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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tree-mendous Changes
December 16, 2014
What does the new year mean for airline passengers?

2015 will bring more changes for frequent flyers, higher airfares and FlyersRights legislation to protect passengers.

The Airlines Are Making It Harder For The Infrequent Flyer

photo: Airways Magazine
So far this year, we've seen Delta and United devalue their miles by 25-40%.

The facts are that the vast majority of travelers will earn fewer miles in 2015 than they did in 2014 for flying exactly the same itineraries.

Last month, United confirmed that starting in March 2015, like Delta, they will be moving to a revenue-based mileage program. 

Passengers will be awarded based on the money they spend per flight, instead of the distance of their flights.

The airlines like to imitate one another when it comes to downgrades and this is especially true with frequent flyer programs.

A detailed breakdown of all the mileage programs are at MileCards.com. The takeaway is forget frequent flyer programs, advises YahooFinanceInstead, shop price, and use non-US flagged carriers.  

Steady Drip-Drip-Drip Of Eroding Benefits

The enthusiasm in the blogosphere for these airlines' changes was surprising.

Two years ago, FlyersRights was criticized for recommending travelers use up their American Airlines miles before the merger with US Airways. The attacks came from bloggers that shill for their advertiser's brands of mileage-affinity credit cards.

Earlier this year, American Airlines announced a major changes to its frequent flyer program that would make reward miles less valuable.

"Inflation" Of Frequent Flyer Miles

Among the controversial changes, one-way domestic flights that once cost 25,000 miles are now broken up into three tiers (20,000 miles, 30,000 miles and a third level American hasn't quantified yet). 

So, American made the program more complex, charging different amounts of miles depending on demand for seats.

As of April 8, 2014, American Airlines international destination awards no longer offer a voluntary stopover at the North American international gateway.
For example you could book a 1-way trip from Honolulu or Dallas to Europe with a stopover in New York (the North American gateway city for your flight to Europe).  

As long as you completed your travel within a year of booking, you could make your stopover in New York for as long as you wanted.

The "Big 3" Business Carriers Are All In It Together
The other big issue for frequent fliers regarding the mergers of Continental-United as well as US Airways-American Airlines is the sheer number of elites now flying on these carriers reducing the opportunities to be upgraded and to use frequent flyer mileage. 

Not only has earning mileage being devalued, but so have any perks associated with giving these companies so much business.

Other "Enhancements" To Look Forward To In 2015:
  • Two billion in "product improvements" dedicated to improving the experience for first and business class passengers at the expense of the many in the back of the plane.
  • Almost all bags will cost something. Since JetBlue quit offering free checked bags, we're only left with Southwest. Does this mean Southwest will be the best deal because it'll be the only airline with free bags? No way. Sometimes Southwest will cost the same or more than the competition (even when factoring in free bags). Shoppers must compare fares.
  • Watch for holiday surcharges. Spirit is adding a $2 holiday surcharge to all checked-bags for Christmas and New Year's flights. It's not the only one though; European discounters like Ryanair are notorious for multiple seasonal fee adjustments.

(Photo: Delta
The big U.S. airlines are taking out old, bulky seats in favor of so-called slimline models that take up less space from front to back, allowing for five or six more seats on each plane.

As one comenter on the blog CrankyFlier.com put it:

"I'd gladly ride in an old MD-80 with only one middle seat per row with 33 pitch than a new A320 or 737 with 30 and two middle seats per row. 

I'd gladly ride in an old 767 with only one middle seat per row and two aisles and 33 vs. a new 777 that's cramped with narrow 10-across seating and 30 pitch in hard slimline seats."
  • Higher Airfares. It's surprising there has not been more coverage of the rise in fares being charged by the airlines. 
Since the mergers, it is now routine for the carriers to be seeking $311 round-trip airfares at all times and for all flights for, as an example, the 90 minute NY-Chicago route. 

Want to go to Europe? That's at least $1,000, even in winter. Americans are waking up to the fact that air travel is now out of the reach of individuals and especially families. 

And The biggest Christmas Gift Of Them All, Economy Minus!

Source: Getty Images

In October, we reported that a major U.S. carrier was contemplating an "Economy Minus" class, which would be even worse than regular economy class.

Now it's here!

