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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Business, As Usual

Tuesday, August 12, 2014
The days of cheap tickets are long gone.

The price to board a plane is now up for the fifth straight year, making it increasingly expensive to fly almost anywhere.

Airfares are on the rise, outpacing inflation according to the Consumer Price Index. Inflation is 2.1% while the average ticket price is up 2.7%, and now stands at $509.15.

And that's not adding in all the airline junk fees, which increase the price on average another $50 according to the Associated Press.

Despite all that, passenger numbers are not down, but up across the board. More people are flying than ever. The DOT reports that U.S. and foreign air carriers transported 4.2% more passengers this year than last year.

Who are these passengers? Not vacationers. They're people traveling for work. The leisure passenger is being replaced by the business traveler.
The Global Business Travel Association predicts that worldwide business travel will grow 6.9% this year to a record $1.18 trillion. The United States is the largest business travel market, with travelers spending $274 billion last year, a 4.5% increase over 2012.

The Price Is Wrong

On top of all this, fuel prices are down 7.2% from last year, but the airlines have not passed those savings along to the consumer. 
Passengers aren't seeing any relief because airlines no longer need to entice fliers with lower fares. There are simply fewer choices today.

A wave of mergers that started in 2008 has left four U.S. airlines - American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines - controlling more than 85% of the domestic air-travel market. Discount airlines such as Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines have grown at breakneck speed but still carry a tiny fraction of overall passengers.

That control of the market has enabled the bigger airlines to charge more for tickets and not worry about being undercut by the competition. When you add in the $4 billion a year in junk fees, the result is record profits.

Baggage fees and some others were introduced in 2008 to offset losses from rising fuel prices. However, this year airlines are actually paying less for fuel - $2.96 a gallon so far, and 7.2% less than last year, when adjusted for inflation.

How will this affect us as a nation? We have become increasingly insular over the last few years. And with the cheapest flights to Europe averaging $1000 it will be interesting to see if the isolationist sentiment continues.

For middle-class American passengers, high ticket prices are just another squeeze:

  • Many just cannot afford to travel anymore due to declining incomes and debts (home mortgages, medical care, student loans).
  • factoring in excessive airline fees greatly increases the real cost of air tickets, with all the taxes, luggage fees, seat assignments and all the others they can dream up.
  • Unfavorable exchange rates vs. the USA dollar that make every other cost more expensive in Europe vs. staying in the U.S.
  • A real decline in paid vacation time by many workers, many are employed in situations where there is no paid vacation time (unlike Europe).
  • Overall decline of interest in travel overseas.
If people stop traveling between the U.S. and the E.U., the world's two largest trading blocks, then something's really wrong. 
TSA Offering Cash For Ideas
A TSA agent checks IDs at LAX. TSA is offering the public cash for ideas to speed up screening lines. (Wally Skalij / LATimes)

Last month, the TSA announced a contest offering prizes to those with the best ideas to speed up the TSA checkpoints in airports.

The deadline for the contest is August 15th with awards totaling $15,000, including a $5,000 first prize for the best suggestion.

Yes, prizes 
totaling $15,000. Not even a $15,000 top prize. Any idea that'd speed up airport security lines would easily save millions in costs. Wouldn't a prize of $1 million for an idea that significantly improves the checkpoint bottleneck be justifiable and produce results? That tells you how much the TSA values your time and input.

If you're so inclined to participate, no need to suggest the following, they've already been inundated with:
  • Just get rid of TSA
  • Ban all carry-ons
  • Make all passengers board in Speedos
TSA Reads FlyersRights?

In last Tuesday's newsletter, FlyersRights criticized TSA's policy of allowing randomly selected, non-PreCheck passengers into the PreCheck line.

That same day, TSA announced it is ending that policy.

What a coincidence!
Not A Good Summer For The Dreamliner 
A Thomson Airways aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at a military base in Portugal after losing an engine over the Atlantic Ocean.
The pilot of a 787 Dreamliner was forced to shut down one of the plane's two engines about one and a half hours into a scheduled nine-and-a-half hour flight from the Dominican Republic to Manchester, England.
The plane, one of six 787-800s owned by Thomson Airways, made a safe emergency landing in the Azores about four hours after the engine was shut down.
No explanation has been offered yet for the sudden engine failure.

We wonder whether this event has dented the 787s ETOPS capability? (Extended range Twin Operations).

