Wednesday, February 29, 2012


United Yields to Military Families!

United Reverses Their Unpopular Pet Travel Policy

Cruise Line Passengers in Mexico Robbed

TSA Announces Expanded Screening Program

Privacy Petition for Domestic Drone Program

What Kate's Saying

United Bows to Customer Pressure - Offers Military Waiver

UAL LogoMilitary families who were outraged at the prospect of paying hundreds of dollars in extra fees to ship their pets back home have been granted a reprieve from United Airlines and will be given waivers for the additional cost.

Military pet owners who are moving due to military orders were facing a daunting prospect: paying anywhere from $1,400 - 2,856 in third-party cargo handling fees due to changes in United's pet handling policy as a result of their merger with Continental Airlines. United's decision to switch to Continental's "PetSafe" program was going to result in exponential increases in the cost that service members were required to pay, in some cases up to 1,300 percent! But an unexpectedly fierce backlash from military personnel and the general flying public made United rethink its policy. "We realized the impact it had on our military families," says United Airlines spokeswoman Mary Ryan in an article for USA Today. "We value our relationship with the military very much and just wanted to see what we could do to help alleviate that burden."

Military families launched petitions and posted hundreds of negative comments on the companies' Facebook page when they learned of the policy change, due to be implemented March 3, 2012. Under the revised policy, pets no longer can be checked as baggage. It previously cost $250 when animals flew as baggage from the U.S. to most foreign countries. But instead of the planned cost increase, United announced a new special process that will allow their pets to be shipped without their owners having to pay those extra fees, Ryan says.

Kate Hanni of, which had received many complaints from military families, says she's glad to hear that United decided to listen to its customers, especially its military families. " is so grateful that United Airlines heard the pleas of thousands of military families who did not want to abandon their pets," she says.

Mexico Tourists Robbed after State Department Warning

Twenty-two Carnival Cruise Lines tourists were robbed during a shore excursion tour in the Mexico resort town of Puerto Vallarta last Saturday, reported cruise officials in a statement released by the cruise line. This comes just two weeks after the US State Department released a travel warning to Americans to avoid all but essential travel to all or parts of 14 Mexican states, including the state of Jalisco. Puerto Vallarta is the sixth-largest city in Jalisco. just last week posted a story in our newsletter about the State Department warning and cautioned our members about taking extra precautions if traveling to Mexico.

Details surrounding the robbery were sketchy, but the cruise line stated that there were no injuries and the tour was suspended on future sailings until further notice. The statement went on to say that they were working with guests to reimburse them for their lost valuables and assist them with lost passports or other forms of identification. Many other tourists to Mexico have not been so lucky.

The travel warnings and reports of continuing violence throughout Mexico comes as it continues to battle the drug cartels and have caused many cruise lines to change their itineraries, either eliminating or severely curtailing activities in many ports of call. Mazatlan has been dropped from several cruise schedules after a dramatic increase in violent crimes against tourists. Puerto Vallarta has remained a popular destination for American tourists, especially college students on Spring Break. This recent robbery may reduce travel to the troubled area, in spite of Mexican officials' insistence that the tourist destinations remain safe for visitors. The deadly internal drug war that began in 2006 has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

Again, does not want to discourage anyone from traveling to Mexico, but we strongly encourage our members to take precautions when traveling there. Make use of the State Department's web site and other travel advisory tools prior to departing for Mexico to assure you have the latest information available. Travel in organized groups and stay close to the busier commerce districts. Use traveler's checks and only carry the minimum number of credit cards you need. Also be sure to make multiple copies of your travel documents like passports and keep them handy. It's a very good idea to program the phone number of the nearest American Consulate office into your cell phone or have it readily available in the event of problems. Have fun and please stay safe!

TSA Announces Expansion of Streamlined Screening Program

TSA LineThe TSA has announced an expansion of a trial program designed to expedite the pre-flight screening process for "select" passengers - those that are among the highest-status elite customers for the participating airlines. The "PreCheck" Expedited Security Program began testing last fall with eight US airports and is now expanding to three more, including Kennedy, O'Hare and Reagan National airports. The TSA is planning to add 27 more airports to the program by the end of the year.

