homenewsAboutLegislationHelp I'm StrandedMediaContactJoin UsSpacer
Sign the Petition

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

FlyersRights.org


FlyersRights To Airlines: 
Stop Fueling Around

January 27, 2015

Despite oil prices lower than at any time since the spring of 2009, will the  airlines ever lower fares? 

Very unlikely, say experts, since the airlines simply don't have to, as they're filling more than 85% of their seats at current prices.

An Exercise In Fueltity

If you've been following the news, U.S. airlines are forecasting enormous fuel savings in 2015 and, due to high consumer demand, none have plans to lower fares just because gas is cheap, because, why leave money on the table?

Last week, the US's number one ranked favorite, Alaska Airlines weighed in:

Several of you have asked us if we are pricing to account for the lower fuel prices, and the answer is no. Approximately 90% of our flying is in the United States domestic market and the U.S. economy continues to be strong. (link).
Last week Virgin Australia dropped its fuel surcharge to the US

In response, two of the largest advocacy groups working to protect travelers, FlyersRights and Travelers United, have asked airlines to reduce airfares and fuel surcharges in light of the dramatic drop in jet fuel prices.

Experts and pundits have proffered many explanations as why airlines are not passing these massive savings along to passengers.

However, so far passengers have heard nothing from airlines in the form of an explanation.
Transaero canceled fuel
surcharges on int'l routes back in Dec.


While fuel prices were soaring, the airlines never missed any opportunity to tell passengers and the American public about their struggles with increasing fuel costs. Fuel costs were used as the excuse for "unbundling" airfares and instituting the unpleasant and still expanding world of baggage fee, reservation fees and scores of others.

Outside the US, Airlines Drop Fuel Charges

It is time that airlines began explaining to the public about why they are refusing to lower airfares. Especially, since airlines worked so hard to explain why they were "forced" to raise these airfares when faced with the opposite situation.
We know that the airlines have received this
 letter. Travelers United has already received phone calls from the airlines about the missive.
Here is the letter sent to every airline CEO. This one was sent to Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines:

Doug Parker
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
American Airlines Group Inc.
P.O. Box 619616
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9616
Mr. Parker: 
We are writing to ask why you have not lowered your airfares in light of the 50% reduction in jet fuel prices since June, 2014.

When prices increased after 2009, airlines were quick to raise prices or add fuel surcharges, noting that fuel was the No. 1 airline expense. But now that fuel prices have dramatically declined, airlines are not reducing prices but instead increasing them and reducing flights. 
Airlines have also benefited greatly from debt and union contract relief, lower interest rates, outsourcing and computerization of distribution channels, antitrust exemptions for airline alliances, and protection against foreign competition. But these savings are not being passed on to consumers to any degree. 
Gasoline pump prices have declined so much that many Americans will reconsider driving instead of flying. As you know, corporate jets companies have effectively reduced pricing and increased their convenience. They have been growing rapidly, taking many first class and business class passengers away from airlines. 
The major argument for airline deregulation was that competition would lower prices and provide more flight convenience. Instead we are seeing extremely high airline profits coupled with cartel-like behavior as well as poor reliability and increased travel times. 
Concern is growing that that airline price increases are due to airline mergers, price coordination or collusion, and/or antitrust exemptions. This is leading to calls for government investigations and even re-regulation of air fares. Some are even calling airlines the new OPEC, based on the post merger practice of reducing flights and increasing prices in the face of growing demand in order to gouge consumers. 
We therefore urge you to immediately order air fare reductions. This would set an example of responsible corporate behavior and show that price competition in the airline industry is not dead. 
Flyersrights.org is the largest nonprofit airline passenger organization with over 50,000 members. It was the principal advocate for the 2009 Three Hour Rule ending tarmac confinements, for truth in scheduling regulations by the DOT, and for 2012 airline passenger rights legislation.
Charles Leocha, Chairman of Travelers United, is a member of the DOT Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections and has testified before both houses of Congress about aviation consolidation, price transparency and security. His organization advocates for the entire spectrum of travelers. 
Paul Hudson, a leading advocate for airline passenger rights and interests for over 20 years, represents the public on the air safety regulation matters before the FAA, and has testified many times before Congress on aviation consumer, security and safety issues. 
Sincerely, 
Paul Hudson, President, FlyersRights.org
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee
218 D St SE, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20003
(410) 940-8934, Paul@flyersrights.org 
Charles Leocha, Chairman, Travelers United
Member, DOT Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection
1200 N. Nash Street, Suite 554, Arlington, VA 22209

