In a few months FlyersRights.org will stand at the threshold of our first decade.
Today we look back to the past and recall our history so that we may deal with the present and plan for the future
What’s the history of FlyersRights.org?
FlyersRights.org was formed in early 2007 by one frustrated airline passenger who was stranded on the tarmac with her family for over 9 hours by American Airlines, which had diverted 100 flights involving 10,000 passengers due to thunder storms at its Dallas hub and then refused to let them exit their aircraft for excessively long times so they could avoid “passenger migration” to alternative transportation and avoid refunds. Tarmac confinements had become a common airline passenger abuse, affecting 150,000 to 250,000 annually. After posting an online petition over 20,000 quickly signed up and that started a campaign to end outlaw tarmac confinements, which was successful by enactment of what in known as the Three Hour Rule in 2008.
What’s the organization’s biggest victory?
We’re probably best known for the Three-Hour Rule.
Back in December 2009, FlyersRights.org pressed for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to force airlines to allow passengers off a delayed plane after three hours on the tarmac.
Also, within that three hours passengers must be given food, water, and medical treatment if needed. DOT hotline information must be posted on the Web and displayed in airports; and the DOT must set up a committee for aviation consumer protection.
2008 – Increased compensation: doubling of the maximum cash compensation to $400 for domestic flights and $800 for international flights.
2010 – FlyersRights got the 3-Hour Tarmac Delay Rule passed. This made it illegal for planes to sit on the tarmac for over three hours, and international flights four hours.
2011 – Increase of bumping compensation to $650-$1300. International Flights will have to report data for time on the tarmac.
2012 – Disclosure of Taxes and Fees in Published Fares- the DOT now requires airlines to include all mandatory taxes and fees in published airfares, instead of simply asterisks with all the taxes and fees in fine print. Airlines must also disclose bag fees, though this can come in the form of a link to another Web page with the baggage fee information.
2012 – Change or Cancel the Ticket- our rule requires carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be cancelled within 24 hours without penalty.
2012 – Route Changes- DOT now requires airlines to give passengers prompt notification of delays, cancellations and route changes.
2012 – Schedule Changes- similar to the routing changes, if the airline changes your scheduled flight to a different time or day, you aren’t legally entitled to any compensation, only a refund of the ticket price you paid.
2012- Baggage Fee Coordination- airlines are required to refund any bag fee if the airline loses it. Airlines will also be required to apply the same baggage allowances and fees for all segments of a trip, including segments with interline and code share partners.
2012 – Compensation- passengers are entitled to compensation equal to 400% of the fare to the next stopover, or if none, to the final ticketed destination. Compensation is capped at $1,300. Passengers traveling between points within the United States (including the territories and possessions) who are denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight are entitled to: (1) No compensation if the carrier offers alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the passenger’s destination or first stopover not later than one hour after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight; (2) 200% of the fare to the passenger’s destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $650, if the carrier offers alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the passenger’s destination or first stopover more than one hour but less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight; and (3) 400% of the fare to the passenger’s destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,300, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger’s destination or first stopover less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight.
What’s our biggest challenge?
Most recently, it’s the Seat Space Amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. This amendment would have stopped the airlines from further reducing seat widths and pitch for safety, health and comfort.
Another challenge is addressing dubious evacuation tests produced by the airlines. They need to be more more reality-based involving real passengers – not just computer simulated, or with fit, healthy airline employees wearing tennis shoes, following a few “practice runs” first.
Currently there are no rules on seat sizes or passenger space. So airlines are aggressively reducing seat and passenger space on both new and existing airliners to squeeze more people in and more revenue out. Reality based evacuation testing may put a halt to this.
The average distance between rows has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s to about 31 inches today. The average width of an airline seat has also shrunk, from 18 inches to about 16½.
What is the Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0?
– Standardized legroom in economy class.
– Reinstating the reciprocity rule (aka Rule 240) allowing passengers on canceled or excessively delayed flights to transfer their tickets to another airline with available seating flying to the same or nearby destination.
– Require airlines to maintain a reserve of equipment and flight crews sufficient to provide good service and keep flight cancellations to under 2%, and on-time performance over 85%.
– Set minimum fines of $1,000 per passenger with ½ paid to affected passengers for flight cancellations based on false claims of force majeure (e.g. weather or air traffic control).
– Require airlines to inform passengers verbally and in writing of their rights to compensation for delays under US law for domestic flights, under the Montreal Convention of 1999 for international flights and under EU regulations for flights flying to, from or within EU countries.
– Require passengers to receive meals, lodging and ground transportation when delays and cancellations result in stranding passengers overnight away from their home cities.
– More protections against lost, damaged and mishandled baggage.
