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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

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Airlines Tell DOT: Fees Leave Us Alone


Why We Regulate

June 30, 2015
Nothing to see here, folks, said the airline industry at last week's Advisory Committee for Consumer Protection at the Department of Transportation.  No changes needed to safeguard passengers from fees. Let's move on.

Paul Hudson, president of Flyersrights, speaking at DOT's Advisory Committee for Consumer Protection argued that change fees are almost entirely profit for airlines because the actual cost of changing a flight is minimal. He said passengers have no realistic alternatives to fees when trying to change a flight. "They're clearly unreasonable," Hudson said. "They are a penalty or fine." 
Click image for video
Voodoo economics and tortured logic were in full swing from the airline industry in justifying their sky-high change fees. 

David Berg, of the lobbying firm, Airlines For America, lectured his captive audience on the evils of big government, especially airline regulation, stating consumers benefit from a market based industry because 'choice' and 'competition' drive lower prices, and regulation drives none of those things. 

He repeated the airline mantra that it's not price gouging , it's responding to supply and demand in a very clear and transparent fashion. 

The airlines' control of today's DOT was noticeable when Jonathon Dols, Deputy Assistant General Counsel at DOT mimicked the airline lobbyist, saying  that fees benefit the consumer and allows for lower fares.

One thing we've learned in the years since junk fees came into place, is that they have remarkable staying power. No matter how many passenger complaints come in, no matter how often they are exposed as price-gouging and a pure profit ripoff, the bad ideas just keep coming back. And they retain the power to warp policy. 
Charlie Leocha, director, Consumer Travel Alliance at the DOT Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protections, June 28. Click image for his testimony.

The airline industry is fond of giving big speeches about how they know what they're doing, and don't need the government looking over their shoulders - except, of course, when they need a bailout.

Fees Are A Cash Cow 

John Breyault, vice president of the National Consumers League, walked through the steps in buying a ticket from United Airlines that sent the customer to different Web pages with 21 pages of small type and a range of fees from zero to $1,000.

"They seem to be needlessly difficult," Breyault said.

Where Government Excels 
Video clip of travel consumer advocate, Ed Perkins.

The airline industry wants you to believe that while the goals of public programs on consumer protections may be laudable, experience shows that such programs are doomed to failure.

Don't believe them. Yes, sometimes government officials get things wrong. 

But we're actually surrounded by examples of government success, which they don't want you to notice.

Their attacks on FlyersRights and other advocates of "demonizing" business are meant to block credible consumer protections. 

In the real world of government bureaucracy, the DOT Advisory Committee is a shining example of a system that works.  

It's an advisory body to the DOT formed in 2012 to "evaluate "aviation consumer protection programs and make recommendations for new programs". 

The panel will submit its recommendations from this meeting to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx by September 15.

Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:
1 (877) Flyers6
  1 (877) 359-3776
The FlyersRights HOTLINE!

We publish weekly newsletters. There's no charge to receive any of them.


FlyersRights is a nonprofit organization that depends on contributions from people like you. 


Help us make a more ethical air travel experience or simply show your gratitude for whatever value you find in our work by making a tax-deductible donation:



Comments? Complaints? Send to the newsletter editor: 
Kendall Creighton: kendallc@FlyersRights.org
Twitter: @KendallFlyers

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

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All For One & All For US
Legally-sanctioned price collusion


June 23, 2015

FlyersRights often receives letters criticizing us for our ''Naderite'' newsletters on the airline industry.

A 2007 photo of the sticker Kate Hanni wore at the  "Strand In" on the National Mall.
They don't believe that market manipulation by airline companies is an important issue, and say it sounds too much like what one hears from leftists, who blame greedy capitalists for every problem. 

And that we passenger-rights advocates have cried ''Wolf'' so many times, that people have learned to discount such claims.

But now a bona fide wolf has arrived, whose predatory behavior has even alarmed even a do-nothing Congress.

Senator Richard Blumenthal asked the Justice Department last Wednesday to investigate airlines engaging in anticompetitive and colluding behavior to limit capacity and drive up fares. 