The airlines owe consumers an explanation about why they are not lowering
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific removed fuel surcharges from their domestic and int'l tickets following a directive from their Civil Aeronautics Board in early Jan.
airfares. We should not be ignored.

After all, it is the consumers that keep the aviation system funded. Passengers pay virtually all taxes that fund airports, the Department of Transportation, air traffic control systems, airport operation and construction, immigration controls and agricultural inspections.

Most airlines are paying NO CORPORATE TAXES or excise taxes.

* They are excused from paying their corporate income taxes by virtue of large loss carry-forwards and don't expect to pay income taxes for around two years.
On Monday AirAsia Bhd announced all carriers in its budget airline group will stop charging customers for fuel, following the decline in global crude oil prices


*User fees that support the aviation system are paid for exclusively by passengers, the users.

*Airports are funded with municipal bonds and through passenger facility taxes - all paid for by consumers and passengers.

Some airline CEOs, specifically Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines, have clearly said that passengers will pay any tax increases in the future.

The US needs to open up its domestic market to foreign airlines.

Passengers' Complaints Go Nowhere Fast 
Excerpted from the BOSTON GLOBE - January 25, 2015

Overall airline complaints to the DOT rose 30 percent over the past five years, according to an analysis by US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group headquartered in Washington.

"Airline passengers have fewer consumer rights than any other classification of consumers," said Paul Hudson, president of airline passenger advocacy group FlyersRights.org.

In the early 20th century, when airlines carried only mail, they were exempted from state laws protecting consumers in almost all retail transactions, and remain exempt today.

The federal government regulated airlines until 1978, when it handed over control of fares, routes, and service standards (though not safety) to the industry to encourage competition and lower fares.

At first, there were more airlines, more cities with routes, and more people flying. But within the last decade, mergers have allowed four airlines - United, American, Southwest, and Delta - to control 85 percent of US flights, leaving most consumers with few options and airlines with little incentive to outperform the competition.

The system also provides little incentive for the federal government to change the rules.

About $1 of every $5 spent on airline tickets goes to federal taxes, supporting the FAA, TSA, and local airport projects. For the feds, Hudson said, "airlines are a great cash cow."

So what can you do about it? First of all, know and assert the few rights that domestic airline passengers have. They include:

Lost or damaged baggage

Revenue from baggage and reservation change fees totaled $6 billion in 2013, and are up 20 percent since 2009.

In cases of lost, damaged, or delayed luggage, the DOT requires a maximum of $3,400 reimbursement per passenger.

Airlines that lose your luggage also must reimburse baggage fees.

Delays and cancellations

After heavily publicized incidents of passengers sitting for hours on grounded planes without food, water, working toilets, or information, FlyersRights pushed the DOT to add rules in 2009 that limited tarmac delays to no more than three hours before the airline must let passengers off the plane.


It imposes fines on airlines that exceed this limit.

Within two hours, airlines must provide food, water, access to a toilet, and medical attention if needed.

They also must update passengers on the status and reason for the delay every 30 minutes.

As far as flight delays or cancellations at the airport - the biggest source of complaints from passengers - the DOT does not require airlines to compensate passengers.

Oversold flights

After reducing flights, airlines are now flying planes at capacity. Until 2000, planes flew about 50 to 65 percent full; today they fly at 86 percent and up. Since airlines regularly sell more tickets than they have seats, more people get bumped from flights.

Passengers involuntarily bumped from flights must be compensated in cash or check and receive an explanation of why they didn't get the seat, according to the DOT. Here are the basics on compensation:

■ No compensation if the airline arranges transportation that gets you to your destination within an hour of the original time.