They were lucky they had some place to go, but what if they were too far away? 
FlyersRights does not trivialize the serious problems that have plagued the 787 program. These are not teething problems. These are serious issues and the reliability of the 787 has been abysmal.
There are only 170 jets flying and weekly there are diverts and turn backs. 
  • Aug. 9th Thomson Engine shutdown
  • Aug. 8th Qatar Engine oil issue
  • Aug. 4th Norwegian flaps wouldn't retract
  • July 13th LAN loss of cabin pressure.
  • July 6th ANA Engine anti ice issue
The list goes on. 40 serious incidences in 2 years affecting critical systems. Three severe hydraulic leaks, three flap/slats issues, three landing gear retraction issues, five engine oil consumption/leak issues, four cracked windshields, two pressurization issues. Not to mention the battery issues.

For comparison, the A380 has only has 11 incidents over the same time period and 60 over its much longer life span.
First 3 Months Of FlyersRights' D.C. Office

It has been over 10 years since the demise of the last DC staffed office representing airline passengers (the Aviation Consumer Action Project
FlyersRights.org headquarters
218 D St. SE, Washington DC 20003
(1971-2002), which closed its office and laid off all staff due to chronic funding shortages.

While there are others who seek to speak for airline passengers in various contexts, only FlyersRights now has boots on the ground.  

But we need our members to step forward with larger contributions to maintain and build on the progress made this summer to sensitizing the Congress to the both the plight of passengers and hopefully motivating major improvement in US air transportation.   

More volunteers are needed more than ever.  Many Congress persons will not meet with or give serious consideration to FlyersRights' supported legislation without constituent support and need to hear directly from the public about their problems and experiences. 

Volunteers are therefore essential and will always be the backbone of this organization.
It has been my experience in decades of public interest advocacy that legislatures and officials do not react, much less enact major reforms without a groundswell of public support.

And unfortunately, it has all too often been only in response to a crisis or disaster with lots of "blood on the ground". 

Otherwise, special interests hold sway (there are well over 50,000 registered lobbyists in DC alone) and block any reform that threatens their financial interests.  

However, volunteers with professional staff working together can break through the status quo, but not without supreme effort that FlyersRights now has a fighting chance to achieve.  

Paul Hudson 

Some Reflections from our Summer Interns

Briana Carlson
American University
Juris Doctor candidate, Washington College of Law

Prior to my internship with FlyersRights I had experienced the many frustrations that can go with flying, but had not realized how extensive these negative experiences could be. Further I was not aware of how few rights we as passengers had. Over the past summer I have become very familiar with the laws and regulations regarding air travel. I have realized how insufficient these laws are and have had the opportunity to be involved with what will hopefully be the solution.

I learned a great deal about the legislative process, including drafting a bill, I have also learned a great deal about lobbying and talking to congress about the frustrations on flying. Over all I think we laid the ground work to see some movement by congress in the near future. And I can't wait to see what happens. I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to intern for FlyersRights and to have learned all that I have learned.

Andrew Appelbaum
Georgetown University Law Center, Juris Doctor candidate
American University

At Flyers' Rights, I have gotten a front row seat to the law and rule making process.

After researching Supreme Court cases and current and recent aviation law and Department of Transportation regulations, I helped develop legislative proposals and rule comments. We met with many members of Congress to show them our proposals and share many of the complaints the organization has received.

We received differing receptions due to many factors such as the amount of complaints received by the Congressman, the number of airlines headquartered in the district, the Congressman's re-election or retirement situation, and the Congressman's relation with committees and subcommittees.

We have received support from many members of Congress and have established relationships to work together in the future.

Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone:
 The FlyersRights HOTLINE!
FlyersRights.org depends on your 
tax-dedcutible contribution. 
Thank you.

Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President
Like what you're reading? Get the best of FlyersRights' articles, links and conversation, delivered each week to your inbox - FREE!

* Send your comments to the newsletter editor, Kendall Creighton

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Way 
Or The Skyway
Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It's high-fives all around the airline executive suites - again!
Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
United Airlines passengers check in at SFO

The airlines are raking in profits, but it's really skyway robbery at the expense of taxpayers, airline workers, and the traveling public. The winners keep on winning and the losers keep on losing.

In last week's newsletter, and in the Washington Post, FlyersRights talked about the passengers losing out.

This week, it's the airline staff that's losing. 

