July 24, 2013 | Kendall Creighton You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers FlyersRights Member Feedback Special Tuesday, July 23, 2013 This week’s newsletter is comprised of mailbag responses to some of the comments FlyersRights has received over the past several months. We’ve chosen ones that are most salient and Paul Hudson, FlyersRights president, has drafted responses. Only initials are used for the letter-writer’s names and we kept them short to cover as much as possible. Question: I was struck by the line “There are many problems with assuming the brace position as described in safety materials in the seat pocket. Primarily that it is impossible when the seat ahead is too close. With the steadily shrinking distance between seats to squeeze in more passengers, the average sized person cannot brace themselves.” I remembered thinking that same thing! See below for a letter I wrote back in 2011. Keep up the good work! I’ll keep supporting you! K.B. “TO: Federal Aviation Administration: On a recent international flight I watched the pre-flight safety video with some amusement and annoyance. In particular, the video instructs passengers that in the event of an emergency landing we are to lean forward in our seats and place our hands behind our heads – the so-called “crash position.” I cannot imagine how few people would be able to perform that move, given limitations on their flexibility, but I am annoyed that in economy class it is impossible for me to even begin to lean forward without hitting the seat in front of me. And I am only 5’7″. Surely there is an alternative that would be reasonable to propose to those of us in the back of the plane or those who are less limber so that we, too, might have a better chance of surviving a crash?” Paul’s response: The idea of a classic brace position is to prevent whiplash or back or head injury by bending forward. With seats close together the best that can be done to brace is to place your head cradled in your arms on the seat back in front of you as some safety guides show. The recent Asiana crash resulted in many serious spinal injuries. The FAA and airliner manufacturers need to consider using emergency shoulder straps and perhaps air bags. Such devices have been effective in greatly reducing racecar driver injuries and have saved many lives in high G auto crashes. Q: Regarding the battery deal with the Japanese, is that deal contrary to US law? US companies are bound by US law, even outside of the US. That was emphasized to me by the US company I was a sales rep for in an Asian country, I was told repeatedly by the US company that I could not give any bribe to induce purchase of the product. P. S. Paul’s response: The U.S. law generally does not prohibit quid pro quo arrangements where a country buys more airplanes in part due to giving a larger share of the work to its businesses. Boeing, in the view of many, unwisely outsourced most of the 787 Dreamliner work to get a marketing edge, save costs and avoid U.S. unions. However, the resulting complications caused serious delays, quality control problems, and cost overruns. And by sharing so much know how and trade secrets with foreign firms, Boeing may have assured that the next generation of airliners will be made in Japan and China. Q: The focus on the golden age of flight is quite hypocritical. Air travel in those days was very expensive. You push for rock bottom fares while also bemoaning the lack of space, fancy meals and other services. You can’t have it both ways. If people going to choose flights only on the basis of cost, then they have to expect the airlines to continue to reduce space and service to win in that environment. If flyers really believe in more space and better service, they have to support those airlines that provide those with their travel dollars. V. R. Paul’s response: Air fares declined 50% in the past 30 years since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, but have increased rapidly since 2009, especially when fees are included. At the same time, space allocated to each passenger has shrunk to the point that safety as well as comfort may be compromised. We have noted that 1) FAA should consider regulations to ensure minimum seat and space standards, and 2) have raised the issue of whether fairness dictates there be limits on fees (such as for security) paid by economy class passengers being used to subsidize higher levels of service for first class travelers. Many if not most first class passengers now do not pay the listed air fare, but are there because of upgrades under frequent fliers programs. In the “golden age” there were no such programs. Air fares were higher in part because most travelers received what we would now would view as near first class accommodation and service. Frequent