Last week, Delta announced the airline will have a hyper-restrictive new class of service called Basic Economy: no changes to tickets, no seat assignments, no upgrading.

"Basic Economy is Delta's way of lowering the price to fight Spirit and to attract the Spirit customer," says business travel blogger Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe.com.

FlyersRights president, Paul Hudson, said "Our modest reforms in the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0 include that the airline must give at least six months notice before making downgrade changes in frequent flyer programs."

He continued, "Airlines cannot void membership without notice and good cause (in Ginsberg v Northwest Airlines the Supreme Court said airlines were allowed to terminate high mileage frequent fliers without cause even in bad faith), and must report basic statistics on the actual use and availability of award seats to popular destinations so consumers can compare and evaluate the programs."


With the year-end fast approaching you're likely to be bombarded by charitable-giving requests.

We know there are important issues in the world today, but wouldn't it be nice if we had some legislation to better protect travelers?

That is what FlyersRights is doing for you.

There are consumer protection laws, but why are they so weak for traveler protection? You pay good money to get to your destination at a certain time, and the airline can change your ticket or schedule without notice and then will charge you if you dare attempt to change your ticket to better fit your original schedule.

The profits of American carriers are the highest in the world, yet their carrier agreements basically absolve them of responsibility in the event of something going wrong (regardless if it's in or out of their control).

Someday one of you might have an air travel related issue and have nowhere to turn to get help. FlyersRights.org is here to help! For free. 24/7.

FlyersRights depends on tax-deductible contributions from those who share our commitment to airline passenger rights. You can give appreciated stock for an extra tax deduction benefit.

Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President
Sign our FlyersRights Petition for a Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0!

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

Send comments to the editor, KendallCreighton or @KendallFlyers
Forward this email!

This email was sent to kendall44@gmail.com by kendallc@flyersrights.org  

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

No Competition 
Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The US Open Skies policy is under attack by some airlines intent on blocking foreign carriers.

In 2007, the United States and the European Union signed an "Open Skies" agreement, which liberalized competition and ownership restrictions.

But the supply of domestic air services (flights between two points within the United States or within the EU) is still limited to national carriers, and foreign ownership is still restricted to minority status.

Welcome to the unfriendly skies.

Airlines are ramping up the fight against the expansion of low-cost transatlantic service being proposed by carriers such as Norwegian Air International.

This low-cost airline which already has a bigger European route structure than any American airline, is being stonewalled the US competition, and DOT has withheld permission for the airline to expand service.

It's the same story for Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. They are being held back by Delta, American and United which all came out against their upscale service. The growth of these Middle Eastern airlines has been astronomical, and Emirates has been called the next Pan Am.

Airline competition is the hot topic this coming year. FlyersRights has written about foreign pressure building.

It is cheaper to fly from the West Coast of the USA to Asia than it is from the East Coast to Europe, roughly half the distance. Cartel behavior is evident as well as possible price fixing. Load factors are high on both routes, equipment is similar or identical.
Internationally, airlines are banding together to halt competition. The three global alliances (Star Alliance, oneworld, Star Team) have enjoyed antitrust immunity from the Department of Transportation (DOT).

So on transatlantic routes, members within each of the world's three big alliances share costs and agree on prices.

For this reason, the CAPA Center for Aviation calls these global alliances the "poor man's merger". If airlines aren't already members of one of the big three, then they aspire to be.

The airline industry illustrates the phenomenon of regulatory capture - the tendency for regulators to see through the eyes of the industry they regulate.
ConsumerTraveler complains that not enough airlines are competing domestically either.

Due to mergers, only four airlines control 87 percent of the domestic market. Many domestic airports have service from only two major airlines. At smaller airports, there is often no meaningful competition. 

ConsumerTraveler points out that because so few airlines are in charge of pricing, any new airfare increases are matched by the other airlines and fees go up regularly.

As FlyersRights has found, the DOT's protection of domestic airlines results in prices five or six times the price of equivalent routes within Europe.

One factor in the probable success of budget carriers on long-haul routes is that the US carriers are mercilessly turning their Economy Class seats into Cattle Class. 

So if there is zero difference in comfort and convenience between United/Delta/American and an economy carrier offering the same route for 50% less, we'll choose the economy carrier.