According to an article published recently in the New York Times, Participation in the program can be achieved in one of two ways: either by invitation from one of the airlines now working with the program, including American, Delta, United, US Airways and Alaska Airlines, or through a Global Entry program operated by the Customs and Border Protection agency. The Global Entry program will provide expedited entry into the US for international travelers who enroll and are designated as low-risk passengers after passing background checks. The program currently has over 260,000 participants.

Travelers in the PreCheck program will be able to traverse security lines much more easily and will not be required to remove their shoes prior to screening. However, John Pistole, the TSA Administrator, noted that all participants are still subject to random full-security checks. "There is clear public support for moving away from the one-size-fits-all concept in checkpoint security, toward a multilayered approach partly based on intelligence," Mr. Pistole said. "Just from a policy standpoint, we wanted to validate that."

For the general traveling public, who do not typically fly more than 100,000 miles annually, it is unlikely that they will benefit from the new program, at least for the near future. "As it relates to the entire traveling population, the 1.7 or 1.8 million who go through our checkpoints every day, I'd like to see more improvement in technology before we would make that kind of policy decision," Mr. Pistole said. "We're not ready to open it up across the board at this point, but I think there will be some technology developments that might in the future allow for a relaxation of rules on shoes and laptops, for example."

This program is similar to a privately-run program called 'Clear' that ran special access lanes in about 20 airports before going out of business in 2009. The company now has new ownership, but currently only operates at two airports, although there are plans to expand it if the business model is more successful.

Drone on! Petition for Privacy Rules for Domestic Drone Program

Recently passed legislation that gives the FAA the green light to open American domestic airspace to drones has many privacy advocates gravely concerned. The FAA has been given a deadline of September 30, 2015 to open the nation's skies to drone use and has announced a public rulemaking hearing on the impact to public safety. The Electronic Privacy Information Center [EPIC] is circulating apetition that would compel the FAA to also include a hearing to evaluate the impact on privacy interests.

Ninety days from now, police, firefighters and other civilian first responders will be allowed to fly UAV's weighing no more than 4.4 pounds, assuming they meet requirements that are still under development, such as ground operators being required to be within line-of-sight of the drone and flying it at least 400 feet above ground. By 2013, drones weighing up to 55 pounds can fly in American airspace according to the recently passed FAA bill. The deadline for full integration of drones into US airspace is September, 30, 2015.

Privacy advocates are seriously concerned about the potential for abuse. "Right now, under current US laws, there are very few restrictions on our ability to take pictures or videos of individuals outside," said Harley Geiger, a policy attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington DC in comments to Discovery News. "Some of the privacy issues that we see with drones are very different than the sort of surveillance that can be conducted with a helicopter. Drones can quietly watch an entire town without refueling. It can conduct a pervasive and secret surveillance that helicopters cannot match."

Amie Stepanovich, Legal Counsel for EPIC, also expressed concern about the proposed changes. "The proliferation of drones in our skies is an imminent threat to privacy and something should be addressed now." The petition states, "The use of drones in US airspace poses a real threat to important privacy interests, and the agency has the authority to regulate the use of drones."

The impact of this legislation is obvious and although we certainly see the advantages of leveraging this new technology, we also see the frightening potential for abuse if it is not carefully managed and controlled. We urge our members to please view the petition and evaluate this complex and important issue. We will continue to keep our readers informed.

What Kate's Saying

Kate with FRO LogoAs continues to celebrate its hard fought victory in Congress for airline passengers, many of our members have recently contacted us to ask a very sensible question: "What Now?!" What will the goals and objectives of this organization be now that we have achieved our primary objective of protecting passengers from excessive imprisonment aboard delayed aircraft? Kate Hanni wants to assure our members that our primary mission remains the same: to protect the rights and privileges of the flying public. But we want to focus on the issues that concern our members the most and with that in mind, we will soon be conducting a survey to determine how to best prioritize the many problems that continue to plague modern air travel. Please watch your e-mail in the coming weeks and take a few minutes to participate in the survey and let us hear your thoughts about what should be our most critical priorities as we go forward working for you!