flier programs were introduced by American Airlines in the 1980s to prevent business travelers (whose air fares were paid for by their employer) from migrating to low fare airlines, by providing the employee traveler with rewards that could be used personally. They are now part of the business model of all airlines. Q: As a single woman, I would like to tell your reader (in June 25 2013 newsletter) that all the things she is complaining about have happened to me….. missing a connecting flight I just don’t understand why boarding early is so important to her. I am sure her baby would have been crying when or after they they boarded early. P.B. Paul’s response: Good question, and there is no perfect answer. As a father of 4, grandfather to 7 and frequent solo traveler, in my opinion the main thing about traveling with young children or babies is that it’s stressful and complicated with strollers, special seats, diaper bags, etc. as well as not to mention the crying, fighting and sometimes misbehaving. It is probably best for all concerned to have families with young children board first and if possible exit last. Requiring families with small children to pay extra to sit with their children as some airlines now do presents other problems that are the subject of pending rules by Senator Charles Schumer. Q: Would you please explain to me HOW THE AIRLINES CONTINUE TO GET AWAY WITH GROSS NEGLIGENCE OF HUMAN HEALTH AND SAFETY!!! How many more stories are we going to read about stranded passengers being deprived of any combination of no drinking water, no food, non-working toilets, etc., to the point of passengers becoming ill. WHAT THE HECK!!! J.D. Paul’s response: As most passengers know, FlyersRights.org successfully advocated for the 3-Hour Rule making it illegal since April 2010 for airlines to hold domestic passengers on the tarmac for more than 3 hours and requiring they provide food, water, bathroom facilities and also proper temperature and air after 2 hours. Yet there are still incidents about once a week. Unless the DOT cracks down hard, with high fines especially for repeat offenders, tarmac confinements that use to victimize about 200,000 passengers annually will creep back. In a recent meeting with the head of DOT aviation rule enforcement, FlyersRights.org advocated for higher fines with at least half going to compensate passengers and faster investigations which are now taking 1- 3 years. Q: How do you feel about a recliner disable button on the back of every seat? A.W. Paul’s response: Perhaps a slow button but a no-recline button could cause lots of fights. Q: Here’s a dirty trick … I used to regularly fly Airtran’s non-stop flight between ROC and TPA in Business class. Recently Southwest Airlines took over Airtran. When I went to the Airtran web site, I was redirected to Southwest. However, Southwest was still showing that same ROC-TPA non-stop flight along with a set of fares ranging from $198 to $463, the latter called “Business Select”, at just $20 more than what Airtran had been charging. So that’s what I paid for. Imagine my surprise when I got on the plane and discovered that Business class had vanished and it was just Steerage class from row 1 to infinity. When I complained, I was told that it wasn’t Business class, it was “Business Select”. Well the last time I checked, “select” meant “choose” or “choice”, not non-existent. When I called Customer Relations, their whole attitude was basically, “tough luck pal”. Paying double the going rate just for “priority” boarding is absurd. And I wasn’t even the first on the plane, despite a big “A01” on my boarding pass, as nine other people got on ahead of me. This sort of deceptive advertising is sleazy and fraudulent. I think any reasonable person would assume that a fare called “Business Select” with a premium price, means Business class. Needless to say, my first trip on Southwest was also my last. M.D. Paul’s response: The term Business Select is defined by Southwest Airlines on its web site as consisting of priority boarding, a drink coupon, and some extra frequent flyer points for about $24 more than the Anytime fare, and considerably higher than the Web only fare of about $226. The term does appear deceptive or at least confusing with the term Business Class and should probably be changed to something like Priority Boarding Plus. You can file a complaint with the DOT for deceptive advertising which if found in your favor should result in a refund and possibly a fine against the airline with an order to change the term. This example also shows how airline mergers reduce service, particularly to smaller cities like Rochester which now has only Southwest nonstop service to Tampa. Southwest eliminated competing AirTran flight from about five medium size cities after the 2011 