By allowing foreign airlines to serve American domestic markets, the process of creating a truly free market in airline services in this country would be complete and, as in the case of international markets, would provide travelers with more flight choices and lower fares.

Domestic airlines are opposed to such a policy. But they should realize that their current strategy to maximize profits - reducing flights and raising fares - runs the risk of alienating the American flying public and spawning new regulation.

One possible solution is to slightly open up domestic markets by allowing foreign carriers to serve any midsize and regional airport in the United States that have lost service in the past few years. 

New entrants would be able to integrate those markets with their international routes, something that could put many smaller American cities on the global business map.

"The post merger behavior of US airlines' big four (American, Delta, Southwest and United) in raising prices in spite of lower costs, cutting flights, and squeezing passengers every way conceivable should wake up the Obama justice department," said Paul Hudson, FlyersRights president.

He continued, "The Antitrust Division needs to start an investigation. The incoming antitrust committees in the Senate and House should also be holding hearings. No competition without regulation equals only one thing: Monopoly-like cartels."

"Air travel is vital to the global economy. As the old OPEC fades, airlines seem headed toward establishing a new OPEC", Hudson concluded.

The public can comment on Norwegian Air International's application to the DOT. Please click on the document number and leave your opinion:

A Unique Holiday Present!

Attention procrastinators: With Christmas barreling down, we've got some last minute gift ideas for that hard to please person on your list.

You could pull the trigger on that 80 inch LCD TV, or for just a few pennies more, wow your friends with your own TSA-surplus pornoscanner for only $8,000!

Now selling on eBay is the perfect gift idea for your favorite great aunt, that neighbor across the street or just to complement your basement decor.

Remember when the TSA spent $113,000 each on these Rapiscan naked scanners that turned out not to work? Yet another posterchild for wasteful government spending.

Prisons have been the only buyers so far. Apparently, subjecting prisoners to unknown radiation exposure is fair game.
Your Letters

Dear FlyersRights:

I'm wondering what my rights are when an airline presents a different aircraft than the one I booked. 

In my case I booked a flight on Lufthansa through United Airlines. the flight was from Munich arriving in Istanbul. I was booked in business class. 

The aircraft that was promised when I booked the ticket had fold down seats in business class and a personal entertainment system. The aircraft that I actually traveled on had seats that were exactly the same size and pitch as the economy seats, and no entertainment system. I did receive a pillow, blanket, and food, which the economy passengers did not, but find it hard to believe that I am not due some sort of partial refund for this flight.

Thank you for your expertise.

I would ask for the difference between economy or economy plus and
business class. 

There should be a description of what business class is supposed to include when you booked it. There should also have been disclosure of the reduced accommodation when you booked the flight. 

Otherwise this would qualify as a complaint to DOT as an unfair or deceptive practice that could generate an investigation and fnes against the airlines involved.

Paul Hudson

'Toon of the Week:

Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President
Sign our FlyersRights Petition for a Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0!

Getting on a Plane? 
Put This Number in Your Phone:
Send comments to the editor, KendallCreighton or @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

Monday, December 1, 2014

When Pigs Fly
What a week it was!

The Thanksgiving holiday was a zoo for air travelers. Whether you pigged out or were flying with pigs, it was a beastly scene in the skies.

Cattle Class 2.0
A pig was ordered off a U.S. Airways plane at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut last Wednesday after crewmembers determined the "emotional support" animal had become disruptive.

One of the top emailed stories of the New York Times over the weekend was a piece by Frank Bruni on the uncivilized state of air travel today.
He says there are few better showcases of Americans' worst impulses than a 757 bound from New York to Los Angeles. A mile-high mirror of pettiness, selfishness, disconnection from one another and increasing demarcation of castes.

But it's too easy it is to blame the victims. 

It's easy to overlook that aircraft engineers are advancing the art of sardine-can density in coach. It's easy to forget that airline accountants now follow the Walmart principle: Stack 'em high and sell 'em low.

Last week, Clive Irving in The Daily Beast described airlines' sophisticated, inch-by-inch stratagems to "engineer you out of room". 

Aircraft that were originally produced with 160 seats, such as the Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, favorites of Southwest and Frontier with their single-aisles and one-class cabins, have now been 'refitted' to have over 200 seats. 

