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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spin The Throttle

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Spin The Throttle
The Spin Is On

March 22, 2017
Big cuts could be coming to the US transportation system.
President Trump's plan moves oversight of the air traffic control from the federal government to an independent group, according to budget documents released last Thursday.

Trump, who has long complained about America's "third-world airports" and "obsolete" air traffic control system, is proposing $16.2 billion for the Department of Transportation's discretionary budget for fiscal year 2018, which is actually a reduction of 13 percent.

Yet, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation Committee, hinted that Trump's pro-reform stance on air traffic control was merely "a political favor" thrown to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee, for backing him in the presidential primary race.

The Trump administration also wants to increase the 9/11 Passenger Security Fee, now assessed to all airline tickets, which helps fund the Transportation Security Administration cover 75 percent of the TSA's costs.

His budget outline does not specify the amount of the fee increase, but earlier media reports have said the current $5.60 fee would rise by $1 for each flight on a trip to $6.60. 

FlyersRights maintains that privatizing the US air traffic control system is surrendering American airspace to the commercial airlines, while causing air travel to get more expensive, because more fees will be implemented. The current system is paid for by taxes on aviation fuel, levies paid by aircraft operators, and other sources.

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he opposes handing over control of civilian air traffic control to an organization "that would be dominated by the airlines. It totally excludes passengers, who are paying for the whole thing. It gives away the entire infrastructure of air traffic control, which is worth tens of billions of dollars, to a private entity which looks, to me, a lot like Amtrak."

Hudson said that 90 percent of the public in surveys have said the FAA is doing a good job. However, "only 20 percent of the public think the airlines are doing a good job, and we're going to turn this over to the airlines?"

- Cuts TSA budget for screeners while increasing passenger fees so revenue can be diverted to other Trump budget priorities.

- Cuts budget for Coast Guard forces used to interdict contraband and illegal entry by sea.

- Transfers command of Air Traffic Control - billions of dollars in FAA equipment plus unlimited power to tax passengers - over to a corporation controlled by major airlines with no passenger representation.

- Repeals hundreds of DOT/FAA safety, health and consumer protection regulations.

- Continues to allow airlines to shrunk seats, legroom, bathrooms and passenger space without limit.

- Continues to refuse any and all passenger protection measures.

- Allows deceptive ads and marketing to make price shopping difficult to impossible.

- Continues to allow exorbitant or hidden fees without restriction.

- Continues to exempt airlines from all state, local and most federal consumer protection, contract, tort and health laws, excepting only claims for death or physical injury.

- Continues to allow passengers to bring dogs, cats and other animals they claim are for emotional support on airliners without restriction.

- Continues, under the Patriot Act, to authorize flight crews to eject or have arrested any passenger for any reason.

- Reduces or eliminates all fines against airlines and allowing airlines and aircraft makers conduct their own safety inspections and certifications.



Letters!


[First three are a series from JK]

Dear FlyersRights:

Something came up and Delta want[ed] to charge me $200 to take a flight I was going to take anyway. It's cheaper to buy a SpiritAirlines fare.
(Delta cancelled the second segment of his journey when he didn't show for the first leg.)

JK

It's standard procedure for an airline to cancel the connection if the outbound flight was not taken. Sounds like they just want him to get a new ticket with a $200 change fee.
No advice. Sorry. 
Joel J Smiler DVM
Hotline Director

I would file a complaint against Delta with the DOT: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint as it usually results in some benefit to you from the airline.

Kendall Creighton
FlyersRights

Hey, I thought you might like to know that Delta unexpectedly called me this morning to tell me they were issuing me a full refund.

I had put in a refund request asking for credit, given that it was a non-refundable ticket, and I didn't expect to hear back from then given that it had been a week already. I also wrote an email to the Vice President of Customer Service I found on http://elliott.org/. I don't know if that had anything to do with it.

JK

I got another message from Delta earlier and it turns out my email to the vice president did have an impact.

JK

[next two are a series from JS]
Dear FlyersRights:

I'm writing to let you know of a recent experience I had with United Airlines.  I also submitted this feedback to them directly and still waiting for a response.

My husband and I recently booked a trip from SFO to Honolulu.   I did precheck in and our seat assignments were the same as when I booked the trip.  We got to the airport and checked in again and all was well until we were in our boarding line.  My husband happened to check our boarding passes on his mobile app and noticed they had changed my seat two rows up from where he was seated.  I immediately went to the agent and asked him to change me back and asked why this happened.  He ignored the question and immediately gave me back the seat I had originally which was next to my husband.  When we were seated and people were flowing in there were others that didn't think to look at their boarding pass and found they were moved unbeknownst to them to a different seat away from their family.

