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Minor Leagues

Service of Major Carriers in the US is Trending Downwards  

July 21, 2015

They’re calling it United Airlines’ summer from hell.

Yet, how is this different from any other summer?
Well, in the airlines’ race to the bottom, United is winning.
Labor unrest. Disgruntled United flight attendants
staged a worldwide protested at airports July 16.
Planes are packed, security lines are long and airline seats are shrinking — plus we’re shelling out more for it every year. 
Airfares are up, averaging nearly $400 in the US last year despite plunging oil prices.
If you feel that’s skyway robbery, finally the government agrees with you. The Department of Justice announced earlier this month it will investigate the airlines for possible anti-competitive price collusion — basically, informing each other on how many flights they’re planning and reducing capacity, resulting in higher ticket prices across the board.
Still, the US government allowed these mergers, hurting consumers. And the fact remains, there are not enough seats in the sky to meet demand today.
June United Airlines incident
United abandons passengers in Goose Bay, Canada barracks
 for 24 hours during unscheduled stopover. 
Another reason that Montreal Convention compensation 
info is essential, and airlines should not be permitted 
to include mechanical breakdowns as ‘Acts of God.’
We need to feed a drumbeat of these stories to 
Congress as they happen. -Paul Hudson, president FlyersRights
Earlier this month we saw ‘The Great Technical Glitch’ of July 8 — when a United computer malfunction grounded all its mainline flights.
The airline’s response was a heartfelt 42-second apology on Twitter.
Heck, this was the airline’s second technology glitch in two weeks.
United dismissed notions that they pinched pennies on IT and weren’t really to blame for just a ‘faulty router’.
“This shows why we need the reciprocity rule reinstated and require airlines to have reserves and backup equipment like electricity, phone and Internet for reliability,” says Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.
“Airlines do not have adequate backup or reserves of equipment or personnel, so air travel has regular brown-outs or black-outs, delaying travelers many hours to several days in situations. 
Passengers who’ve experienced problems on international trips may be entitled to delay compensation up to $6000. Others can get refunds and rebook on another airline if they do not want to wait for United,” said Hudson.
Then, in June, United stranded hundreds of passengers in remote Goose Bay, Canada for 20 hours when it had to divert due to a mechanical issue.
“Another reason that Montreal Convention compensation info is essential, and airlines should not be permitted to include mechanical breakdowns as Acts of God. We need to feed a drumbeat of these stories to Congress as they happen,” said Hudson.
If the current trend continues, United may become a glorified low-cost carrier. In many ways, they already are. Their product lags behind that of JetBlue, which is moving from low-cost carrier to something less. United could, in theory, make money in that scenario. The question is whether that is who they want to become.
Let’s look at United’s own preliminary operational results for June on-time performance, straight from the horse’s mouth — 66.4 percent. It means 1 in 3 flights were delayed more than 15 minutes.
The numbers don’t lie. United is also at the bottom of just about every metric compared to its network peers, both operationally and financially.
The carrier seems to have completely thrown out the fundamentals practiced at Continental Airlines following its merger in 2010, which were: Treat your employees well and they’ll work well. Treat your customers well, and it’ll be good for the bottom line.
Instead, the airline has closed hubs, outsourced half of the company to the lowest bidder, and threatened the remaining employees that they’re next to be outsourced, which shows in their work.
Maybe Wall Street folks are finally starting to take notice that United’s inflated stock performance is more due to the rising tide of reduced competition and lower fuel prices rather than any concrete actions taken by its management.
All international carriers should be invited to fill the void and hold permanent slots on all domestic routes. Free up Americans the right to vote with their dollars.
Your Letters! 
Dear FlyersRights,

Having not flown in almost four years, I took a trip from DFW to Louisville last weekend 9-13 July, on American Airlines.  What could go wrong on a short hop like that?  I found out.  The trip turned out to be like The Odyssey as re-written by Homer.... Simpson.  No problem on the first flight on an Airbus A319, except that the seat in front of me was about 8 inches from my nose, sitting upright.