We completely agree. This is effectively price-fixing and collusion through restriction of supply. You can even call it a cartel, not unlike OPEC, and enforced by Wall Street. 


"Consumers are paying sky-high fares and are trapped inside an uncompetitive market with a history of collusive behavior," the senator said in his letter.

In a letter to William J. Baer, the head of the department's antitrust division, the senator highlighted several comments that airline chief executives made at a recent industry gathering that confirmed that carriers are pursuing anticompetitive practices.

In his letter, Mr. Blumenthal quoted the presidents of Delta, Air Canada and American Airlines, who all spoke of capacity "discipline." He also noted that the airlines had become more concentrated after several mergers in recent years that were all inexplicably approved by the Justice Department.

FlyersRights often goes out on a limb, at least by journalistic standards, saying that the airlines manipulate the market via capacity "discipline". We have now been vindicated: arguments that people called leftist nonsense years ago are now conventional wisdom.

Where Are We Going?

 
Our deregulated airline industry, in which airfares and fees can be sold for whatever the traffic will bear, was suppose to deliver cheaper, better flying.

Instead - have you wondered why your airline ticket prices have remained so high even though the cost of jet fuel has plummeted 40 percent?

Because U.S. airlines have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers, they can divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four. And all are politically well-connected

The situation raises doubts about deregulation. And more broadly, it's a warning about the dangers of placing blind faith in markets.

Expect Fewer Seats, Even for Overseas Flights

The question today is, now that the summer travel season is in full swing, what kind of an air-travel future are we looking at?

Short term, things are looking worse for passengers; with rising fares, more fees, airlines cutting domestic capacity, reducing service in many midsize and smaller markets and stuffing more people than ever into airplanes.

What is necsessary: First, as others have commented, re-regulation is needed, pronto. Letting the inmates run the asylum never made much sense, and it makes even less sense now.

Second, re. wages and benefits, why is it that the pay rates and work rules for labor are "completely unsustainable," but that obscene executive, board, and management wages and benefits never are?

Third, re. train networks, both long-distance and shorter distances, the U.S. could have extensive networks in place now if there had been less lobbying efforts in the past to stop them, lobbying efforts that involved major U.S. airlines.

Yes, U.S. flying is a uniquely horrific experience. But, also, U.S. airlines are in an unstable equilibrium, and thus a 'race to the bottom' in terms of service.
 Finally, the Fear-and-Loathing that one suffers when one travels by air is pretty much limited to the U.S. and Africa. Yes, Heathrow is a mess; neither Europe or Asia are perfect. Traveling by air in the U.S. however, is a universally miserable experience.

It is worth noting that the EU now has what they call a "Passenger Bill of Rights" - exactly what we're pushing for here.

We hope the DOJ actually does something. They can start by allowing the three major airlines in the Middle East - Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad to continue to expand in the USA.

Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:
1 (877) Flyers6
  1 (877) 359-3776
The FlyersRights HOTLINE!

We publish weekly newsletters. There's no charge to receive any of them.


FlyersRights is a nonprofit organization that depends on contributions from people like you. 


Help us make a more ethical air travel experience or simply show your gratitude for whatever value you find in our work by making a tax-deductible donation:



Comments? Complaints? Send to the newsletter editor: 
Kendall Creighton: kendallc@FlyersRights.org
Twitter: @KendallFlyers


Tuesday, June 16, 2015


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TSA Gets An F

FAILING AT EVERY LEVEL: A Security Blanket Full of Holes

The TSA's pre-screening process is under scrutiny. And for good reason.

We wait in long lines, in crowded security checkpoints, shuffle along in our socks, remove our belts (what does the TSA have against belts anyway?)  and ordered around like jailhouse perps.

Then there's the physical contact with TSA agents that, under different circumstances, would justify a slap or a lawsuit.

In return, we long-suffering passengers merely ask that the TSA, and its staff of 50,000, do its job: keep people with weapons off airplanes.

Then a report leaked out earlier this month revealed investigators from the Department of Homeland Security could easily slip weapons and fake bombs past airport screeners 95% of the time.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Commission, pointed out the obvious: "After spending over $540 million on baggage screening equipment and millions more on training, the failure rate today is higher than it was in 2007. Something is not working."