Airline Employees Are An Endangered Species
An email from United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek went out to employees last Thursday stating the company will outsource 630 gate agent jobs at 12 airports to companies that pay near-poverty level wages. The airports affected are Salt Lake City, Charlotte, North Carolina, Pensacola, Florida, Detroit and Des Moines, Iowa.
Here's the memo: 


When it comes to running a safe, reliable and profitable operation, it's important that we manage our staffing efficiently. If we're under staffed, we can't run our operation well. If we're over staffed, we're not managing our costs responsibly. Our staffing levels fluctuate to match our flight schedule, which, as you are seeing from our schedule announcements, includes more seasonal changes than in the past.

We review our staffing on an ongoing basis taking into account not only changes in flight schedules, but also new approaches and technologies together with efficiencies we've realized by the merger of workforces and the implementation of joint collective bargaining agreements. Sometimes we're able to absorb small staffing overages with other work, and we look to do that when we can. However, looking ahead to this Fall, we have determined that we need to reduce staffing at some of our hubs and stations, effective with the change to our winter schedule on October 1, 2014.

These staffing adjustments include reducing below-the-wing staffing at our hubs in EWRORD and SFO as well as above- and below-the-wing at some of our line stations, all effective Oct. 1, 2014. About half of these adjustments overall involve full to part-time moves. While most of these are seasonal schedule adjustments, we are also making some non-seasonal staffing adjustments. Separately, we are adjusting staffing levels in BOS as a result of completing the integration of our separate operations there into one.

Airlines have long had reductions-in-force from time to time. It's how we make seasonal and structural adjustments to competitively staff our operations. As I said earlier, there are times when we are able to manage seasonal staffing overages, but the current numbers are not manageable. While we're accustomed to these RIFs, they are always difficult. Employees affected by these reductions, including moving from full to part-time, will receive notice either by mail or in-person over the next several days.

Over the past several months, we've introduced both broad and targeted early out programs related to our schedule and staffing changes in CLE and the transfer of work to outside vendors at 12 line stations. At the same time, we've worked with the IAM to bring positions in house in our DEN and IAD hubs as well as in PHX and, recently, HNL.

Along these lines, we announced at DEN yesterday that we're making further changes by bringing in-house below-the-wing positions for our regional transfer of baggage (TOB) operation there. At the same time, we are moving our DEN de-icing operation to a vendor who will be dedicated to the United operation, both mainline and regional, and can flex up and down based on weather-related needs. These moves will not result in a net loss of jobs, nor any changes in pay, for our DEN employees, and we expect to improve our MBR and customer service by performing this work more efficiently.

We realize that there have been a number of staffing changes, both in-house and out to vendors. A number of employees' lives have been affected by these, and we take this into account when we make these decisions. Please know that we are continually looking to create opportunities while taking the steps we have to in order to be competitive.

Last week, we announced our second-quarter results, which were a marked improvement from the first quarter. We want to continue to be profitable and have a sustainable business with a bright future. While we have a way to go, we are making progress. We hope that we can create further opportunities in the future, while making the difficult decisions today.

Thanks to each and every one of you for the great work you've done this summer. Our on-time performance, our MBR performance, our Customer Satisfaction scores and our financial performance are all moving in the right direction, and you should take pride-and credit-for that.

Substandard Service for Travelers

The hugely profitable airlines benefit from a ragtag army of poorly paid workers. 
Today, nearly all airport workers - baggage porters, janitors, cabin cleaners, plane fuelers, mechanics, gate agents, wheelchair assistance and even some pilots - have seen their jobs contracted out or wages sink. 

Their poor working conditions can wreak havoc on passenger service and safety.

Contractors lower costs to compete for airline contracts, resulting in lower quality service. For passengers, that means longer lines, lost bags and dirty cabins.

Airlines have allowed service quality to decline despite reports that find carriers that focus on people and processes have greater passenger satisfaction. 
If you were a passenger this summer, chances are very good that you were delayed at some point. Airport staffing at some airports is at such low levels that you can easily wait an hour for a ramp to be brought out to your plane at 1 a.m., your bags to arrive on the carousel, or in the winter months, to be de-iced.

Once your flight is late, chances are good you will miss your connecting flight. Mainline flights have been cut back so they are fuller and less frequent. Fewer direct flights means packed planes and less convenience for the traveler.