■ 200 percent of your one-way fare, up to $650, if the airline gets you to your destination within one to two hours of the original time.

■ 400 percent of your one-way fare, up to $1,300, if it takes more than two hours for the airline to get you to your final destination, or doesn't offer alternative transportation.

But these are modest measures, consumer advocates say, and much more needs to be done to protect passengers and improve the flying experience.

FlyersRights is pushing for a passengers' bill of rights that would expand and clearly define consume protections. Among the goals: require airlines to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations, as is done in Europe.

In the United States, we've come to accept that flying is torturous. But we shouldn't. Complain to the Transportation Department.

Support FlyersRights' lobbying efforts to expand protections for air travelers.

Call congressional representatives and urge them to pass a comprehensive airline passenger's bill of rights, which FlyersRights will introduce into legislation this year.

                     Sign the FlyersRights Petition 
                       for a Passenger Bill of Rights

                                 

                                    
                                      Kate Hanni, founder 
                                    with Paul Hudson, President

                             
                          Thank you


Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:

Send comments and tips to KendallCreighton or on Twitter@KendallFlyers.


Forward this email!


This email was sent to kendallc@flyersrights.org by kendallc@flyersrights.org  


FlyersRights.org | 4411 Bee Ridge Road | Sarasota | FL | 34233

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

FlyersRights.org
All Mine
Passengers' Personal Data At Risk

January 20, 2015

Remember a few years after 9/11 when the airlines started requiring you to use your full name as it appears on a government issued ID, date of birth and gender when you buy a plane ticket?


That's so the TSA can check you against the Federal No-Fly List. 

But there is more than meets the eye.

In 2012, TSA rolled out "PreCheck" (or "Pre✓®"). 
Exempt from Federal privacy laws, the PreCheck database contains detailed personal information, including name, birthdate, biometric information, physical characteristics, Social Security Number and financial information.

TSA now plans to release applicant's data to federal, state, tribal, local, foreign governments and debt collectors.

Mission Creep

Last year, while Congress was gone for the holidays, TSA quietly published its intent to hire private-sector data companies, to solicit applicants for PreCheck enrollment, but also mine your grocery receipts, your credit card purchases, Facebook and Twitter posts to "determine if you are a terrorist risk" - not just once but on an ongoing basis. 
A traveler is fingerprinted while enrolling at a TSA PreCheck application center at New York's LaGuardia Airport. GETTY IMAGES

We fail to see how compiling big data on the shopping habits of American citizens can be used for national security.

The push for TSA funds was urgent after Congress 
cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security this year by $336 million, with most of the reductions coming from TSA.

Its private partner, CLEAR, roundly applauded the move to outsource government citizen data.

CLEAR was the company that, back in 2008, had a widely-publicized incident in which an employee misplaced a laptop computer which had personal information from over 30,000 CLEAR members stored on it at San Francisco International Airport. 

Despite this, TSA believes private sector companies are better at using commercial data and computerized algorithms to examine a passenger's background and predict who is a terrorist risk. 

Blacklisted

In September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center (the FBI-administered organization that consolidates terrorist watch list information in the US) had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 - and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month.
(See also the March 2008 report). 

By those numbers, the list now has over one million names on it. 

TSA also maintains a PreCheck disqualification list - tracking people accused of violating security regulations, including disputes with checkpoint or airline staff members.

Changes In The Air

Airlines are also starting to learn to use their wealth of customer data. 

InFlight Wi-Fi: Keep in mind that browsing the web on a plane is far more public than it is in most other respects.  

Gogo, which cornered the market for in-flight Internet and digital entertainment to a number of different national and international airlines, has deals with U.S. law enforcement and the NSA to assist in tracking users when so ordered. 

However, earlier this year, it was revealed that Gogo partnered with government officials that went beyond those outlined under federal law and added spyware into their service. 