Toby Lewis, 34, and her two boys, Casey, 12, and Ian, 10, from Ann Arbor, wait in line at the Delta counter at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on November 26, 2014. (Photo: Charles V. Tines, The Detroit News)
For the first time, these single-aisle airliners will have as many seats as the much larger twin-aisle airplanes, like the Boeing 767.

The rich and poor gap is getting wider, on the plane as in the economy, says Bruni.

Financially, every flight is a death by a dozen cuts. There's the baggage fee, the meal fee, the wireless fee. 

All the base price gets you is a perch that's tighter than ever and getting tighter still. 

But we don't recall the flying public clamoring for tight seats and more junk fees for the illusion of a lower ticket price. 
The Daily Beast says the airlines have indoctrinated us to accept a "steerage complex." We are being conditioned to believe that in exchange for a bargain, we have no right to expect comfort in return. It's hard to think of a better example of the law of diminished expectations in action than coach class - and once an expectation is diminished it will never recover.
Meanwhile, in an alternate universe, there's the increasingly improved first-class.  

On the same planes where you need Knee Defenders™, the first-class travelers are enjoying "private suites" and inflight showers.

On Abu Dhabi's airline, Etihad, they're aiming even higher. Its apartment-like suites on the A380 in a section called The Residence have three rooms: sitting room, dining room and bedroom and they come with a butler, chef, and shower. (Breakfast is served by the butler.) Depending on the length of the flight, these suites can cost as much as $43,000 for two people. 

Meanwhile, back in the USA 
KOMO 4 Journalist
Denise Whitaker, KOMO 4

We hope you avoided Chicago on Sunday.

What a way to start the day, with a mile-long TSA security line.

KOMO reporter Denise Whitaker mapped the line to cover 1.2 miles. The Chicago Sun-Times videoed it.

America's hyper fixation on security seems to have turned the flying experience into a prison camp, with TSA performing Kabuki Theater for the profit of former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff.

The Land of the Lost 

Shopping for clothes at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, AL
Last week there was a cheery, holiday story in The New York Times on passengers' unclaimed luggage winding up on the shelves of a retail store in Alabama.

Semi tractor-trailers arrive daily to drop off luggage.

Absent in the article is that the airlines are selling your bags and the contents after a short holding period and keep the proceeds. 

FlyersRights disagrees with this practice.

The airlines are not required to use readily available methods to return property to its rightful owner and they generally dispute the great majority of lost baggage claims meaning passengers have no practical means of redress.

Airlines are the only large private holder of other persons' property that's exempt from the Uniform Abandoned Property Law used by nearly all states.
At common law, abandoned property is forfeited to the state, and airlines would have unlimited strict liability for lost or damaged property placed in their custody. 
Airlines have negotiated their liability capped by law at $3,000 for domestic flights and $1650 for international flights with short claim periods. 

The Airlines should be required to follow the standards of the Uniform Abandoned Property Act providing for efforts to return unclaimed baggage to its rightful owner, and if that fails after 90 days selling property at auction with proceeds going to a Lost Baggage Fund, to be used to satisfy lost/stolen property claims, fund consumer protection services by nonprofit organizations and for arbitration services for disputed lost baggage claims.
Report on Boeing 787 Battery Flaws Finds Lapses at Multiple Points
The damaged battery case from a fire aboard a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Logan International Airport in Boston in January 2013. Credit Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

Flaws in manufacturing, insufficient testing and a poor understanding of an innovative battery all contributed to the grounding of Boeing's 787 fleet last year after a fire in a jet at Boston's airport and another incident in Japan, according to a report released Monday by regulators.

The report, by the National Transportation Safety Board, assigned in the starkest terms yet the blame for the 787's battery problems.

The board found a wide range of failings among manufacturers and regulators. The battery's maker, GS Yuasa of Japan, used manufacturing methods that could introduce potential defects but whose inspection methods failed to detect the problem, the board found.  
The NTSB's findings directly conflict with the FAA's own internal study released in March, which said the agency had "effective processes in place to identify and correct issues that emerged before and after certification." In May, the FAA cleared the 787 to fly far over the ocean, up to 5½ hours away from the nearest emergency landing site.