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Airlines Post Best December On-Time Record, Lowest December Cancellation Rate in 17 Years

No Tarmac Delays Longer than Three Hours on Domestic Flights or Four Hours on International Flights in December

The nation’s largest airlines posted an on-time arrival record last December of 84.4 percent, the highest on-time percentage for any December during the 17 years the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has collected comparable flight delay data. According to DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report, the carriers also had a 0.8 percent rate of canceled flights, the lowest December cancellation rate for the last 17 years.

The December on-time rate posted by the 16 reporting carriers was up from the 72.0 percent rate of December 2010, but down slightly from November 2011’s 85.3 percent, according to data filed with the Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). The carriers’ on-time percentage for all of 2011 was 79.6 percent, compared to 79.8 percent in 2010.

December’s 0.8 percent cancellation rate was down from December 2010’s 3.7 percent rate but up from November 2011’s 0.7 percent.

Airlines also reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights or more than four hours on international flights in December. The larger U.S. airlines have been required to report long tarmac delays on their domestic flights since October 2008. Under a new rule that took effect Aug. 23, 2011, all U.S. and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats must report lengthy tarmac delays at U.S. airports. Also beginning Aug. 23, carriers operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than four hours. There is a separate three-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights, which went into effect in April 2010. Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.

The monthly Air Travel Consumer Report also includes data on chronically delayed flights and the causes of flight delays filed with BTS by the reporting carriers. In addition, the report contains information on airline bumping, reports of mishandled baggage filed by consumers with the carriers and consumer service, disability and discrimination complaints received by DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. This report also includes reports of incidents involving pets traveling by air, as required to be filed by U.S. carriers. Calendar year 2011 data are contained in the report in a number of areas as well as data for December 2011.

Chronically Delayed Flights

At the end of December, there was one flight that was chronically delayed – more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time – for two consecutive months. No flights were chronically delayed for three consecutive months or more. A list of flights that were chronically delayed for a single month is available from BTS (

Causes of Flight Delays

In December, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 4.69 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 4.90 percent in November; 5.19 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 4.72 percent in November; 4.46 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 3.97 percent in November; 0.33 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.26 percent in November; and 0.03 percent for security reasons, equal to 0.03 percent in November. Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category. This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved. Weather is also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category.

Data collected by BTS also shows the percentage of late flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays. In December, 34.60 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down 5.64 percent from December 2010, when 36.67 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and down 7.46 percent from November when 37.39 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.

Detailed information on flight delays and their causes is available on the BTS site on the World Wide Web at

Mishandled Baggage

The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.37 reports per 1,000 passengers in December, down from December 2010’s rate of 4.72, but up from November 2011’s rate of 2.72. For all of last year, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.39 per 1,000 passengers, an improvement over 2010’s rate of 3.51.


The report also includes airline reports of involuntary denied boarding, or bumping, for calendar year 2011 and the fourth quarter of last year. The 16 U.S. carriers who report on-time performance and mishandled baggage data posted a bumping rate of 0.81 per 10,000 passengers last year, down from the 1.09 rate posted in 2010. For the fourth quarter of last year, the carriers posted a bumping rate of 0.71 per 10,000 passengers, down from the 0.80 rate for the fourth quarter of 2010.

Incidents Involving Pets

In December, carriers reported five incidents involving the loss, death or injury of pets while traveling by air, down from the seven reports filed in December 2010, but up from November 2011’s total of two. December’s incidents involved three pet deaths, one pet injury, and one lost pet. For all of last year, carriers reported 35 pet deaths, nine pet injuries, and two lost pets. In 2010, carriers reported 39 pet deaths, 13 pet injuries, and five lost pets.