– Higher standards, more disclosure and reporting for frequent flyer programs.
What are the bill’s future prospects for passage?
In 2014 FlyersRights submitted the bill’s proposal to all members of Congress – but it has stalled due to Republican domination of both the Senate and the House. Its future prospects depend on the election outcome in November.
What other issues are on your list?
Maintaining our toll-free, international Hotline, manned by volunteers to help air travelers with their every urgent need.
Continuing to advocate with Congress and the DOT to pass laws and rulemakings that protect air travelers.
These days, there’s no end to air travel complaints: Long security lines, flight delays, cramped seats, overbooked flights, baggage and preferred seating fees.
Probably our biggest gripes come from the too-tight seating in economy class, the separating out and charging for what was once included in the airfare, and delays or cancellations at the airport. These are inevitable since the Transportation Department does not require airlines to compensate passengers.
Given all these long-standing complaints about air travel, how do airlines keep getting away with it?
Because they can. The four major US airlines which dominate the market are coordinating and colluding to keep fares high and service minimal. The result is passengers have fewer consumer rights than any other type of consumer. Essentially, they’ve ‘gotcha’.
How can airports improve the passenger experience?
The airport plays a huge role. Well-managed airports do not have:
– Long lines of any sort: not at check-in, security, the bathrooms, immigration, or customs. That means there are enough people working there that handle the daily surges in passengers that pass through in the mornings and afternoons. Or, distributing passengers over more points. For example, Amsterdam Schiphol puts its passengers through security at each gate on long haul flights, eliminating major choke points, unlike at most airports.
– Noise. Excessive noise raises stress levels. Good airports use noise-deadening fabrics and woods inside the terminal.
A good airport has:
– Easy access to the city.
– Good layout, easy to navigate, and gets passengers in and out of the airport quickly.
– Natural light.
– Healthy food options.
– Good WiFi. Free is even better.
After monetary struggles in the early 2000s, the airlines are profitable again. How have they done it?
They’ve done very well due to questionable practices such as:
– Upselling seats to parents who want to sit with their children.
– Charging outrageous fees such as $200 to $450 when a passenger has to cancel a flight.
– A boom in ancillary fees. Separating out items that once were part of a ticket, and reselling them as extras.
-Lack of truth in advertising. Airlines hold back many seats for on their seating charts so passengers believe that seating is more limited than it actually is. Many decide that they need to purchase a seat upgrade.
What impact have airline mergers had on the industry and what can be done to make it more competitive again?
The airline mergers, from twelve major carriers down to four, has had a negative impact on the consumer by increasing fares and fees and lowering customer service.
Airlines have also made deep cuts at smaller hubs. Delta eliminated Cincinnati and Memphis as hubs after its 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines. Likewise, United eliminated Cleveland as a hub several years after its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, leading to a 37% decline in the airport’s domestic seats over the same seven-year period.
Airlines need to be held to their schedules better. In Europe, the airlines are punished for delays in service and consumers get compensated. Similar rules should prevail in the United States.
What can frustrated air travelers do to advocate on their own behalf?
Know your rights as a passenger.
What happens if you get involuntarily bumped from a flight? What kind of compensation can you expect if an airline loses your suitcase? And where can you turn if you have a complaint?
Refund guidelines vary but there are a few general rules. If you need to cancel a ticket purchased under a nonrefundable fare, you may be able to apply the fare you paid toward a future flight, minus any applicable change or cancellation fees. If you need to cancel a refundable ticket purchased by credit card, your refund will be issued as a credit on the same card you used to make the purchase. (Contact your credit card company for support if you have problems getting a refund from your airline in a timely manner.)
Even if you have already checked in for your flight, an airline can cancel your reservation if you are not at the departure gate on time. Your seat may be given to another passenger, regardless of whether you have an advance boarding pass or an advance seat assignment. By the same token, if you do not check your baggage in sufficient time for it to be loaded on your flight, the airline will not be responsible for any delay in the delivery of your baggage to your destination. We recommend that you arrive at least two hours before your departure time (or earlier if you’re flying internationally or over the holidays).
US airlines are not required to compensate passengers for delayed or canceled flights. Each carrier differs in its policy and there are no federal requirements for passenger compensation. Most airlines will book you on the next available flight if your flight is canceled. If your plane is delayed, the airline may pay for meals or a phone call, so it’s worth asking. Some will offer no amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or other conditions beyond their control. Compensation is required by law only if you are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold (discussed above).
Airlines operating flights within the US cannot keep a plane on the tarmac for more than three hours, and they must provide drinking water and some sort of food for any delays longer than two hours. There must also be functioning lavatories onboard during the delay, as well as medical attention when necessary. The maximum delay for international flights is four hours. Airlines who violate this rule must pay a penalty.