Category: Airlines + flying

What do you hope follows the United Airlines vs. David Dao fiasco?

I hope some laws change so that customers have more rights and so the police aren’t tools for big business.

A friend of mine recently argued that United Airlines employees did not smash Dao’s face up and drag him off the plane. The Chicago Dept of Aviation Police did. The criticism should be directed at them far more than at United.

I disagree and I think that the airline industry in America needs a serious overhaul.

One problem is that passengers have almost no rights:

The contract of carriage is “incredibly one-sided” in the airline’s favor, Sanger said. And once a person has boarded an airplane, they are required by federal law to comply with the flight crew’s instructions.

Technically, a passenger who refuses to get off a plane could be charged with violating federal law, even if the officials who removed them from the flight exercised their authority in an excessive way, he said. It’s a situation where “the passenger almost always loses.”

“Once the airline labels you as a disruptive passenger and that you pose any kind of a risk to the flight, then you have to go,” Sanger said. “You’re going to go voluntarily or you’re going to go in handcuffs, but you’re going.”

For evidence that the system is designed to favor big business and screw the individual consumer, I look at the following:

The police, in this case the Chicago Department of Aviation Police, effectively work for the airlines. Since some people may disagree I will elaborate: Normally, police don’t get involved in civil disputes. Police may try to help mediate, but in the end a civil dispute is not a police matter: It is a private matter between two parties that the police department often has no power or authority to rule on. That’s what civic court is for…

If my friend owes me $5 and I call the cops, the cops won’t kick the crap out of my friend until he gives me $5. It’s a civil dispute so go to court. But we have another kind of civil dispute when an airline calls and says, hey we screwed up and now we have to kick someone off the flight but they don’t want to leave. The passenger who doesn’t want to get kicked off the plane is just peacefully disagreeing with United’s decision. If the passenger is non-violent, then the only reason this peaceful refusal to stand up is treated as criminal is because the laws and the police work for the airline.

So to bring this back to the beginning and why I blame the airline at least as much as I blame the police: The airline asked for this. The airline asked for their customer to be forcibly removed from the plane. Sure police did the dirty work, but what choice did they have? The money and the laws say the police need to do what the airline tells them to do (in this case).

By the way, what could United have done differently? I say since this was a short flight they should have booked a limo. I bet things would have been different if they had come on board and said: “We have a limo leaving the airport in 10 minutes. We need 4 volunteers to get off the plane and into the limo. We’ll get you your luggage and we’ll give you $1000 each.” Or they could have sent their own employees on the limo. That would have been faster considering the huge delay caused by the airline, the police, and 69-year-old man who got hospitalized.

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the plane

Not a passenger was normal, they all were a pain.

All the overheads were filled, with bags too big around,
So inconsiderate a-holes needn’t wait on the ground.

And just when I thought I was over that funk,
The guy to my right had got sloppy and drunk.

And since I was only half the size of that fella,
I said to my wife, “next time it’s Acela.”

As I started to think it was just a bad dream,
The toddler behind me commenced a loud scream.

While I tried to keep calm and prevent WW III,
The stewardess came over, blaming everything on me.

So as I finally got off that damned flight,
Merry Christmas I said, but it didn’t seem right.

Safe travels and a happy end to 2016!

Delta is going to try a new class of ticket, basic economy. How can economy get even more basic?

Some news outlets are reporting that Delta will be charging for overhead space if you have a basic economy ticket. However, that’s not entirely accurate.

These fares will be priced to compete with the Spirits and Frontiers of the world, which already charge for carry-ons (among other things). Further, you’ll actually be allowed to use the overhead bins if space is available, but you will not be permitted to check a rolling carry-on at the gate free of charge. Only bags sized to fit underseat will be permitted for free. Everything else will be checked and fees collected.