Earlier this month reports confirmed that Gogo Inflight Internet had intentionally issued fake SSL certificates, effectively performing man-in-the-middle attacks on its own users.
In-air surveillance is not new. Back in the early 1990s NBC News reported that French intelligence agencies were using Air France as a base for in-flight surveillance of U.S. businesspeople and government officials.

More recently, the UK Telegraph reported that the EU has been funding and testing surveillance systems on planes involving "a combination of cameras, microphones, explosive sniffers and a sophisticated computer system" to monitor passengers.

Meanwhile, Gogo's major competitor for in-flight Wi-Fi service is ViaSat, a defense contractor that specializes, in part, in surveillance.

Airport Beacon Misuse
Unregulated and coming to an airport near you are tracking beacons - little wireless sensors that pings your mobile phone via its embedded Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals. 

Touted as a benefit to passengers with personalized up-to-the-minute information about airport parking availability, wait times at security and passport control, baggage tracking, gate changes, flight status and retail offers, but the technology is moving faster than the agencies that regulate them.

Airport passenger-tracking technology exists in a legal grey area with no standards on how location data can be used, collected and stored and if consumers should be notified that data collection is taking place.

Beacons collect the phone's unique identifier, a 12-digit code that knows where the passenger moves around in the airport, what stores they visit and more.

Some European airports notify travelers that the technology is in use, while most US airport officials don't, saying the system poses no privacy issues.

If you have information about a possible privacy violation by airlines or their associates using passenger data, we invite you to report it to Federal Communications Commission (FCC): https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/CP_AirlineService.htm

And please send us a copy at FlyersRights.org.

Mining For Dollars

To shed more light on this subject, FlyersRights spoke with Frank Pasquale, author of The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information.

What's the 10,000 foot overview regarding the data mining of passengers?

People need a big picture view on all this data. What I'm finding in my research is that in any particular [data collection] program 99.9% of people say 'Oh, why does it matter, it doesn't matter to me.'

But the problem is that when you have literally thousands of programs like this, the .1% adds up to the point where gradually the majority of people, I predict, will have situations where they're adversely effected by algorithms or privacy violations that they know nothing about and can't challenge.

You often speak of these small bits of data ending up somehow in your credit report. Can passengers' credit be affected?

We shouldn't be a world where merely flying leads to an inquiry on your credit report, but maybe we're there, maybe this is happening. Because credit scoring is so secretive, it is very hard to know. 

Last year it was exposed that Delta Air Lines mined detailed, personal data about its SkyMiles members to profile them, including their home values and annual income.

That brings up the company Target, which I write about in my book, [where they say, for example] we just want all this data to send coupons to our pregnant customers. Then they had this huge data breach. 

The big question is: what security measures are put in place by the airlines? Without proper security, mass data collection is very dangerous.

What do you think of inflight Wi-Fi? Airport beacons?

I think people deserve to know what kind of data is being collected by the airlines as they use such technology. They deserve to know in very clear terms the terms of service of the Wi-Fi - who gets that data, how long they keep it and for what purposes do they keep it.

Re. airport beacons: I think people don't realize that the degree to which the phone data could be used to create derogatory profiles. 

Imagine if the person is tracked going into McDonalds as opposed to a nicer restaurant, suppose they walk with a limp or more slowly as opposed to a business traveler... They could be classified as a lower value customer.  A banking startup recently noted that they consider a person less creditworthy if they don't use capital letters correctly. Imagine what airlines might do with such data!

That's where people ought to understand there's always a risk that the data collected is about figuring out if you're worth investing as a customer. And even if you look flush, that could be used in unexpected ways... as in, should we charge this person a lot more because they went to the fancy store?

Every time they say the data is merely going to be used to serve you, there's always a flip side of the data potentially being used against you - charging you more, classifying you as low value customer, etc.

What is your opinion of the airlines' new "Resolution 787" selling strategy - of using customer's personal data to price airfares?

Making it more difficult to comparison shop is very interesting. They don't want a middleman taking a cut. But all the airlines coming together raises some red flags, as well as setting fares based on your personal data: how much a person makes, where they live, etc.. I would like more information on it, and conditions in place: for example, a review and possible suspension of it if prices go up too much or there are other problems.

INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.

                           Sign the FlyersRights Petition 
                         for a Passenger Bill of Rights

                               

                                      
                                        Kate Hanni, founder 
                                        with Paul Hudson, President
        
                        Click Here To Donate To FlyersRights!

Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:


Send comments and tips to KendallCreighton or on Twitter@KendallFlyers.


Forward this email!


This email was sent to kendallc@flyersrights.org by kendallc@flyersrights.org  


FlyersRights.org | 4411 Bee Ridge Road | Sarasota | FL | 34233

Thursday, January 15, 2015

DOT 04-15
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Contact:  Caitlin Harvey
Tel.:  (202) 366-4570

U.S. Department of Transportation Fines Southwest $1.6 Million for Violating Tarmac Delay Rule

Largest Civil Penalty Assessed Against a Carrier for Violating Tarmac Delay Rules

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today announced that Southwest Airlines violated federal rules involving lengthy tarmac delays last January.  Southwest failed to offer passengers on 16 aircraft delayed at Chicago Midway International Airport (Midway) the opportunity to deplane within three hours of arrival and failed to have sufficient staff available to implement its Tarmac Delay Contingency Plan.  DOT fined Southwest $1.6 million and ordered the airline to cease and desist from further violations.  This is the largest civil penalty that the Department has assessed a carrier for violating the DOT’s tarmac delay rules. 

“Airline passengers have rights, and the Department’s tarmac delay rules are meant to prevent passengers from being stuck on an aircraft on the ground for hours on end,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “We have aggressively enforced, and will continue to aggressively enforce, our tarmac delay rule to ensure carriers have adequate resources to minimize passengers’ exposure to lengthy tarmac delays.”

Under the Department’s aviation consumer protection rule finalized in 2009, airlines may not allow tarmac delays longer than three hours on domestic flights at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane.  Exceptions are allowed only for safety, security, and air traffic control-related reasons.

An investigation by DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that on January 2 into January 3, 2014, 16 Southwest flights experienced lengthy tarmac delays at Midway in excess of three hours.  Southwest experienced a malfunctioning of its crew scheduling system and an unexpected shortage of staff, particularly the carrier’s ramp-crew, which inhibited the carrier’s ability to clear aircraft from Southwest’s gates in a timely manner to accommodate arriving flights.  A severe winter weather event at Midway contributed to the tarmac delays.

Prior to this order, the largest civil penalties that the Department assessed carriers for violating its tarmac delay rules were $1.1 million in 2012 and $900,000 in 2011.  The Department assessed a larger civil penalty against Southwest because the lengthy tarmac delays involved more flights and impacted more passengers than the tarmac delay events in 2011 or 2012 (neither of which involved Southwest) .  To date, including this order, the Department has issued 17 orders assessing a total of $5.24 million dollars in civil penalties for violations of its tarmac delay rules. 

The consent order is available on the internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2015-0002.


###

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


FlyersRights.org
    Full House
              January 13, 2015

Thin is in, when it comes to airline seating.

As we know, the airlines think the benefit of sardining more passengers on a plane outweigh its costs (i.e., extra meals, additional staff, and more complaints over less legroom). For some airlines, this benefit can add millions in additional annual revenue. 

So, the economics of packing more passengers is strong. In fact, Wall Street analysts call it, "Leaving money on the table" if an airline, like JetBlue, does not pack in passengers.

Rarely mentioned is safety. Are passengers who fly on these aircraft more likely to be at risk in an emergency?
 
The report into the crash of LionAir on final approach to land at Denpasar's Ngurah Rai International airport in April 2013 has identified several safety issues around the carrier's emergency response procedures. After the aircraft came to rest in the water, the report shows that the crew handled the evacuation poorly. The first officer initially attempted to evacuate passengers through a cockpit window. When this proved unviable, he conducted the evacuation through a service door. Meanwhile, a flight attendant was unable to detach a life raft from the aircraft. Read more.