Then, you will miss the next two or three because they are flying so full.

Plane Greedy

Record profits and no relief for passengers, or employees. Steve Silberstein, Executive Producer of the film Inequality for All said:
"United CEO Jeff Smisek gave himself $8.1 MILLION dollars in 2014. If he had cut his salary to a "lousy" two million dollars a year instead -- that would save about as much money as the purported saving of lowering the pay of those 630 jobs."

Soon you wil be able to fly coast to coast and never interact with the airline's real employees - only outsourced contractors. From the gate agents, baggage handlers to the regional jet pilots and crew- none will work for the airline. 

As FlyersRights has pointed out previously, being a virtual airline does not end so well if anything goes wrong.

American Airlines said the vast majority of its domestic airports already are staffed by Envoy or other contractors. Delta said only 42 of its 230 domestic airports employ Delta employees exclusively. Thirty-three airports have Delta workers as customer-service agents and Delta Global Services workers employed as ramp workers. In 80 airports, Delta Global Services workers perform both functions. Another 75 airports use other outside vendors.


Employees that work directly for United have an incentive to help the company and themselves by providing superior customer service.  Subcontractors, on the other hand, have no such incentive and are very likely to provide poor service to customers, reflecting very negatively on the company.

How is it that an industry can profit through fewer services, more wait time and reduced flights?

It all started with food services cut, although the meals weren't very good. Now passengers pay extra for everything from bags, to a better seat or early boarding. This is being allowed because travelers have very few options. There are only a few major airlines left in business. 

Add it all up and it means skyhigh rates and far less convenience.

Your Letters!

Dear FlyersRights,

Not the worst problem...but still maddening.

Ninety minute flight: Chicago O'Hare to Washington National, arrives on time 
or a bit early. Then 45 minute wait for luggage to arrive on carousel. 

First our flight number was displayed on carousel monitor, then another 
flight was displayed. Then (after long delay) PA system apology for 
delay. Then (after another long delay) bags arrive after our flight 
displays again. 

This was bad enough when bags traveled free but really, it's outrageous when we've paid for bag checking. 

I understand this might be UA, or National Airport, or team screwup. But for it to take half the flight duration to deliver bags from plane to claim ought to at 
least get bag check fee refunded. Fat chance, of course but I'll gripe 
to UA/National and see what happens.

Thanks for what Flyers Rights does for us all!


Complain to the airline and ask for compensation.  Complain to the DOT in hopes that they will note a pattern of complaints from one airline or one airport. 

Should we add to our list of consumer demands that luggage be delivered in a timely manner or the baggage fees (where applicable) would be refunded?


Joel J Smiler DVM
Hotline Director

Dear FlyersRights:

This is what I sent to the TSA - I am surprised that there is no press about this at all and I am wondering if other frequent flyers are talking about it.

I  signed up to participate in the TSA Precheck program when it was initially available.  As a frequent traveler I spoke highly of the program.  I paid 100.00 to join, I was finger printed, my background was checked, I was photographed and interviewed by a customs agent.  I felt sure that that all of the steps were taken to insure that not only was I a known and trusted traveler, but those who participated in the program were as well.  However, the recent push by TSA to signup additional travelers has me concerned about security and in speaking to several TSA agents while traveling recently, they agree.

Here's what concerns me:

  1. Random travelers selected to enter the precheck line - how is that secure?
  2. The precheck line merges with a non-precheck line as it enters into security screening - how is that secure?
  3. As TSA signs up more infrequent travelers the pre-check line will grow as long as the non-precheck line - so I ask what is the point?  Trading revenue generation for security?
  4. New enrollees now pay 85.00 versus my payment of 100.00 and when I spoke to a recent enrollee he informed me that he was not interviewed by a customs agent...so again I ask how is the system secure?
I will continue to use the precheck program until the lines become as long as the non-precheck lines, which I am certain they will and hopefully by that time, I will be retired and an infrequent traveler like the majority of the people being pushed into the program.


Dear DS, 

Yes, the most distressing aspect of TSA moving non-approved people over to the Precheck line is the fact that it completely undermines the intent of the program. The program was designed and promoted as an expedited screening process for those travelers who were willing to subject themselves to a background check and pay the fee to cover the program. The concept was that these are "known travelers" (based on that background check) and thus do not need as extensive of screening. But if anyone can be shifted over to the line, doesn't the integrity of the program become lost?