acquisition of AirTran. Q: On recent Air France FLT to Paris I encountered the most uncomfortable seats…by arrival I had severe back issues that ruined by entire vacation. Worse on return FLT. Have been under chiro-practic care now for 6 weeks. Next FLT I take ill bring a cushion to sit upon. E.F. *** I’m a big guy. I’m sorry, that’s the way it is. But I can’t be blamed for the seat design of most airlines… that they were designed for a 10 year old refugee from Europe after WWII. Face it guys, whether I’m big or not, there is no such animal as a comfortable seat in coach. You can’t put lipstick on a pig. T.R. Paul’s response: All good reasons for rulemaking and a public comment period before airlines are permitted to reduce seat size, while average passenger size, age and infirmities increase. Q: I AM ABSOLUTELY AGAINST THIS RIDICULOUS NEW STAND AGAINST THE B787… You have NO facts to base this stand on. W.S. Paul’s response: How about 100 to 150 battery replacements in 2012, two fires in January and another in June, mass grounding by FAA order of the entire 787 fleet for four months, seven (7) emergency landings since April, opinions of a half dozen battery experts, and FAA admission of near total delegation of its safety authority to Boeing? Q: I can understand the concern over lithium batteries and the political pressure necessary on Boeing. Yet, what I find troubling is that Airbus has far more safety related issues with almost every aircraft type they have manufactured. Why aren’t we pressuring Congress on those issues as well, or are we? As someone who travels internationally extensively, I try to avoid flying on Airbus airplanes. I have been on the A380 three times (Singapore, Quantis and Emirates) and each time they returned to the gate with mechanical issues and ultimately cancelled the flights. An aircraft that has been plagued with issues. A significant number of Airbus have also had to go through extensive examination due to early signs of upper wing corrosion – due to a faulty chemical used in the paint. I could go on and on. R.G. Paul’s response: These are good points. We got involved with the 787 safety after alarms sounded by battery experts, coupled with incidents cited above. If we receive reports of extraordinary Airbus safety incidents and/or expert concerns, you can be sure FlyersRights.org would sound the alarm on the A380 or any other airliner. Q: Sorry, I strongly disagree with your stance on knives. The 9/11 box-cutter attacks were successful only because they allowed the hijackers to get into the cockpit. The TSA ban on knives is typical of their reactive approach to security rather than proactive. What stopped the hijackings was not a ban on tiny little pocket knives, it was the Ft. Knox bank vault doors they put on airplane cockpits. Would-be hijackers aren’t interested in killing one flight attendant, they want to take over the plane. Once they realized this wasn’t going to be possible anymore, they shifted to trying to sneak bombs on planes. That is the current threat, not an armed takeover. This hysteria over knives is ridiculous. Every plane has a fire ax onboard that could be used to create a lot more mayhem than a pocket knife. For that matter, planes are loaded with all sorts of common objects a creative individual could use to kill someone, from klonking them on the head with a fire extinguisher to strangling them with an oxygen mask tube. There is absolutely no rational reason not to allow small knives. Yet another reason why I’ve been boycotting commercial airline travel for years now. I’ll stick to flying my own plane. M.D. Paul’s response: These arguments were considered by the TSA but the overwhelming majority of the public, flight crew members, and even TSA screeners and air marshals strongly felt knives should not be allowed back on airliners; the TSA ultimately agreed. Terrorists, the knife lobby and a minority of passengers were no doubt disappointed. By flying only in your own plane you are of course avoiding nearly all security hassles and dangers, but this is not something most air travelers can or want to do. We did not oppose lifting the ban on sports equipment like hockey sticks and have long advocated for easy return of most confiscated property at TSA screening stations with self mailers. Q: Charging extra for baggage and water? Insufficient hydration is one contributing cause of DVT. DVT can be fatal, are the airlines looking forward to more lawsuits? The price an airline quotes from point A to point B should be complete to the penny and inclusive of everything involved. If the airlines are allowed to continue the path they’re on they will become more bold. Maybe the airlines will charge extra fees to park the plane, refuel the plane, unload and reload the plane and a fee for communicating with