Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Landmark Protections for Airline Passengers: Statement of Kate Hanni

For Immediate Release
Contact: Kate Hanni (707) 337-0328

Landmark Protections in new DOT rule for airline Passengers Culminates 4 year Struggle to Achieve Common Sense Measures for Consumers

New “Sustainable” Policy Also Proven to Enhance Operational Performance and Efficiency

Napa, CA 4-19-2011: The promulgation of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) final rule today that will dramatically enhance airline passenger’s rights could not come too soon for air travelers. The new rules represent the most comprehensive guidelines and protections for airline passengers in the history of the DOT.

“These new rules represent a sea change in terms of how airline consumers are treated and how airlines operate—they are the product of relentless grassroots advocacy by everyday people from across the country that make up the Flyers Rights movement” said Kate Hanni, President and Founder of “Today’s victory proves that ordinary people, if energized and organized, can still triumph over powerful corporate interests in Washington D.C.”

“The DOT’s own data proves that Passenger Bill of Rights protections, including the ‘Three Hour Rule’ have actually made airlines more efficient and have not created delays and cancellations as was predicted by the airlines,” added Hanni. “Just as the Three Hour Rule has achieved, today’s rule will pay both immediate and long term dividends to a wider range of flyers while making air travel more accessible, accountable and transparent—thereby promoting the long term financial health of the industry.”

The new rules provide:
• Transparency for unbundled fees so that passengers can make apples to apples comparisons
• Increase the bumping compensation from $400-$800 to $650-$1300
• Refunds of Baggage Fees if your baggage is lost
• Disclosure of Bumping compensation at the Gate to both voluntary and
involuntarily bumped passengers
• International flights must report tarmac delays
• International flights are now included in the tarmac delay rule

The Legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration is close to completion by U.S. Congress. The U.S. House version of this legislation does not contain Passenger Bill of Rights provisions, however the Senate version does. In the coming weeks, the two bodies will work to reconcile their two bills into one final bill, pass it and send it to the President for signature.

“We applaud President Obama, Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt for listening to all the stakeholders, including consumers, and taking the affirmative steps to protect both customers and the long term viability of the industry by making these common sense measures a reality, said Hanni. “Now our focus turns to Congress to ensure the Passenger Bill of Rights is made permanent through legislation.” is the largest non-profit airline passenger’s rights group in the world with 33,000 members Nationwide. Toll free hotline 1-877-359-3776.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Statement of Kate Hanni: Gaping Holes, Thin Skins and FAA oversight

Bear with me as I try to stop my head from spinning plum off my torso from the latest set of events related to Southwest Airlines and their “thin skinned” Boeing 737-300 series aircraft.

Just two weeks ago, was reeling from the news that the FAA had secretly allowed the airlines to remove Oxygen Generation Canisters from the lavatories on 6,000 jets. They left the masks intact (the illusion of protection), but removed the oxygen, putting countless numbers of unsuspecting passengers in harm’s way. The FAA responded to critics by saying that mid-air decompression events were “rare” and that no one would be hurt. Really? Mid-air decompression events are far more prevalent then terrorist even, and I’m only talking about the decompression events that actually get reported to the FAA. Many more go unreported to avoid further scrutiny and possible grounding of an airline’s fleet.

Just last Friday (April Fool’s Day) , I awaken to the news that American Airlines flight 547 had a mid-air decompression where the oxygen masks were “manually” deployed (not sure if that means they failed to automatically deploy.. or not) but passengers and flight attendants passed out because of an apparent lack of oxygen coming through some of the masks. (See this Wikipedia table related to Time of Useful Consciousness). Then, just a few short hours later, Southwest Airlines flight 812 has a gaping hole 5’ long by 1’ wide that opens up in the roof at 34,000 feet, which causes a sudden explosive decompression and they divert to Yuma for an emergency landing. The passengers sit in 100 degree heat for several hours (for their safety) while awaiting another aircraft to take them to Sacramento.

This has to be an April Fool’s Day joke, she says…still blonde…and still hoping!

Visions of the airline groundings and cancellations disaster of early 2008 come rushing back, the horror of our hotline ringing off the hook with stranded passengers whose Southwest Airlines Flights had been cancelled due to thin skins and cracks in the fuselage, followed quickly by tens of thousands of American Airlines passengers whose flights were cancelled due to wire bundling issues. In both cases, flights were cancelled as a pre-emptive move to avoid further FAA scrutiny and get ahead of a problem they had “misrepresented” to the FAA.

But when the FAA did send out an “impromptu” investigator to see if the cracks and wire bundles were fixed as stated by the airlines, they discovered that indeed they were NOT. Interestingly enough, they can fine an airline for missing security checks, but there is NO mandate that the airlines report these fundamental safety issues. Are you concerned? We are…

Were it not for concerns over the safety of Southwest planes that were brought to light by FAA whistleblowers, who took the information to Congress, no one would have known that they missed their safety/security checks. But employees of the airlines who are tasked with making these checks don’t have whistleblower protections. And they should!