Complaints About Airline Service

In December, the Department received 710 complaints about airline service from consumers, down 6.1 percent from the 756 complaints received in December 2010, and down 18.7 percent from the total of 873 filed in November 2011. For all of last year, the Department received 11,545 complaints, 5.1 percent higher than the 10,988 complaints received in 2010.

Complaints About Treatment of Disabled Passengers

The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in December against airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities. The Department received a total of 58 disability-related complaints in December 2011, up from both the 38 disability complaints received in December 2010 and the total of 45 filed in November 2011. For all of last year, the Department received 630 disability complaints, up 10.1 percent from the total of 572 received in 2010.

Complaints About Discrimination

In December, the Department received seven complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability – such as race, religion, national origin or sex – down from both the total of 14 filed in December 2010, and the nine discrimination complaints received in November 2011. For all of last year, the Department received 127 discrimination complaints, down 11.2 percent from the total of 143 filed in 2010.

Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590; by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511; or on the web at

Consumers who want on-time performance data for specific flights should call their airline’s reservation number or their travel agent. This information is available on the computerized reservation systems used by these agents. The information is also available on the appropriate carrier’s website.

The Air Travel Consumer Report can be found on DOT’s World Wide Web site at It is available in “pdf” and Microsoft Word format.



December 2011


Based on Data Filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics

by the 16 Reporting Carriers


84.4 percent on-time arrivals

Highest On-Time Arrival Rates

  1. AirTran Airways – 91.9 percent
  2. Hawaiian Airlines – 91.0 percent
  3. Delta Air Lines – 88.5 percent

Lowest On-Time Arrival Rates

  1. Frontier Airlines – 73.2 percent
  2. ExpressJet Airlines – 76.3 percent
  3. Continental Airlines – 79.8 percent

Domestic Flights with Longest Tarmac Delays

There were no domestic flights with tarmac delays of more than three hours in December.

International Flights with Longest Tarmac Delays

There were no international flights with tarmac delays of more than four hours in December.

Highest Rates of Canceled Flights

1. SkyWest Airlines – 2.2 percent

2. ExpressJet Airlines – 1.5 percent

3. American Eagle Airlines – 1.2 percent

Lowest Rates of Canceled Flights

1. Hawaiian Airlines – 0.0 percent*

2. Frontier Airlines – 0.2 percent

3. JetBlue Airways – 0.2 percent

*Hawaiian Airlines canceled two flights in December.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012


The FAA Bill Has Passed!

TSA Officers Sweeten Their Incomes

What Kate's Saying

The FAA Bill Has Passed!

As we reported last week, Congress reached an agreement, bringing to an end five years of stagnation, on the FAA Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012, the bill we know as the FAA Reauthorization Bill. In the days that have followed, both the House and Senate have approved rules for the FAA Bill's conference report, clearing the way for a final vote. The House Resolution said, in essence, "We're going to vote after no more than an hour's debate, no more changes, and no parliamentary shenanigans." After the ensuing debate, the House passed the bill, 248-169.

After less than an hour of debate on Monday, February 6th, the Senate passed the bill, 75-20!

Just to review, here's a comparison of our long-sought goals and the provisions in the bill.

FlyersRights Goal

Bill Provision

Three-Hour Tarmac Rule

Law prohibits excessive delays. DOT 3-hour rule remains in effect.

Food and Water Available

Food and water always available (deletes DOT "after 2 hours" provision)

Medical Treatment Available

Medical treatment always available (deletes DOT "after 2 hours" provision)

Airline Contingency Plans

Airline contingency plans for eachairport where carrier has flights (removes DOT's minimum annual enplanement restriction)

Airport Contingency Plans

For the first time, airport contingency plans (no such provision in DOT rulemakings)

DOT Consumer Hotline

DOT consumer hotline, number published on internet, prominently displayed by carriers on ticket counter signs and ticket e-confirmations

Smoke-Free Environment

Smoke-free on scheduled and unscheduled flights, domestic and international

No Child Left Unbuckled

Carriers must post on their web sites the maximum size for child safety-seats on each type of aircraft they operate, so passengers can determine which car seats will work with which aircraft