My return flight on Monday was on a Mesa CRJ-900, due out at 1209 [all times EDT 24-hour]. [All quotes approximate.] Rollback from the gate on-time, and then we sat out by the runway until 1244, when the pilot announced "We had a problem, now fixed.  Just need to do paperwork."  That took another 20 minutes.  About 1305, eight seconds or so of acceleration, then heavy braking "We had another problem, returning to gate.  Take your carry-on bags."

About 75 of us lined up at the counter, where for almost 3 hours one agent, with a second agent about 1/3 of the time, processed people one at a time.  The first general announcement came about 1340: "10 min till mechanic arrives, then about 45 minutes more."
1417: "No more news, another 45 minutes."
1525: "Departure 1700 at the earliest."
1706: Some bags are being unloaded.  At 1710, A passenger said he had gotten on the 1824 flight.

I had been talking to two first-class passengers who were flying via DFW to Tucson.  They had used 100,000 AA miles to visit their granddaughter on her first birthday.  He was wearing a medical-grade lower-face mask to avoid infection, because he was a transplant patient, and he had an appointment for a critical checkup the next day.  They had been second in line upon de-planing.

I told them what I had heard and they went to the ticket counter.  Sorry, but the remaining seats on the 1824 flight had already been given out.  They were given the options of waiting for the original flight, or renting a car and driving to Lexington for a 1946 flight which was scheduled to arrive at DFW 49 minutes before their 2200 flight to Tucson.  A storm front closed the Louisville airport in late afternoon, and had moved toward Lexington, so that was a terrible option.

1737: "Found a spare plane, being towed in."
1849: Pushback from the gate 6 h 40m after the first one.
2050: arrival at DFW gate. [1950 local]

The last thing the gentleman with the transplant needed was more stress, but American Airlines certainly provided it, in spades.
-- Inadequate staff to process passengers for re-booking connections.
-- Not making two lines with one for those with connections.
-- Almost total lack of informational announcements from eithe pilots or gate staff over several hours.
-- Booking young, apparently healthy passengers on the 1824 flight, while ignoring the man with health problems, who was flying first-class and had AA Gold status.

When I got home, I found an automated email from American's computer saying it was so sorry, [deep in it's processor, I assume] and giving me 6000 miles.  When I contacted the people from Tucson the next day, they had goten the same message.  I paid $434.20 for my trip +25 each way for a bag.  I priced their trip as cash, and it would have been over $4300, if they hadn't used miles for the trip.  So 6000 miles for them seems like an added insult.  Way to treat your most loyal customers, American.  Seems like they should have gotten more like 60,000.

D'oh!, American.

Dear FlyersRights:
Good comments. I have little sympathy for US carriers which have erected trade barriers. Here is a note (from the Delta in-flight magazine for July) from the CEO of Delta lamenting the competition from gulf carriers and trying to get us to join their cause.

BTW I am ok with the new seating pattern as it week give me more elbow room and not have to deal with other’s “man spread”.
Dear FlyersRights:
$2000 round-trip to Europe? No wonder no one visits me here.
And my friend had a Tarmac episode last week in Munich–trying to fly out to Denmark. So sorry that this problem is appearing here too.
I remember in the 90s I had a 2 or 3-hour delay out of Zurich but they didn’t load us on the plane and leave us there with no A/C (as they did to my friend and her family last week). They told us at check-in that there was a mechanical delay and my boyfriend and I went to the restaurant and had a nice lunch.
What has happened to those days? It just seems like a no-brainer not to board the plane until everything mechanical is checked. More flights, less time, more pressure, and we are the victims. How is this customer service?
Munich, Germany
Dear FlyersRights:

Wow, another good treatise from you and your colleagues at FR!  You said it most eloquently and certainly factually.
Now, what can the flying public do?  How do we counter this situation? 
We need volunteers to turn up the heat on Congress, presidential candidates and the Obama Administration, which are awash in airline $ and lobbyists, plus Wall Street financiers. 

They are taking no action to stop or reverse public air transportation’s accelerated decline
due to the airline oligopoly.
They get special treatment and/or fly corporate or government jets. 
Paul Hudson

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