We are in a revolutionary moment.
Air travel today is like a pot that’s beginning to boil. In fact, it’s already boiling.
All sorts of indicators are there that show flyers are being pushed to the limit: air-rage, ‘knee defenders’, new sardine seating schemes, Economy ‘minus’, high bag fees, meaningless frequent-flyer programs and now, airline price collusion.
Though, the most harrowing part of the journey may be the line to the plane through security.
FlyersRights is well-known for criticizing the DOT, FAA and airlines for failing Americans, but this is particularly felt at TSA – a no-man’s-land of lost civil liberties.
Flyers know that complaints or resistance here just make things worse and have no practical effect, other than missing the flight or potential ‘payback’ on the next flight. Hence you have no rights.
Beware of the power of media propaganda to turn passengers against themselves.
Social and mainstream media are good at getting us to blame each other for everything from carry-ons to air-rage.
Here’s a compilation of the type of calamities we get at FlyersRights:
Passenger X waits 90 minutes in a check-in line because Airline X decided to cut its staff to about a third of what it needs to be. When Passenger X finally gets to the check-in counter, they’ve missed their flight and the next one is six hours away, plus it’s oversold.
After waiting several hours, an announcement blares that the plane is delayed by weather (but really mechanical or crew shortage, though the airline won’t admit that to avoid paying out refunds or hotel costs). Then the flight is cancelled, and the next one isn’t until tomorrow.
So Passenger X and 250 others are stranded in the terminal overnight or have to pay for lodging at their own expense. A call to the airline’s 800 number results in a long hold-time and a customer service representative declaring there’s nothing they can do.
The next day, after being bumped off of two earlier flights, Passenger X gets on the flight that should have left 18 hours ago. And instead of seat 32F that was requested, they get 15B and are sardined for 5 hours. They then snap at the person in front who reclines their seat.
Passenger X gets escorted off the plane by police upon arrival and is now another air-rage statistic for “inexcusable conduct”.
But who’s really to blame?
America’s Airline Oligopoly
Once upon a time, the U.S. airline industry was a service industry. Airlines competed with each other based upon their superior customer service. In the 1970s and 80s, dozens of carriers controlled air travel in America. In 1990 the number had dropped to 12. Today, consolidation has left just four major carriers – Southwest, American, Delta and United.
Due to past multiple airline mergers as well as fortress hubs, the few remaining major airlines have become an oligopoly (and a monopoly on some routes). They can get away with price gouging and poor customer service because there are few other options.
FlyersRights gets many passenger complaints about poor service, often saying they will “never fly ___ Airlines again!” Yet, due to lack of choice, they are trapped.
Then last month at a meeting of the International Air Transport Association airline executives talked about ‘capacity discipline’, a new buzzword for limiting flights and seats to drive higher prices and fatter profit margins. This year discipline is working: the I.A.T.A. recently projected that the airline industry profits would double this year to nearly $30 billion, a record.
Global alliances play this game too. Has anybody bought a ticket to Europe in the past few months for example? It used to be you could fly to there for under a thousand, and now it’s minimum two thousand for a round-trip this summer.
At A Tipping Point
The system is broken. The reform process has been hijacked by corporations.
When FlyersRights helped pass the Tarmac Delay Rule
in 2009, it took eighteen months to federally regulate this aspect of the airline industry.
These proposed improvements seek to define and address seat space, airfare fees, frequent flyer programs, airport governance and include greater consumer protections.
It also aims to protect travelers from the airlines’ abusive practices, including overbooking, rebooking, ticket refunds, cancelled and delayed flights, lost luggage and misleading advertisements on fares.
But we can’t do this alone. We need your support more than ever! Please consider joining us with a contribution to FlyersRights.org.