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A Job Well Done, 
But Still Far To Go

December 8, 2015 

Back in December 2006, in what now seems like a simpler but more lawless time, FlyersRights was born.
We’re
approaching the ninth anniversary of the organization, which began with
the formation of a definitive piece of government regulation. the
3-Hour Tarmac delay Rule. This unglamorous but critical piece of
legislation saw millions of passengers clash with Washington insiders
and airline executives.

FlyersRights
was doing groundbreaking work, focusing squarely on the issue of
passenger strandings, which wasn’t being taken seriously and not central
to political discourse. In the spring of 2010 the US Department of
Transportation began imposing severe penalties against airlines that
kept passengers stranded onboard aircraft during lengthy tarmac delays.

So
far this winter, as snowstorms have delayed thousands of flights, this
rule has helped ease countless of frustrated travelers. Comfort that
wasn’t going to be provided voluntarily by the airlines, so the DOT
rightfully stepped in

So
the airlines have changed, yet customers have never been more unhappy.
The Air Travel Consumer Report from the U.S. Department of
Transportation finds that in the first six months of this year,
complaints from air travelers were up 20 percent  over the same timeframe in 2014. It’s nothing short of amazing that as airline profits and revenues go through the roof, customer service is worse than ever.

The
usual scenerio is if you’re unhappy with a business, you can take your
money elsewhere, but that’s long gone for passengers. Following several
rounds of mergers over the last seven years, 85 percent of the nation’s air traffic is reduced to four airlines – American, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

Challenging the Oligarchy
An
oligopoly is where there are a few firms and involves substantial
market power. Thankfully, this summer, the Department of Justice has
launched its own investigation into America’s major airlines, which it
suspectsed of collusion in order to fleece passengers out of billions.

Much
like the case of broadband Internet. Many of us are at the mercy of our
local cable company for Internet service. Resulting in broadband that
is both slower and far more expensive in the US than in other countries.

Yet,
high airline profits aren’t helping make the average air travelers
experience better. Just like the oligopoly dominating your local
Internet service – their big profits aren’t an incentive to invest in
faster networks – it’s the other way around, they have less incentive to
upgrade service than if there was more competition and lower profits

Here are a few ways the oligolipy airlines make your flight an overpriced nightmare. FlyersRights addresses these our proposed Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0:
Charging unreasonable fees for checked baggage.

American commercial airlines are expected to record a combined net profit of $13.2 billion in 2015 according to IATA off
of fees on checked luggage. Which is a huge haul by any measure, but
particularly noteworthy considering bags used to be free.

Most
airlines now require $25 for one piece of checked luggage, with costs
increasing for each additional bag, and reaching as high as $200.
JetBlue, which for years separated itself from the bunch with free
baggage check, u-turned and began charging for checked bags this past
summer. That leaves Southwest as the lone airline that doesn’t charge
for checked bags.

Charging unreasonable fees for ticket changes.

The
industry standard for ticket change fees for American commercial
flights is now averaging $200. (For some international flights, that
figure can rise to $300 and more.) This has earned the airlines a
collective $3 billion in flight change fees between June of 2014 and
2015.

Being late. 

Yes,
it’s true that poor weather and aircraft maintenance can throw off
flight times, it’s also true that some delays are completely
unnecessary.
The Air Quality Rating report,
released in April of this year, found that industry on-time arrival
percentages worsened between 2013 and 2014, dropping from 78.4 percent
to 76.2 percent.

Some
offenders were far worse than others. Spirit continued its streak of
worst at everything; its flights have only a 50-50 chance of arriving
within 15 minutes of schedule.

United was a distant second, with 33.7 percent of its flights arriving late to their destination.

Booking (and overbooked) flights.

Sardined flights have a many obvious downsides, among them “boarding
headaches, overhead bin shortages and increases in involuntary
bumping.” When airlines overbook flights, customers usually lose.
Between 2013 and 2014, there was an increase of 3 percent in customers that were bumped from flights

Expensive ticket prices.

Remember
a few years ago when airfare prices shot up, and
everyone grudgingly went along with it because fuel costs were so high
and it all seemed legitimate? Well, gas prices have nose-dived since
then, yet ticket prices haven’t budged. In fact, domestic fares
actually crept up by about 3 percent last year.

Unbundling services and upselling everything.   

What
is the definition of ‘airfare’? The airlines have reduced the term to
an increasingly meaningless base price with dozens of gotcha fees, which
leads to deceptive advertising.
Small seats getting smaller.
Airlines
are now aggressively reducing seat and passenger space on both new and
existing airliners to squeeze out more revenue, and charging extra for
what had previously been standard seat space, to the point that health
and safety is threatened.

According to USA Today,
“[f]light attendants say it’s harder to provide passengers with medical
care in tightly packed seat rows, and doctors warn of ‘economy class
syndrome,’ or deep vein thrombosis, which can afflict passengers who
can’t move their legs on longer flights.”

Flyersrights
is requesting that Congress establish a minimum standard for seat
pitch. Our petition has been signed by nearly 34,000 people and can be found here .
Air travelers need an advocate now more than ever. Are we up to the challenge?

FlyersRights has never shied away from big ambitions.
Your Letters:
Dear FlyersRights:
Subject: typical airline torture
I’m a longtime supporter.  Just a quick note – if you keep track of experiences like this – to say that my husband has just gotten off a nearly-2-hour phone holding session because his Delta tickets for flights to Canada TOMORROW “changed flight #s” and he was unable to check in. Had to call Delta’s 888#, and was put on hold over and over and over again as the customer service rep (who sounded absolutely clueless) fixed the problem.
He was never notified about this problem via cell phone though his phone is indicated for message alerts.
This has been an incredibly frustrating incident as he’s been trying to handle business before leaving on a long trip very early tomorrow. It seems so typical of the abysmal service we’re all encountering now in this new world of cattle-car airline operations. It’s such a shame, and very discouraging. We used to look forward to travel; now it’s nothing but torture.
In closing, I have to say that Southwest is still the holdout on this for us; we continue to have good experiences, free bags, and smooth checkins w/ Southwest. We try to fly SW whenever we can, sometimes even when it means renting a car and driving a distance if the only alternative is multiple flights on code shares and/or regionals (I don’t fly regionals at all anymore).
Thanks for your great work.
CT
Thanks for your letter. 
If you think passengers need FlyersRights, then we need people to act now. Our goal is to raise at least $40,000 by year end. 
If all members pledged 1% of their travel budget for 2016, or $5 per month, we can get there. Your charity funds a weekly newsletter, a toll free passenger hotline and full-time staffed watchdog advocacy office in DC for passengers.
For those interested in tax deductions and year-end gifting we can offer a direct line access and personal concierge advocacy and air travel assistance well as advice with contributions over $500 .
For contributions of $5,000 or more you can enjoy use a resort condominium at for up to a week in Las Vegas, Sarasota Florida and a host of other locations.
We would like to improve and grow FlyersRights, but that will depend on public support.
You already fund IATA and A4A with your ticket revenue – organizations that oppose nearly all service improvements.
Congress is hopeless cause, with not one out of 535 Members willing to introduce any of our 30 airline passenger improvements, and only interested in measures to further fatten profits and flatten remaining competition. Under the present climate though it could improve next year if FlyersRights gets stronger, and in 2017 when a new President and Congress take office.
Paul Hudson
President, FlyersRights

Video of the Week:
Paul Hudson of FlyersRights on Lost Baggage.
FlyersRights’ Paul Hudson talks to NBC about lost baggage.

Our Acclaim:

  

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