I posed this question to TSA media relations, and here's their answer:

------ Original Message --------
Subject: RE: Precheck inquiry - media request
From: "Feinstein, Ross" <Ross.Feinstein@tsa.dhs.gov>
Date: Wed, July 30, 2014 4:19 pm
To: kendall creighton <kendallc@flyersrights.org>
To improve the screening process, TSA leverages a number of programs to direct eligible passengers to the TSA Pre✓™ lane, where travelers may receive expedited screening.  Managed Inclusion, a risk-based approach, combines the use of multiple layers of security to indirectly conduct a real-time assessment of passengers at select airports. This enables TSA to identify eligible passengers for expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™ lanes, which improves security, efficiency and the passenger experience.

Ross Feinstein
Press Secretary
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) | U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Kendall - that's the same response they sent me and that may make sense when they select those people through the boarding pass process, but when they just merge lines it doesn't.  The lack of security for increased revenue concerns me and as a few TSA agents told me...it concerns them too.  Thanks for the reply


Cartoon Of The Week!

Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone:
 The FlyersRights HOTLINE!

FlyersRights.org depends on your 
tax-dedcutible contribution. 
Thank you.

Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President

Like what you're reading? 
Get the best of FlyersRights' articles, links and conversation, 
delivered each week to your inbox!

* Send your comments to the newsletter editor, Kendall Creighton

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Win-Lose Situation
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The airlines' pity party is long over. 

The big news last week was the nation's airlines announcing yet another stellar quarter of record breaking profits, reaped at your expense.
For four years we've watched the industry rolling in dough thanks to its winning strategy of mergers, cutting flights and raising fares.
Passengers are also forking over 1,200 percent more in fees now than they did seven years ago.
Fewer Routes, Service Cuts, Packing Planes = Profit$ Up

Airlines have eliminated thousands of flights, especially short-haul flights using smaller planes. These years of cuts in air service boosted profits as it curtailed traveler choice and hurt some local economies.

Airlines began cutting flights years ago to stuff more people onto planes. But that's not the main reason for their big profits today. Inflated ticket prices due to mergers, frequent-flyer program cuts, contracting out labor, no frills and fees, fees, fees seems to be the formula for success.
Reduced competition at smaller airports often causes fares to rise. The DOT regularly cites Huntsville airport as having the highest average domestic faresamong the top 100 airports the department tracks, with round-trip fares averaging $559 in the third quarter of last year. The national average was $390.
Airline stocks Hit A 52-Week High, UAL Initiating A $1 Billion Buy Back
However, few were expecting the airlines' 2Q to be this great.

Their record profits last Thursday yielded unexpected stock buy-backs, a rare dividend and even bonuses for some workers.

The airlines are prospering as mergers have reduced competition, making it easier to keep prices high and raise billions from extra fees.

They used bankruptcy to squeeze costs from employees and suppliers such as the smaller carriers that operate regional flights.

So, what are the odds the airlines will generously share their largess and pass along the savings to you? 

"It would seem unlikely that airlines will reduce airfares because of high profits, rather the contrary appears more likely. Since 2010 airfares and fees have been increasing far higher than the rate of inflation, and due to airline mergers, profits and airline stock prices have soared over 100%", said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.

"With four airlines (Southwest, American, Delta and United) now controlling 85% of domestic flights, joint ventures and alliances exempt from antitrust laws, and US airlines keeping foreign carriers out of the US, competition is becoming a thing of the past," Hudson said. 
So? Just buy airline stock and be happy!
Complaints rise 
Consumer complaints to the Department of Transportation surged by one-fifth last year.
"The way airlines have taken 130-seat airplanes and expanded them to 150 seats to squeeze out more revenue I think is finally catching up with them, says Dean Headley, a business professor at Wichita State University.
Fortunately, consumers have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. 
Please do not hesitate to report an airline at: http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint. 
Press Release:
BBC News

FlyersRights.org, the largest US based airline passenger organization, in light of the shoot down of the MH 17 flight over eastern Ukraine, has called on all airlines to provide passengers on international flights with detailed route maps on their web sites, so passengers can decide for themselves whether to take such high risk flights.