air traffic control. Maybe the airlines will start charging extra for human pilots, preferring to use drones. P.S. Paul’s response: FlyersRights is urging the DOT to define air fare to include all basic services necessary for safe and comfortable air travel and to prohibit extra fees that are unfair, exorbitant, hidden or deceptive. Examples include excessive baggage, change, and seat placement fees. As reported earlier, Spirit Airlines now has 74 extra fees and the airlines are in a race to add and jack up fees of all kinds to the extent that the term “air fare” may soon become a nearly meaningless base price for air travel. Fees are also making comparison price shopping for air travel much more difficult. Q: Imagine how nice it would be if the slime bag U.S. airlines had to post notices like these in U.S. airports: JM Paris Orly Airport Paul’s response: Airports and airlines generally resist any type of mandatory posting and even prohibit groups like FlyersRights.org from distributing passenger rights literature or even advertising in their in flight magazines. Even the DOT fails to include on its web site some passenger rights like the right to compensation for flight delays on international flights and generally does not require airlines to so inform passengers of their rights. The DOT also gives incomplete and inaccurate advice on its web site concerning its consumer assistance program and passenger ability to obtain relief in court for passenger claims. This may take litigation, legislation, rulemaking and/or new leadership at DOT to change. Q: On a recent flight with American Airlines, the gate attendants were requiring that roller bags must fit perfectly in the luggage sizer or else be checked. Why are these metal luggage sizers so much smaller than the actual overhead compartments? These metal frame sizers have been around for decades and certainly were not made with roller bags in mind. Also, what about carry on pieces that are oddly shaped (not like a rectangle)? It seems the sizers should be made to look like an overhead compartment instead. What can flyers do about this? Can you help? L.M. Paul’s response: American Airlines web site states: “carry-on bag must fit comfortably in the sizer without being forced and does not exceed overall dimensions of 45 inches (length + width + height). The maximum dimensions cannot exceed any of the following measurements: 22″ long x 14″ wide x 9″ tall or 115cm (56 x 36 x 23 cm). All carry-on items should be stowed in an overhead bin.” Very few roller bags meet these sizer box dimensions but still fit comfortably in the overhead baggage containers. I can relate personally to this complaint and hope we receive other reports on whether airlines are abusing use of baggage fees, as this has become the No. 1 source of new airline revenue. I recently flew on American to South America and was stopped from entering the security line by an airline employee who wanted me to check my carry on roller bag. This would have involved an additional fee of $200 as a third bag in addition to a $170 fee paid for a checked second bag, an effective 50% increase in the air fare. (After removing a few pieces of clothing it just fit.) In order to check three bags American now charges $370 to over $1,100 depending on size or weight for international flights, about double the coach air fare. Several days prior to the flight I tried to call American and also emailed customer service to obtain clarification of their confusing baggage fees to no avail (they have at least six potential fees for Latin America and different fees for other destinations). I have asked for a partial refund and requested American clarify its baggage fee schedule, which deceptively fails to mention that fees for bags over 50 lbs. or over 62 inches are surcharges in addition to already high checked bag fees. No substantive response yet received. Q: I would like to contribute to your blog but I don’t like pay pal. Is there another way? L.S. Paul’s response: Yes, you can donate by check or money order sent to FlyersRights.org or Flyers Rights Education Fund, Inc., 4411 Bee Ridge Rd. #274, Sarasota, Florida 34233. It should also be possible to use a credit card through PayPal. We can also accept advertising on our website and our newsletters! We are working on other ways to donate. Thank you! Member Feedback Needed! Click Here and Take Our FlyersRights Poll! Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights Paul Hudson, Flyersrights president FlyersRights is the only organization looking out for travelers. Your support keeps us going! Founded by Kate Hanni in 2007, FlyersRights is funded completely through donations and our Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity, to which contributions are tax deductible. Thank you for your support!