refundable, non-changeable or highly restricted tickets has decreased the number of no-shows and has allowed the airlines to profit from them. Currently it is very hard to predict whether passengers with reservations on increasingly full flights will get a seat. Enforcement, Remedies and Advocacy Airline passengers need to enforce their rights in an inexpensive way. The system today is totally lacking in accountability and transparency. Complaints to airlines or DOT are generally ignored and compensation claims rejected. Flyersrights has asked that complaints get a response in 24 hours and a resolution within 3 weeks or mandating a small claims court process for unresolved consumer claims. Hotline for Airlines An Airline Passenger Emergency Hotline is sorely needed for passengers faced with stranding and other emergencies. Flyersrights has a hotline staffed with volunteers and has received thousands of calls. But it is overwhelmed and without funding is unlikely to survive. DOT should be required to contract with one or two non-profit aviation consumer organizations to provide a true airline passenger hotline for about half the funds now devoted to the DOT’s ineffective hotline. Aviation Security complaints TSA receives approximately 10,000 complaints per year, mostly involving rudeness by TSA personnel and property complaints. There are also widely publicized concerns of personal privacy invasions by body searches and health risks involving X-ray screening of passengers, theft and corruption within the TSA. Conclusion: Diagnosing problems and proposing solutions is one thing, but getting Washington and the airline industry to actually restore quality, hassle free air service is another! It requires more fuel in FlyersRights tank. A monthly donation of $1 from our 30,000 members would do it. So in order to maintain and enhance our fundraising base, FlyersRights will offer premium memberships for a $10 monthly (or more) contribution. This will grant you direct access to FlyersRights experts to help resolve air travel problems in real time and where necessary referral to legal assistance.