Paul Hudson, the group's president and longtime member of the FAA and TSA advisory committees on aviation safety and security stated:
"Airlines should no longer be able to hide behind weak and ambiguous international regulation and confidential warnings that are not shared with passengers. After the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, it came to light that governments and airlines had received specific warnings of a likely bombing, but chose to hide this knowledge from passengers and flight crews, those actually at risk. Now it has been revealed that some airlines were flying over eastern Ukraine despite danger warnings that were not shared with passengers.

Today, despite known dangers and the MH 17 shoot down, passengers are not being informed of dangerous flights over or near numerous conflict zones with missile systems capable of shooting down commercial airliners at over 30,000 feet. 

In addition to high-risk areas like Ukraine and Russia, many other regions across the globe have airspace that is considered equally dangerous, including Syria, Iraq, Egypt-Sinai, the China Sea, North Korea, Libya, Yemen, Mali and the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Many of these highly conflicted areas are known to have anti-aircraft weapons deployed that are capable of downing virtually any commercial aircraft.
This week, an emergency meeting of the UN International Civil Aeronautics
Organization (ICAO) is being held to discuss the situation, but passenger representatives have unfortunately again been excluded from meetings between airlines and regulators, as they were previously after the mysterious disappearance of another Malaysian airliner over the Indian Ocean."
DOT Fines Jumped
Within 3 Years of FlyersRights' Rules
Screenshot of Southwest Fare Alerts. The airline has been DINGED several times by DOT for sale fare ad violations.

In October 2013, Southwest ran a television ad on eight networks in the Atlanta area advertising $59 sale fares to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago on certain dates.  

An investigation by DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office revealed that Southwest did not have any seats available for $59 between Atlanta and any of the three quoted cities on any of the applicable travel dates.

Unfair and deceptive practices, such as advertising fares that don't exist, are the most common violation of passenger rights by the airlines, according to three years of U.S. Department of Transportation citation records.
An L.A. Times report found the most common citation for unfair and deceptive practices was not disclosing the full fare for a flight, including taxes. This is the DOT rule that the airlines are currently lobbying ferociously to throw out.

Also, only about half the fines imposed by the DOT were collected, with the balance either suspended or directed to be used to improve airline services. 

Many airlines have repeated violations, which critics say show that fines don't fix bad behavior and inflict little pain on an industry that generated $4 billion for the three months ending June 30, 2014.

"In the case of multiple violations, the fines should be greater and they shouldn't be waived," said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org. "They should increase exponentially."

Last week's newsletter, Over Hostile Territory, erroneously reported that KLM was a member of the oneworld alliance, and that's how Malaysia Airlines flew under KLM's flight number. 
KLM is only a member of SkyTeamHowever, they are regular code-share partners with Malaysia Airlines.
Getting on a Plane? Put This Number in Your Phone:
 The FlyersRights HOTLINE!

FlyersRights.org depends on your 
tax-dedcutible contribution. 
Thank you.

Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President

Like what you're reading? 

Get the best of FlyersRights' articles, links and conversation, 
delivered each week to your inbox!

Region Need No Compensation
(We Don't Need No Education -Pink Floyd)
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Mesa Airline's CEO is "disgusted with Washington's politics."  

That's the sentiment from CEOs of regional carriers, as US pilot shortages take its toll on the industry.

Pilots finally are taking a stand. Fewer pilots want to work for regional jet companies because it's near impossible to survive on the pay. Between regulations, attrition, pending shortage, and over 80% of the US regional pilots rejecting contracts, the leverage is on the pilots side for the first time in decades. 
So the Regional Airline Association (RAA) is in a frenzy. Last month they testified at the House Aviation Subcommittee that passenger service to midsize airports would suffer and the economic impact will be felt across the country.  
Already we're seeing this at midsize airports such as Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, where United is cutting 60 percent of its departures.

"We have made the difficult decision to reduce our flying from Cleveland", Mr. Smisek said to United's workers there in February. By June 1, Cleveland will have lost 70 of its average 170 daily departures from the airport.

Mr. Smisek said that "our continued losses in Cleveland" were the main reason for the reduction in flying there. But added, new federal safety regulations that impose higher training standards on entry-level pilots "are reducing the pool of new pilots from which regional carriers themselves can hire."

Meanwhile, Mr. Smisek saw his compensation soar to $14.7 million following the United-Continental merger.

The hand-wringing continued at the RAA convention in St. Louis last week. Here are some highlights from Mesa Airlines' CEO: 
- Blamed Congress for the "One Level of Safety" rule, requiring most Part 135 regional carriers in the U.S. to operate under more stringent Part 121 maintenance rules.