The same thing happened on our return flight.  I checked in on mobile app and found they moved me away from my husband so I called United to let them know of their error in separating us even though we were booked on the same itinerary and to change us back to our original seats.  They said they couldn't because they changed aircrafts but as soon as I asked to be transferred to a manager and explained that I needed to be next to my husband because of a medical condition I have she put me on hold, called the department to have me booked back to seats where we could be together.  She then told  me it was locked and wouldn't be changed again.  However, when we got to the airport they changed us again!  This time it was across the aisle from each other and because it was a full flight they couldn't change our seats.  So instead we had to play musical seats with people on our flight to see if they would change so we could be together.  Several other people had the same issue!

WTH is going on with United that they are doing this with paying customers sometimes without notifying people in advance.

Have you had other people complaining about this issue?  What is our recourse besides sending them feedback via their website?

thank you for your advise/guidance.
JS

Hello,

We have not had any recent calls or emails regarding this problem.  It does happen from time to time due to a change of aircraft or flight numbers, but nothing out of the ordinary lately.  You were right to write to United and we would be interested in what they have to say.
In the future if you get to the airport and find it has happened to you and you have a medical reason to be together, if they won't accommodate you ask to speak to the Conflict Resolution Officer (CRO).  Each airline is supposed to have a designated employee at each station responsible for maintaining the rights of disabled passengers.

Regards,
Joel

Joel J Smiler DVM
Hotline Director


I just wanted to follow up with you to let you know that United customer service responded to my complaint and with a note of apology and 2 $150 vouchers to use for a future flight.

They haven't shown this type of customer service in a while so I was very impressed.

JS



FlyersRights' response to: Gothamist 
 article: National Weather Service: Sorry, You're Too Stupid To Trust With The REAL Forecast:


To: Ms. Blane Workie, Assistant General Counsel Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. Department of Transportation 

Cc: Jonathan Dols, deputy assistant general counsel in office of aviation enforcement, Department of Transportation 
Blane,
The National Weather Service now admits they intentionally withheld their revised snow forecast that Northeast coastal cities from D.C. To Boston would not be hit with more than a few inches! They intentionally decided Monday not to update their forecast so as "not to confuse the Public" with the true forecast!
So all airlines cancelled all flights to and from the NE and mayors shut down cities Monday night.
Instead of a delay of a few hours, hundreds of thousands of airline passengers lost their vacations or trips due to a knowingly false official weather forecast and have suffered delays of up to several days. The US economy took an unnecessary hit.
This is a major transportation scandal and, in my opinion, the Secretary of Transportation and White House should issue a statement that fake forecasts by the National Weather Service will not be tolerated.
Paul Hudson
President, Flyersrights.org
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee

In reply to "Oscar The Grouch"
Dear FlyersRights:

He is totally right! [Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines]. How are US carriers supposed to compete with foreign carriers that are subsidized to the tune of 100s of millions???

KL

Dear KL, because when United CEO Oscar Munoz bemoans the Middle East big three airlines, he's failing to acknowledge that government "subsidies" saved United Airlines after 9/11 and helped the carrier emerge from bankruptcy by taking over United's pension obligations

We don't dismiss that Gulf governments help prop up their home carriers, both directly and indirectly. Bit we do dismiss cries of "us good, them bad" coming from the USA when they are just as guilty.

Kendall Creighton
FlyersRights


Correction:

In last week's newsletter, we credited AAA with the below tips - when we should have credited FlyersRights exclusively:
  • If your flight is canceled you can obtain a refund and take alternate transportation -if you do not want the accept the airlines' rescheduled flight (which can take several days.) 
  • You are entitled to cash compensation for EU flight delays if you are bumped from an overbooked flight.
  • If you are on an international trip the airline is required to use all practical means to avoid or mitigate delay, or pay delay compensation -which can range up to $5,000- under the Montreal Convention Article 19.
  • If other airlines are flying to your destination, you can ask that your excessively delayed or canceled flight ticket be endorsed to fly on another airline (this is voluntary now but  Flyersrights.org has petitioned to bring back this reciprocity rule). 


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Speedy Recovery


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Speedy Recovery

March 15, 2017
Tuesday's Northeast blizzard paralyzed US air travel and forced cancellation of 8,000 flights since Sunday according to the  flight tracking website FlightAware.