Schumer (D-New York) opposes United’s new ticket type: “The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines – and potentially others – plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling. Already, airlines charge extra for checked luggage, pillows, peanuts and headphones and now you’ll have nowhere to store them. United Airlines should reverse this plan and allow the free use of the overhead bin for all.”

As I’ve already mentioned, the basic economy ticket does allow for free use of the overhead bins. You just won’t be able to bring a huge carry-on. And basic economy class will board last, so there may not be much overhead bin space left anyway. But that’s OK. If you’re flying basic economy you will have to pay for a checked bag or travel very light.

I have seen an oversized and overweight carry-on fall on a passenger’s head. The woman removing her bag from the overhead bin lost control of her bag and dropped it on another woman. The other woman may have been injured -she sure was crying a lot. We were all lined up to get off the plane but I notified a flight attendant as soon as I could. The flight attendant reacted like this was a common thing so I told her the lady was crying and probably needs help. I couldn’t believe I had to stress that this woman who had a huge bag dropped on her head needed help right away.

Anyway, I blame the flight search engines that compare only the fare and not the extra charges when they show you who has the best price. And I hope more people choose basic economy so we don’t have dangerously heavy items in the overhead bins.

Flying into bad weather is asking for trouble (weather waiver)

Here is a reader submitted story and some advice on rescheduling business trips to avoid bad weather.

On a business trip from Tampa to NYC. Here was my day:

1 pm flight delayed a half hour leaving Tampa to JFK. No big deal.

Flight makes it to JFK airspace on schedule! Hooray! Pilot tells us we have to enter a holding pattern, but they prepared for this and have plenty of fuel.

90 minutes of holding, we begin our approach. Pilot suddenly makes an announcement that JFK has an equipment failure and we need to go back into holding pattern. Our plane no longer has enough fuel, we are diverted to Albany.

We refuel in Albany and push back, but then receive word that JFK is on a ground halt due to weather. Three hour delay in Albany.

We finally board the plane and push back again, but apparently Albany is a very understaffed airport and there is only one crew to de-ice the plane. It takes an additional 2 hours to prep the plane.

At this point, the pilot informs us they have been shift timed out and flight to JFK is cancelled.

As I type, Delta is coordinating buses to take us on a 3 hour trip to JFK. This is the stuff of travel nightmares.

These days, if airlines post a weather waiver for my cities and dates I just assume my flights will be monumentally mucked up. If at all possible I’ll try to move around to avoid the weather. FAR 117 (pilot duty time restrictions) and extended ground delay rules have forced airlines to be much more proactive with their response to foul weather. So we see more cancellations before and during storms but, arguably, faster/better service recovery on the other side.

It didn’t use to be this way… time was you almost had to wait around for your flight to be canceled before you could do anything with your ticket. Now, I can change, cancel and refund travel days in advance of a big storm without even having to talk to an agent.

Moral of the story… if my flight is predicted to fall inside a winter storm (or weather waiver) I’ll try to get out early, wait out the storm at my origin, or bag the trip entirely. Trying to go in the midst of it is asking for trouble.

Are fun flight safety videos the answer?

In my performance systems analysis class we talked about a problem: Airline passengers don’t know what to do in an emergency. It seems that when it’s time to evacuate a plane, many passengers perform poorly. This may be caused by passengers not watching safety videos. Maybe.

I haven’t seen any evidence that the safety videos are actually effective training tools. Will passengers who pay attention tot he videos perform well during emergencies?

Airlines think so and are working hard to make sure people watch their safety videos:

Virgin America:

Air New Zealand:

What do you think? Are fun safety videos going to improve passenger performance in an emergency?

Fun with Google Flights

I like this article on Google Flights. I learned that you can search througha region to see how much flights cost to the different ariports in the area. For example, say I want to go to Vienna (which I do). Then, say I can go to Vienna (which I can’t). Looking at the Google Flights Europe map, I can fly from Atlanta to Paris for $700 while flying to Vienna would be over $1,100. Good to know – maybe I would fly to Paris and take a train to Vienna.