The FAA did fine Southwest Airlines 10 million dollars for “flying past their mandatory security checks” of which $7.5 million was paid. Once the checks were complete, Southwest reported that “no faults in the aircraft skin were found and all aircraft are still safe…don’t put your tickets on e-bay yet,” according to Grant Martin of

But hold on, July 13, 2009, Southwest flight 2294 en route from Nashville Tennessee to Baltimore had a basketball sized hole in the fuselage, full decompression and emergency landing…hmmmmmmmm.


You see, the FAA has a “Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program” which is just an Advisory Circular that suggests self-policing that neither requires the airlines to inspect certain safety items nor to report any of these vital, structural safety issues. If they detect these cracks during their routine maintenance (for which there is no impetus--in fact it’s counter-intuitive to their culture given that the results could include FAA grounding their fleet for them). Also by leaving the airlines to inspect these critical safety issues, but offering no whistleblower protections to their employees, employees are unmotivated--in fact often dis-incentivized--to report things that might cost the airline money or ground a fleet of aircraft, because they have no whistleblower protections (we’ll get to the solution for this in a minute).

But let’s back up to the oxygen issue for a minute. Is the fox guarding the henhouse here, too? Could it be that the airlines are under the “Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program” when it comes to the testing of the equipment inside the aircraft, such as vital oxygen during a decompression event? At the altitude that both the American Airlines jet and Southwest jet were, there was 30-60 seconds of useful consciousness without ambient oxygen. In the case of Southwest flight 812 it took them 4 and ½ minutes to get down to an altitude where folks could breathe…OMG! Is anyone hyperventilating here?

Get me an air sickness bag!

We don’t know if any poor stiffs (I mean souls) were in the lavatories when all of this happened, but it’s not hard to see how they might have been. And although the airlines will tell you that they have hand held oxygen canisters for medical events to be used by Flight Attendants for our safety in a medical emergency, we have several reports of incidents where in an emergency some poor unsuspecting flight attendant reached for a hand-held oxygen canister and it was EMPTY…although we really shouldn’t worry about that because in both the American Airlines and Southwest cases of last Friday at least one flight attendant passed out DUE TO A LACK OF OXYGEN.

Where is the accountability? Who’s guarding our lives, our safety, our ability to trust that the FAA has us in mind when they devise a scheme that allows the airlines to do their own safety checks? Whose idea was it to have the poor airline inspectors NOT have whistleblower protections? Why not swear in each of the airlines’ key safety/security inspectors as officers of the FAA to afford them appropriate whistleblower protections?

What Congressman James Oberstar called the “Culture of Coziness” between the FAA and the airlines has GOT TO STOP. For you, for me, and for the future of air travel in the domestic US.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tarmac rule worked as planned: Secretary Ray LaHood op-ed

Tarmac rule worked as planned
Published: Monday, March 14, 2011, 6:16 AM
By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist The Star-Ledger

Andrew Harrer/BloombergU.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
By Ray La Hood
The Star-Ledger’s editorial on the Department of Transportation’s rule prohibiting airline tarmac delays to no more than three hours (“Grounded without recourse: FAA must fix tarmac rule so fliers aren’t stranded by unexpected cancellations,” March 9) seriously overstates the rule’s impact on flight cancellations.

Since the new rule took effect in late April 2010, unreasonably long tarmac delays — sometimes leaving travelers stranded aboard aircraft without access to food, water or working lavatories for hours on end — have virtually disappeared. Between May 2010 and January 2011, the first full nine months since the rule took effect, the airlines reported only 16 flights stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours, compared to 604 during the same period the previous year. Most of those delays were barely over three hours, while many of the long tarmac delays of the past often stretched to four or five hours — or more.

This achievement in protecting airline passengers has not brought with it the “surge” of cancellations claimed by The Star-Ledger’s editorial. Looking at flights canceled after a two-hour tarmac delay — those most likely to be canceled to avoid violating the rule — we see that in the first full nine months since the rule went into effect, carriers canceled 312 flights after tarmac delays of more than two hours, compared with 268 such cancellations between May 2009 and January 2010.

When you consider that there are 8.7 million domestic flights in any given year, an increase of 44 cancellations is hardly significant — particularly given the snowstorms that caused many cancellations across the United States in December and January. It is quite possible that when a full year’s statistics are evaluated, they will show no notable increase from the previous year.

We also have looked into whether carriers might be canceling flights before a two-hour tarmac delay — or even before leaving the gate — due to concerns that weather, congestion, closed runways or other factors might cause a lengthy ground delay. We looked at airports that experienced more than one two-hour tarmac delay between May and October in both 2010 and 2009, taking into account all cancellations that might have been related to tarmac delay concerns. We found there were 7,120 of these proactive cancellations in the first six months after the rule took effect in 2010, compared to 8,696 flights during the same months of 2009 — before our tarmac rule existed.

We believe airline passengers have fundamental rights to fair treatment when they fly. Our tarmac delay rule has resulted in a massive drop-off in the kinds of unconscionable and intolerable extended tarmac delays that left people stranded for hours, without recourse and without good information on when their ordeals would end. And, we have done so without causing the widespread cancellations that airlines and others have insisted would follow.

The Obama administration is proud of its efforts to protect airline passengers and will continue to ensure consumers are treated fairly.
Ray LaHood is the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.