Nearly all flights at New York City's three airports were canceled on Tuesday, with similar issues at Boston and Baltimore. Most flights were cancelled before the day even began.

Other major airports in the Northeast  also experienced major disruptions,  including Philadelphia, Washington Dulles and Washington National,  with about 50 percent of flights cancelled Tuesday.
FlyersRights demands that the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Agency assist, monitor and verify that emergency operation plans are followed and that recovery is rapid.

There is no excuse for lack of preparedness. 

AAA offered the following tips for airline passengers in the coming days:
  • Check flight status before leaving home and sign up for your airline's flight status alert service - It beats making multiple calls and can help you to get information faster than waiting on hold for an airline representative.
  • Ask if re-booking fees are being waived - Most airlines, although not required to do so, will waive change fees due to severe weather.
  • If conditions are safe and your flight is not cancelled, allow for more time on the road in order to arrive at the airport in plenty of time - Remember that there are a finite number of seats on each airplane, and those who do not arrive in time will find that their seat has been given to another passenger who is anxious to get where they are going.
  • Be prepared for down time in airports - Carry snacks and entertainment for both adults and children but, remember to get drinks after clearing security checkpoints due to TSA restrictions.
  • Be patient - Try to keep in mind that you are not the only delayed, tired, and frustrated traveler. You have lots of company, and a backlog of challenges will take time to correct.
  • "Bullying" airline personnel is not recommended - Kindness and understanding with the person who is helping you will take you much farther. Many airline employees have been through the same challenges you have and are working hard to accommodate throngs of passengers.
  • Carry a FULLY CHARGED cell phone - Passengers need to be prepared to wait in the airport in the event of a schedule change and carrying a fully charged communications device will ensure that any airline alerts or e-mails are received promptly.
  • Make decisions based on your personality and travel delay "tolerance" - If you are already experiencing a high level of frustration, you may not want to arrive at the airport for the first flight after it re-opens, as crowded conditions and delays are reasonable expectations.
  • Consider an alternate and perhaps even WARM destination - If your trip was cancelled, you may find some flexibility with travel vendors with regard to when and even where you go. Those who were going for a ski vacation out west may now be more in the mood for the beach as a cure for blizzard induced cabin fever.
  • If your flight is canceled you can obtain a r efund and take alternate transportation -if y ou do not want the accept the airlines' r escheduled flight (which can take several d ays.) 
  • You are entitled to cash compensation for EU flight delays if  you are bumped from an overbooked flight.
  • If you are on an international trip the airline is required to use all practical means to avoid or mitigate delay, or pay delay compensation -which can range up to $5,000- under the Montreal Convention Article 19.
  • If other airlines are flying to your destination, you can ask that your excessively delayed or canceled flight ticket be endorsed to fly on another airline (this is voluntary now but  Flyersrights.org has petitioned to bring back this reciprocity rule). 
If you need more help, you can call the Flyersrights.org Hotline, 877-FLYERS6 or file a complaint with the DOT at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint

FlyersRights Argued Before DC Circuit Judges Against FAA's Failure To Regulate Seat Sizes
  The takeaway is that it's a confidential 'trade secret' on how aircraft manufacturers design a sardine class that's escapable within 90 seconds

FlyersRights is challenging the  Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) decision to not set a minimum airline seat size. 
Last Friday, we argued in front of a panel of DC Circuit judges that the FAA needed to put up or shut up regarding the airline manufacturers' "secret evacuation studies" that say current seat sizes are safe.

FlyersRights argued without any FAA rules, airlines will keep shrinking seats in pursuit of higher profits.
FlyersRights explained during the hearing that seat pitch and width have shrunk over the past decade, endangering the emergency evacuation process and cramming too many passengers into too tight a situation, creating a risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. 

The FAA has evaded the publication of a study sought by FlyersRights that shows planes could be evacuated in 90 seconds, as required. This is because aircraft manufacturers claim it contains proprietary information. But FlyersRights argued there are well-established methods of entering the information into the court record without endangering trade secrets.

"They can't point to either a physical demonstration or computer simulation where this factor has been taken into account," FlyersRights attorney Joseph E. Sandler of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock PC said. "They say it has, but it's secret evidence, they can't show us the study."
The FAA also dodged blood clot concerns, saying it's not the agency with oversight over those sorts of health issues.

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, told  Law360  about 10 percent of passengers already can't fit into regular coach seats and airlines plan to push further to create what he dubs "torture class."