- Blamed unions and the greediness of captains for low entry-level pay.
- Claimed "race to the bottom" is offensive to him and not true.
- Says young pilots are going to Europe to fly with minimal hours and asks if it is good enough for them, why isn't it good enough for us?
FlyersRights listened to the whole April 30th, 2014 Hearing of the Aviation Subcommittee, US House of Representatives re. Air Service to Smaller Communitits. Here are our points: (official statement link)

1. No passenger representative was allowed to testify, only airline, pilot union, airport and government reps. 

2. The airline rep claimed they tried to raise wages but the union would not let them, and sought to weight wages to senior pilot favor based only on seniority.
We suggest this can be solved with a minimum wage for airline pilots.

3. Big Airlines seek to force passengers to fly from their hubs even if it means driving 100+ miles or taking an expensive commuter flight to a hub.

4. Regional carriers can profitably fly nonstop point to point from smaller cites with regional jets holding 20-80 passengers but are inhibited from doing so because they are under contract and controlled by big carriers and lack access to big city airports. Solution is to make such anticompetitive contracts illegal and to establish national air transportation policy of all passengers not having to drive more than 80 miles to reach a network airport and build additional airports around choke point big cities like NYC and Chicago. 

5. Establish a fact-finding commission to determine why the number of 
fights is declining dramatically at double digit rates for medium as well as 
small cities.

Republic Airways Chairman, President and CEO Bryan Bedford also complained that the FAA's new 1,500 hour First Officer Qualification rule has sparked a pilot shortage: "We cautioned lawmakers and regulators, throughout the lawmaking and regulatory process that including a largely inflexible andarbitrary flight-hour experience requirement as part of the final mandate would not only fail to improve safety, it would hasten the growing pilot shortage and imperil air service at communities across the country."

Who's Flying The Plane?

These new federal regulations were drafted in response to concerns over training and pilot-fatigue following the 2009 Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people. The regional model has killed itself through bad business practices. The new laws aren't the reason for the pilot shortage, it's 10 years of paying food stamp wages.
Rebecca Shaw, 24, the co-pilot of that flight had pulled an all-nighter to get a free transcontinental trip to work. She was living near Seattle and commuting to her job at Colgan's operation in Newark, according to board investigators. She flew from Seattle to Memphis in a spare seat on one FedEx jet, and to Newark on another, planning to sleep in a crew lounge. She earned an annual salary of just $16,200.
Remember Candi Kubeck, the captain of ValuJet 592 that crashed in the Everglades in 1996 (110 people died)? Her salary was in the low $20's. Then ValuJet became AirTran and everyone forgot.

In 2008 the FAA opened an investigation into whether two Go! airline pilots fell asleep during a flight from Honolulu to Hilo when they overshot the airport by 15 miles.    

Region For The Bottom

"I really get a little disgusted listening to these guys, politicians, talk about 'race to the bottom' because if we are in a race to the bottom, you know who we're going to find down there? Congress," said Jonathan Ornstein, CEO of Mesa Airlines at the RAA Convention . "It's really offensive to me, as a 25-year veteran of this industry, and my people." 

Mr. Ornstein has enjoyed a remarkable longevity thanks to an ability to exploit a large pool of cheap young pilots. Mesa, like the entire regional airline industry, relied on rock bottom wages and a high turnover rate to keep the salary structure low and the system afloat. Now the whole fiasco is blowing-up before their eyes and Congress is turning a deaf ear in the wake of Colgan 3407.
The regional CEOs shifting the blame to the unions and captains for the problems their businesses are facing is offensive. The regional jet CEOs want you to think airports are losing air service because of the 1,500 hour rule, and they are the victims

All this pressure for less than a 1500 hour First Officer Qualification is a ploy by the airlines to try to see if they can avoid paying for more experienced pilots. We already know that there is more risk with low-time pilots living in crash pads for barely more than minimum wage.  

It's interesting that almost no regional had any motivation to raise wages when they could hire 300-500 hour pilots at starvation wages. Now that the laws of supply and demand have kicked in, it seems like Mr. Ornstein would like to re-write this law.
Well, by the same token, who needs an MBA to run a company?

Where's The FAA Here?  