An opinion piece in last week's Aviation Week says yes, and points to aircraft manufacturers opposing efforts to require safety standards on high-density seating.

Yes, was also the conclusion of a 2001 British study considered by European aviation authorities.

To permit the optimum safe brace position, say the researchers, spacing of seat rows would have to increase to 35 inches. And the minimum seat width should be 19.6 inches.

The recent air disasters by Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia make us forget that many airline accidents are survivable.

The critical factor is getting out of the plane quickly after a crash - quickly enough to escape the fire and smoke that all too often follow a crash landing. Tight seating, with narrow aisles, hampers a quick and easy exit.

FlyersRights' Passenger Bill of Rights calls for regulations against tight seating on the grounds of safety, health and comfort.

Airline Industry's Biggest "Dirty Little Secret"  

The study raised what could be the airline industry's biggest "dirty little secret": economy seating that might be too tight for safety.

An interior photo of Asiana crash at SFO in June 2013 raised the issue of seat pitch and the brace position (leaning forward onto your thighs hands over head) which is infeasible where the seats are too close together. Many survivors of the Asiana crash had a surprising pattern of spine injuries.
   
What does the FAA say? Not much. Here are their thin requirements for emergency evacuation demonstrations:

"The objective... is to substantiate that the airplane can be evacuated within 90 seconds under the conditions specified without actually conducting the demonstration.

The use of analysis can eliminate the need to conduct a full-scale demonstrations where adequate knowledge is already available from previous full-scale demonstrations or other tests. A decrease in the number of full-scale demonstrations will reduce the number of participants subjected to possible injury" (FAA Advisory, 03/12/12).


Aviation Week points out that while the test includes some realistic aspects of a crash, it neglects critical human factors.
These include passengers who hinder evacuation by trying to take carry-on luggage and the elderly or handicapped who are significantly slower.

Perhaps most importantly, the test disregards how humans behave when faced by a mortal threat (fire, toxic fumes). When panic and primal
 Pacific Western Airlines - Calgary International  Airport - 1984
During the take-off, the flight crew heard a loud bang which was accompanied by a slight veer to the left. The take-off was rejected, and all 119 persons successfully evacuated the aircraft when a severe fuel-fed fire developed.
survival instincts take over, people tend to engage in competitive rather than collaborative working relationships.

This was documented during the 1984 evacuation of a Boeing 737 in Calgary. Investigators found that amid "some pushing, several people went over seat backs to get to the exit ahead of others already in the aisle."
Interior shot of Western Pacific Airlines after the fire, all occupants were evacuated.

Criticisms of the FAA's testing go back to 1985 when former congressman Newt Gingrich called evacuation tests "totally out of touch with the real world."

"A false sense of security to the traveling public" is how the director of fire safety and engineering at the University of Greenwich, Ed Galea, summed it up.

But aircraft manufacturers are likely to oppose efforts for more stringent testing standards given the additional certification time and cost involved,says Aviation Week.

Boeing recently argued that its 787 Dreamliner was similar enough to its previous 767 to bypass evacuation test certification.

However, as airline competition intensifies, the list of carriers using high-density seating increases.

In the event of an emergency when seconds count, more passengers onboard increases and complicates evacuation efforts.

The responsibility lies with federal regulators to ensure these factors are considered when certifying airplanes as safe to fly. In the event that they fail, less legroom may be the least of passenger concerns.

Computer Simulated Evacuation Tests

In The 1990s, against the advice of air safety groups like the 
Aviation Consumer Action Project and the flight attendants union, the FAA
began permitting airline manufacturers to use computer simulations. 

This was done after frequent failure of live tests, even when using young, athletic test subjects who were carefully coached and practiced were used.

It is unlikely that any fully occupied airliner could, in real life conditions, satisfy the emergency evacuation regulation requiring all passengers and crew be able to exit within 90 seconds in low light conditions with half the exits disabled. 

This vital safety regulation was issued after studies of air crashes showed that
most fatalities were the result of post crash fires and drownings that could be avoided by rapid evacuation.