Carry Musical Instruments On-board Without Additional Charge

Treats instruments that can be safely stowed like any other carry-on item

Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection

DOT advisory committee, made up of members from air carriers, airport operators, state or local governments, and nonprofit public interest groups with consumer protection experience

Realistic Scheduling to Minimize Delays

If aircraft operations exceed an airport's capability, FAA and airlines meet to develop schedule reduction plan. If no voluntary agreement is reached, FAA will take reduction action

Passenger Awareness of Insecticide Use

Air carriers to refer passengers to DOT web page with list of countries that may require in-cabin spraying for flights to those countries

Informative Delay Reporting

Codified DOT requirement for diversion and cancellation reporting

Consideration for Military Members

"Sense of Congress" that carriers should be flexible and generous with active duty military members. They seek reductions in airfares, change fees/penalties, the ability to purchase, modify or cancel without time restrictions, waive fees (including baggage fees), ancillary costs, and penalties.

The next step, of course, is the President's signature. It's important to realize that until that happens, changes are still possible. For example, many unions strongly object to a compromise in the bill that has implications for airline unionization issues. Because of our recent weekend campaign, congressional leadership and Senators Boxer and Snowe are well aware of the strong support for airline passenger rights. We are confident that any last-minute moves to modify the bill will not include changes to our provisions.

We've achieved an astonishing victory for America's airline passengers. Together, we will fight for the day when "nightmare" and "air travel" aren't routinely used in the same sentence.

TSA Officers Sweeten Their Incomes

As we shuffle through the endless security lines at our nation's airports, we eventually arrive at a point where we are absolutely required to trust other peopleTSA Linewith our valuable possessions. At minimum, we throw wallets and loose change into plastic bowls before filing through the metal detector. Our carry-on bags leave our sight as they endure their own TSA ordeal. We entrust our luggage to a series of TSA Officers and baggage handlers, with no way to secure it at all due to the existing TSA rules.

Some TSA Officers are using those opportunities to boost their incomes. The TSA unit at JFK has been very enterprising. One TSA checkpointTSA Officer Arrestedofficer snagged $5,000 from a passenger's wallet as it moved along the conveyor belt. Fortunately, a more reliable TSA officer witnessed the incident and reported it. Less fortunately, the thief was able to pass the money to an accomplice, and the $5,000 is still at large.

Two even more enterprising TSA officers are accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from checked baggage. So far, almost $40,000 has been recovered.

These two incidents follow on the heels of a Newark International Airport TSA supervisor's guilty plea on charges that he stole several thousand dollars from passengers passing through his checkpoint.

Theft is not limited to cash. A TSA Officer and his wife at Miami International were arrested last month after they tried to sell two iPads boosted from a passenger's luggage. The officer, Michael Pujol, told investigators that he slipped the iPads into a secret pocket in his uniform. His wife then put them up for sale on Craigslist.

These incidents are troubling on a couple of levels. They call into question the trust we are required to place in TSA personnel. Even more disturbing is the realization that while these people were busy stealing from passengers, they were making no contribution to air travel security. Should we fear the people assigned to protect us more than the people from whom TSA allegedly protects us?

What Kate's Saying

Huffington Post

Kate Hanni FAA Bill Risks End of Tarmac Rule

Santa Rosa Press Democrat

North Coast advocates push for airline passenger rights bill

Kate was on this teleconference

Miami Herald Launches Final Push for Airline Passengers Rights ...

New York Times

Trench Coats, Vacuum-Seal Bags and Other Ways to Avoid Airline Fees


FAA bill sent to Obama by Senate

United Press International

Two tacks for fighting airline fees emerge

MarketWatch Reuters Newsblaze Sacramento Bee

84 media agencies linked to this press release! Final Passage of Airline Passengers' Bill of ...

WBUR (NPR Boston)

Social Media Acts As Catalyst for Policy Change


Should the airlines have a stated dress code?

USA Today

No greater risk of blood clots from flying economy class

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