The Question Becomes, Who's Protecting Us From TSA? 

Investigators also found that TSA approved PreCheck expedited screening status to people on government watch lists,  including the infamous "no-fly" list.

And that's just the beginning: U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska said there's even worse information yet to be made public, stating, "Millions of families will soon fly to summer vacations, but if moms knew what members of Congress have learned behind closed doors, they would march on Washington demanding an urgent, top-to-bottom reevaluation of airport security."

But what's already pubic is plenty worrisome.

It's A Stroke Of Luck We Haven't Had Another Hijacked Plane Since 9/11

The GAO also published a report showing that TSA failed to screen even its own employees against its own terrorism watch list.

The Guardian reportes that TSA failed to identify 73 people with terrorism-related category codes being employed by "major airlines, airport vendors, and other employers".

Investagators warned that the Pre-Check program could be the weakest link in what seems to be a dangerously vulnerable network of security protecting U.S. airports and travelers.

"The TSA did not identify these individuals through its vetting operations because it is not authorized to receive all terrorism-related categories under current interagency watch-listing policy," the GAO concluded.

One of the biggest findings of the commission on 9/11 was that there was no inter-agency communication. It seems that is still the case here. Why wouldn't the TSA management have access to the latest information available for those on the terror-watch list? This shows another government breakdown. 
  "TSA is handing out PreCheck status like Halloween candy in an effort to expedite passengers as quickly as possible," Rebecca Roering told a U.S. Senate Committee earlier this month.

Roering, who worked at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport as a TSA agent, said she was threatened with the loss of her job when she went to her supervisors with some of the problems she found in the Pre-Check program.
  Perhaps TSA Should Be Branded As A Terrorist Organization?

These recent exposures show a federal agency that has clearly lost its focus - if it ever had one.

Statement by FlyersRights:

TSA lapses are shocking, and need emergency attention - either lack of training, incompetence and/or cover ups are apparent.
Heads need to roll at TSA and airlines need to adopt emergency provisions before terrorists launch a new offensive against US airliners, which I would suspect they are planning after reading this report and listening to the hearing last week.
FlyersRights should also be on the Aviation Security Advisory Committee.  I was on it 1997-2007 and was not allowed to stay on after I criticized TSA/DHS for releasing a report on its web site that gave details of how watch list and no fly list names were chosen, allowing terrorists to avoid being included.  
The report was quickly taken down.  

In 2013 we criticized the TSA for letting knives back on planes and successfully worked to reverse that decision.  We also supported other measures to reduce passenger hassle and invasive searches and eliminate bad technology, and to beef up airport security without arming TSA officers.  
If you cannot prevent something, at the very least you need to keep the enemy guessing.  Aviation security effectiveness needs independent review but sensitive details cannot be publicly released or no security will be effective.  
Paul Hudson
president, FlyersRights.org


A Call To Action! Speak Up And Help FlyersRights Get Back On The Committee:

Write To:  ASAC@TSA.DHS.GOV

Tell Them We Need FlyersRights There As The Voice Of Airline Passengers!

Announcing The Interns

Johannes Munter and Andriana VanderGriend have joined FlyersRights for the summer working in Washington DC, drafting legislation and securing sponsors for our proposals.

Johannes hails from Finland, whose career encompassed freelance Journalism from London to Tunis. He's pursuing a law degree from The George Washington University Law School.

Andriana VanderGriend, is a Juris Doctor candidate at The Catholic University of
America, Columbus School of Law. She earned a private pilot's license in Californa.

Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:
1 (877) Flyers6
  1 (877) 359-3776
The FlyersRights HOTLINE!

We publish weekly newsletters. There's no charge to receive any of them.


FlyersRights is a nonprofit organization that depends on contributions from people like you. 


Help us make a more ethical air travel experience or simply show your gratitude for whatever value you find in our work by making a tax-deductible donation:

Comments? Complaints? Send to the newsletter editor: 
Kendall Creighton: kendallc@FlyersRights.org
Twitter: @KendallFlyers