Compared to conventional batteries, the nature and construction of lithium-ion batteries makes them far more susceptible to microscopic flaws which can cause internal short circuits and thermal runaway. When these events occur, the batteries begin to produce their own oxygen internally, which feeds a fire. Should such an event occur during flight, the result could be catastrophic.

So far, the lithium-ion battery failures have shown that the estimates of their predicted service life were absolutely wrong.

Boeing had initially reported that a battery cell might fail in one out of 10 million flight hours. Instead, by the time the two episodes happened, the 787 fleet in service had logged fewer than 52,000 hours, according to the safety board.

Airbus has elected not to use these types of batteries.

Your Letters

Dear FlyersRights: A few comments on your efforts...

First, let me say "Thank You" for your pursuit of establishing basic flyer's rights for the travelling public in America. I know you are fighting an uphill battle and your efforts are appreciated. 

I am an "infrequent" flyer, but have flown enough over the years to have experienced many of the unpleasantries of air transportation. Lost luggage, delays, cancellations, over-bookings, hidden fees, high prices, you name it...

For me, many of the minor inconveniences can be chalked up to a very challenging business trying to operate at a profit and I don't get too worked up about many of those "difficulties". I get the whole picture and don't get bent out of shape when there are short delays, full planes, busy airports, waits for bags, etc.

Things change though when it comes to major things. Being held hostage on a plane for hours on end, being stuffed into a seat with no room to move, flights being delayed for hours or cancelled for no apparent reason and getting no real answers from airline staff, and being charged extra for everything under the sun even the things that should be included in every ticket like a bag going along with you.

So please, keep up the good work. My suggestion is that you focus as much as possible on the most important issues though. There needs to be a minimum standard on seat pitch and room for each passenger. This is a safety issue. There needs to be a limit on just how long a flight can be stuck on the tarmac or runway before passengers need to be allowed to disembark. Again, a safety issue but also a basic human rights issue. And ticket pricing should be transparent and easily compared. This is a "truth in advertising" issue. 

I don't consider airlines "bad guys" and really want them to be successful and profitable. But I want to be treated fairly when I travel and the trends have been in the wrong direction. I do not travel by air unless it's absolutely necessary. It's no longer a big advantage and I am "way" more comfortable traveling by auto than by air since I can't really afford 1st class...

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that your effort is appreciated and I hope successful in getting some relief for the average traveler.   

All the best,

(In response to last week's Letter:)

Dear FlyersRights:

GJ's short-sighted view of what makes a business successful is too typical, and unfortunate. Businesses that view their only responsibility as to their shareholders (which of course include their executives, in spades) are missing the fact that those businesses that also consider their customers and their employees as important usually succeed better and longer.

GJ's business model is undoubtedly (and regrettably) that of the American airline industry, but one wonders how much MORE successful a more holistic approach would be for them - and us, as consumers.


Dear FlyersRights:

Request that I can "share" email that great response to why capitalist airline industry needs you and consumer advocates, laws, regulations, etc. (The capitalist jerkoff).

Dear FlyersRights,

Who is this dipstick who dares to insult your newsletter?
If he's receiving it, doesn't that mean he has donated to your organization, and would therefore know exactly what you do?

We've got people burning down cities, kids killing kids, and countless other issues which are tearing this country apart. How petty of GJ to write such mindless criticism of a grassroots group which is actually trying to do some good for other humans. Seriously, the nerve of some people.
It simply breaks my heart.

Dear Kendall,
You have the patience of a saint. Sometimes I just can't understand.  
Thank you very much for what you do, including caring about the workers as well as us flyers.

I made a donation today.
Happy Thanksgiving.
Business Class in the 1970s!

Unlike the closely arranged seats of today, Business Class of the '70s resembled a lounge.

Will we ever get these days back?
Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday!


We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

We've come a long way, thanks to your support of FlyersRights!

Thank you.

Kate Hanni, founder 
with Paul Hudson, President
Sign our FlyersRights Petition for a Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Once again the holidays are upon us. 

This Thanksgiving, FlyersRights would like to give thanks to each of our members, their families and our volunteers.

Your generosity has brought us such a great distance since 2006. We are strong because of your support. We are looking to the future with BIG dreams - your help plays a BIG part.