FAA chief Michael Huerta said he stands firm on his agency's first officer qualifications requirements. He said:

"We broadened that flexibility as much as we could in an effort to address industry concerns," explained Huerta. "But Congress's intent was clear. They wanted to increase the qualification and experience requirements for pilots. We're open to discussing ideas on strengthening the pilot pipeline, but industry must recognize that the FAA alone cannot solve this issue."

FAA Under Industry Control   
In the sixties the president of the company was paid three times what a senior captain made. It took four pilots to fly a 707 across the ocean carrying 120 passengers. Today 2 pilots fly 400 people and yet their salaries (adjusted for inflation) have declined significantly. CEO's now make multi-millions.

Interestingly the highest paid pilots are at Southwest which has the lowest paid CEO, the best safety record in the industry and the only major carrier who hasn't sought bankruptcy protection.
Pilots' pay, as a percentage of operating cost of a large airplane, is relatively minor. Expecting action from the FAA is hopeless. 
Congress needs to take a hard look at the FAA, a federal agency that has always seemed to be in bed with the industry it's supposed to oversee.

Organized insanity is what happens when money and profits overtake reason. 

Public Demand    

We disagree with those who say the public demands cheap flights, thus the underpaid and exhausted commuter pilots.  

The traveling public may 'demand' a lot of things, but 'public opinion' should not jeopardize the safety of those aboard and those on the ground. This is a 'free' country, but that does not translate to common sense and regulation being thrown aside.    
Bring back regulation to all of these entities that have proven they cannot act in the public interest, cannot run the companies without government oversight, and certainly cannot police themselves.  
(In Response to last Tuesday's newsletter, "Not Fare")

Dear FlyersRights:

On your article, while I completely agree with everything you have noted,
you forget that back in 1975, they paid travel agents 10% commission on all airline tickets.  Domestic, international, foreign origin, everything.
We receive a big fat zero today especially on domestic markets.  Only on some international markets do we receive a commission depending on the contract.
So, yes, we are so much worse off now than then as travelers and travel agents.

I live in Vienna a I only have a minute between flights but I have to pause for a moment and comment on this last post on FlyersRights.org. It seems every time you post you come full throttle at the airlines. As a pilot, I know what a reduction in pay means and what losing more than half your hard earned retirement is like. I also know what is like to have the airline you are flying for go under and watch as your fellow workers go through the hard times that being unemployed brings. Airlines have to make a profit in order to survive.

When you demonize the airlines for trying to keep the cost of air travel down with low cost air fares that are meant to peel away certain cost that not everyone wants to pay for, that's just wrong. Not everyone packs three bags for a five day stay when traveling. When you travel regularly you learn to travel light and less is better when traveling often. I speak with passengers every day and by far most of them are satisfied with the cost of their airfare. They realize if you want that additional legroom or more comfort when you fly you must pay for it. And ticket change charges are here to stay and all airlines post these charges on their web sights. Stop crying about the cost. If you want first class, pay the airfare!

Also, the cost profiles that you have posted are not true and fair representations of cost verses inflation rates over the past 40 years, 1975 to 2014. You fail to figure in the cost of equipment and maintenance increases over the last 40 years. Cost that have increased five fold and mainly due to the unions involved in manufacturing new generation airliners. When the design and testing of a new airliner these days cost between ten and fifteen billion dollars over a typical six year period, those cost get passed along to the consumer. These billions are spent even before the first plane is delivered. Push these cost into the price of a ticket and of course you will pay more for that ticket.

I don't mind when people have legitimate complaints due to poor service but to complain about the cost of an airline ticket and charges for extra legroom or other services is basically ridiculous. As with everything else in life you get what you pay for and the more you want the more you will pay. And deregulation was by far the best thing to ever happen to the airline industry. We don't need government to hold our hand or protect us from ourselves. We're adults and no one forces anyone to pay for a product or a service that we choose to purchase or may not wish to purchase. Buying an airline ticket is no different than buying fuel, professional services, food, clothing, electronics, automobiles or any other consumer product. You don't get a BMW when you pay for Hyundai.

No one wants to be on time more than I do. But my main concern is the safety of everyone behind me. If it means holding at the gate while I have a concern on the flight deck checked then we all wait, not just the guy in seat E-34 who just blew a gasket of his own and now wants the airline to compensate  him some way.

And like I tell everyone who complains about the airlines making a profit, stop complaining and buy you some stock in Delta!

ATP, Captain
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