Despite the nice features, I did not find Google Flights to be as simple to use as I thought it would be. For example, if I type in Europe as a destination I see hundreds of red dots for the various airports. For some reason the big airports (like Paris and Vienna) do not stand out. But little ones (like Satu Mare – price unknown) get emphasis. Meanwhile I have to use my geography skills to find the Paris dot, mouse over, and get the price.

Still, check out Google Flights when you have some time to play around. Click expand map and start searching.

Shame on Delta using a giraffe for Ghana

I would not call this racist, but I would call it ignorant. Pretty sad day when an airline that’s supposed to take you places you’ve never been so you can learn new things about the world does something like this. This meaning use a giraffe to represent Ghana when giraffes are not native to Ghana. Considering all the great zoos in America, I bet we have more giraffes in the USA than there are in Ghana.

Ghana is one of the recent economic success stories in Africa and one of Africa’s cultural hubs. I know people who have visited or lived there – even 10 years ago – they love Ghana. Representing the country with a giraffe perpetuates the false stereotype that Africa has nothing really redeeming except its wildlife.

I’m all for celebrating the US soccer victory – it’s always unclear just how many victories we will get to enjoy – but I suggest we replace this:

Delta airlines gets it all wrong about Gahana

Click the thumbnail to enlarge

with this:

Now I want to go to Ghana!

Boeing 787 and every new model plane unreliable?

Interesting article here about Boeing 787 Dreamliner problems in general and Norwegian Air’s recent issues with Boeing quality control in particular.

Personally, there’s one quote in there from Andrew Thomas that kind of scares me: “the magnitude, scale, and scope of the supply chain involved; the number of parts and systems; and the just-in-time nature of the manufacturing process guarantees that, like almost every other human endeavor, there will be imperfections and errors.”

Well remind me not to fly on any new model airplanes!

I also have to wonder why airlines line up to order the newer models. Norwegian Air is leasing planes from Airbus when the new Boeing’s break down. I’m not business expert, but that doesn’t sound efficient. And it doesn’t sound like the airlines should be surprised either, if Boeing’s chief project engineer Mike Sinnett is telling it true: “The performance of both of these airplanes — the 787 and the 777 — has been better than any other new large wide-bodies that were introduced into the world’s fleets.”

Are you a trusted traveler and an American citizen?

TSA, in its continuing effort to keep Americans safe while avoiding as much public humiliation as possible, is readying a new program in which select travelers won’t need to take off their shoes, remove their laptops, and so on.

This could make lines at security checkpoints in American airports more efficient. Personally, I would like to be a trusted traveler for the status – I would like to leave my shoes on while everybody else gets their socks dirty.

According to the comments, you pay $85 for this status and to keep your socks clean. Interesting that I was unable to find that bit of information in the article but poor reporting is nothing new, is it? If the comments are correct, I think improved status will continue to elude me because I’m cheap.

From the article: Passengers who are eligible for PreCheck include U.S. citizens of frequent traveler programs who are invited to apply by participating airlines. The airlines include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.

Additionally, U.S. citizens who are members of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program and Canadian citizens who are members of the NEXUS expedited travel program qualify to participate.

TSA, of course, reserves the right to randomly force a trusted traveler to go through the normal security hoops.

Would you pay $85 to become a Trusted traveler? Assume for the purposes of this question that you meet all eligibility requirements.

Canadian man fights airlines in court and wins

A Wall Street Journal blog entry has a pretty cool story about an unemployed math professor who has been spending his time fighting airlines in court. Apparently in Canada the government does even less than the American government to protect passengers so Gabor Lukacs takes them to court. And wins.

In this latest effort, he challenged what I presume is a small airline called Air Transat. The airline did not want to take responsibility or compensate passengers for missed connections and rescheduled flights. Now they must thanks to Mr. Lukacs and Canadian courts.