He noted that the panel had shown interest in getting affidavits from passengers who have posted complaints to public forums after it said FlyersRights hadn't produced specific enough complaints to warrant consideration.

U.S. Circuit Judges Janice Rogers Brown, Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard sat on the panel for the D.C. Circuit.

FlyersRights is represented by Joseph E. Sandler of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock PC.
The federal defendants are represented by Benjamin C. Mizer, Mark B. Stern and Karen Schoen of the U.S. Department of Justice and FAA in-house counsel Lorelei Peter.

The case is Flyers Rights Education Fund v. FAA et al., case number 16-1101, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Oscar the Grouch

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Oscar the Grouch
March 8, 2017

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit, March 2, 2017 with Carol Hallett, counselor to the U.S. Chamber and former president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America - now known as Airlines for America.

More hot air from Oscar.

Last week,  United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, said about the Middle-East airlines: 

"Those airlines aren't airlines. They're international branding vehicles for their countries." 

Munoz made clear that United will aggressively push the US government to take action against the United Arab Emirates and Qatar over what he considers unacceptable government assistance to Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

'Those Airlines Aren't Airlines'

This sob-a-rama from the US "Big 3" about the Middle East airlines conveniently distracts from the escalating abuse going on in the main cabins of the US carriers. 


Under Munoz's leadership, making the United "better" meant "Basic" economy (no overhead bins for you), tight 30" pitch seating in most narrow-body aircraft, and adopting high-density, ten abreast seating on the airline's 777's with 31" pitch. 

Also, making  record profits  while simultaneously complaining about "unfair competition" has failed to register much sympathy with flyers. 

(Source: Money/CNN)
In recent years, the US airlines have also fought every consumer protection  proposal of the Department of Transportation -in Federal Court and in Congress. 

If the Middle-East airlines aren't airlines, then the US carriers aren't either - as they're essentially run by Wall Street investors who artificially inflate prices by restricting capacity. 

So many flights now are oversold, meaning they could add seats in almost any given market. But the US carriers won't do this because they only do what is needed to keep investors happy - not what is good for the flying public. It's like re-regulation, except done by the airlines and not by the US government.

Since the US legacy airlines set up their global alliances, which are like antitrust immunities, and consolidated the industry, their public-policy focus has been to thwart competition. 
For example, they are  fighting a proposal to lift the cap on the passenger facility charge (PFC) so that airports are not able to make improvements that would attract new airline competitors. Likewise, they are  monopolizing scarce slots at Washington National and LaGuardia to keep out low-cost airlines and fighting to block foreign carriers from entering the US market. They also want to crush airfare search and compare websites sites that keep airlines honest.


Partnership for "Open and Fair Skies"

Back in  2015, United, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines produced a report accusing  Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad of getting more than $40 billion of subsidies from their government owners. 

But the US Department of Transportation took a look at the US carriers' "factual evidence" and  threw it in the trash.

All national carriers get government support in some form or another. The reason the US airlines still exist is due to billions in government bailout money in the early 2000s and chapter 11 protection since then.

But the fight against the Middle East airlines seems to have been renewed. Maybe the US carriers feel emboldened by a new administration. Why are the CEOs all repeating the same line? We can almost predict that next there'll be allegations of terrorism links against the Middle East airlines.

Finally, who is behind the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies? It's  a lobbying group composed of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, along with the Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l, the Allied Pilots Association, the Airline Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the Communications Workers of America and the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association.

Not Clear Cut What Trump Will Do 

Trump could easily side with the Middle East airlines, because the US carriers are not the good guys -and taking into account his  populist rhetoric. The  US airlines are the ones with the inferior product and like to nickel and dime people to death. Which makes the Middle East carriers seem, in contrast, like models of pleasant, well-run companies.

Trump is also in a difficult position with his campaign promises vs. his business interests in the Middle East. How can he protect jobs with the US major airlines and not offend the Middle East countries? 


As airlines push to eliminate foreign competition a nd privatize Air Traffic Control, President Trump must soon decide whether to drain the (air travel) swamp or fill it up with the airline lobby wish list. 

Airline executives and their unions:

Airlines did not support Trump for President but they did pay millions in campaign contributions to key Congressmembers - money that came out of the billions they charge passengers. 

Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, has so far declined t o meet with airline passenger representatives. 

Norwegian has begun hiring thousands o f US employees while the big three US airlines routinely outsource American jobs for maintenance to other countries and replace US flight crews on  international flights by using code-share partners instead of their own crews to  take a bigger cut of the profits.




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