-Paul Hudson
Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, 
Occupant Safety and Emergency Evacuation Issue Group 
1993-present



A Flight Attendant's Input Re. Passengers Changing Seats


A New York state woman was traveling to Alaska on United with her ski club back in March. The group had already flown two legs of the trip - from NYC to Houston, then Houston to Seattle - before it boarded the third plane to take them from Seattle to Anchorage.   
   
Seeing empty seats on the plane, the passenger went to sat down in a seat that was not her assigned spot.

"I saw many empty rows of seats and I went to sit in one of them," the passenger tells CBSNews. She says a flight attendant noticed and immediately told her she could not sit there because there were still people expected to board the flight.

The passenger went to her assigned seat, waited until everyone had boarded the plane. She spotted an empty seat in a row with only one other passenger, so she made the switch.

Thing is, that seat was in an exit row, for which United (and other airlines) charge extra for the added legroom.

The flight attendant told her, "You need to pay $109 if you sit here. Give me your credit card."
Unwilling to pay that upcharge, the passenger says she returned to she seat she'd booked.
Cartoonist: Adey Bryant

She says that's when one of the flight attendants went to the cockpit. Shortly thereafter, two individuals visited the woman's seat and asked her to exit the plane, telling her that alternate plans would be made for her flight to Anchorage.

She refused, saying she did not want to be separated from her group and pointing out that she had returned to her original seat as requested.

Refusing to leave the plane, she was taken off by force, reportedly grabbing at seats while being pulled by police officers.

She was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. She waited in jail for three days before she was able to post bond.

The airlines said federal law requires pre-flight briefing for anyone seated in emergency rows, and balance and weight safety regulations prevent onboard seat changes, the station reported.  

FlyersRights requested a senior flight attendant help us clear up this bizarre story: 

Dear FlyersRights:

I have been unable to ascertain the flight number involved to see if this was a flight crew from Continental or United.  In watching a video of the passenger being arrested and physical dragged off the flight, I noted it looks like a narrow body 737 with television monitors in the seat backs.

I am going to assume that this was a flight flown and staffed by Continental FAs. Also, because I have never heard of this level of passenger abuse and disrespect by legacy United FAs. 

It is my belief that CAL FAs are not trained to "use your resources" and other communication skills training the same way legacy UA FAs are. Infrequently in my flying career, a passenger will see open seats in economy plus and self-upgrade themselves to the exit row(s) or to another row in economy plus. 

In extenuating circumstance (rare) I have "upgraded" passengers to the exit rows or moved them closer forward in economy plus....but have always explained the situation to the person who paid for their seat in an effort to get then approval before I make the move. 

Passengers who self-upgrade "because there is nobody sitting there" are, many times, reported to FAs by other passengers who know the rules. 

In those rare cases where a passenger's voice gets loud and they begin to displace negative emotion toward me ("they let me move my seat on my last flight!") I will raise my voice just enough to gather the attention of other passengers (witnesses!) in economy plus (and minus). 

Once I know I have witnesses, I will again explain to the passenger the rule about upgrading to economy plus.  If the self-upgrader continued to insist he/she isn't going to move, I will add a little drama (drawing in more passenger witnesses) and with a sweeping motion of my arms will say loud enough for people in 1-2 rows to hear: "All these folks in economy plus have all paid extra money or air miles to sit here. I just do not have the authority to upgrade you for free."   

In 100% of the cases this 3rd level engagement with a self-upgrader has been successful in getting them to return to their seat in embarrassment. 

Never in a million years would I bully or harass a misbehaving passenger like the FAs did on what I strongly suspect was a Continental crewed flight.   

The description of how the passenger was treated by the FAs and captain indicates to me that they were not trained to handle problems onboard the same way legacy United FAs were.   

I dare say that 99.9% of these negative passenger altercations with crew were not legacy United FAs. 


Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President

Sign the FlyersRights Petition 
for a Passenger Bill of Rights

Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:

Send comments and tips to KendallCreighton or on Twitter@KendallFlyers.