Hub Bub

                                  Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The airlines are not about mass transportation, get used to it.    
That was the message from United Airlines’ CEO Jeff Smisek on Saturday when he announced that the airline will eliminate its Cleveland hub.  

“Our hub in Cleveland hasn’t been profitable for over a decade, and has generated tens of millions of dollars of annual losses in recent years,” Smisek states. “We simply cannot continue to bear these losses.”

Meanwhile, United’s website is boasting it made huge profits in 2013: “UAL Reports $1.1 Billion Full-Year 2013”.
Two years ago, after merging with Continental Airlines, United Continental Holdings Inc. signed an agreement to keep its hub and 90 percent of its flights at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. 
In 2012 a United spokesman said, “United is proud to call Cleveland a hub and serve the city’s business and leisure travelers. We continue our partnership with local business and community leaders to provide viable and sustainable air service for Cleveland.”
Similar cutbacks have affected many other small hubs in cities such as Memphis, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City amid a wave of airline mergers over the last five years. 
It is not a coincidence that this announcement came after the USAirways/American competition was eliminated. The door was opened for all the carriers to reduce service and raise prices.
In 2012 David LaRue, president and chief executive of Forest City Enterprises Inc., told The Plain Dealer, “I can’t overstate the importance the hub has for us.
“Since we are a national real estate company, being able to get from Cleveland to multiple markets that they service directly — like Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas — is a huge benefit just in terms of efficiency,” he said. “Those are the core markets where we do business.”
Paul Hudson, FlyersRights’ president said, “After every merger, the weaker merged out airline has hubs and facilities eliminated. The remaining Midwest hub airports are Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit.”
“However, the need for hub airports has been reduced by use of small regional jets flying up to 1,200 miles point to point, often nonstop. Hub airports used to collect passengers from regional prop planes flying from smaller cities. Now passengers must increasingly drive 80 to 150 miles to the nearest airport with network service,” he said.
“Clevelanders will now, more often, be driving 140 miles to Pittsburgh or 50 miles to Akron-Canton airports, have fewer choices, and longer travel times,” he said.
Several cities have lost service recently. United’s announcment of the de-hubbing of Cleveland follows Delta’s shut down of the Memphis hub last year, and Cincinatti before that. American shut down the old TWA St Louis hub and USAirways downgraded Pittsburg. 
United stock is up 21% in 2014, after rising about 19% last year. 
Frequent Flyer Programs Crashing

Airline Frequent Flyer programs are slowly crashing due to consolidation and lowcost airlines making them obsolete.  

But before they’re completely phased out, the airlines are seeking to mine this revenue bubble for maximum return by selling excessive amounts of miles to hundreds of credit card and airline “partners” for 1.3 cents per mile, while reducing the benefits to passengers to about 0.1 cents per mile.

Now, the sale of frequent flyer miles by airlines rivals revenue received from regular air fares.

Frequent flyer miles have been analogized to a currency.  But this dinero is subject to hyper inflation and devaluation as the issuer airlines reject use for air travel nine out of ten times, and reserve the right to devalue or eliminate all value at will.

FlyersRights is calling for reform to eliminate the unfair and deceptive practices of frequent flyer programs.  We advise passengers to cash in miles for air travel benefits now before they are devalued further. (Please see our Airline Passenger Bill of Rights nos. 25-27)
If you do not have sufficient miles for air travel, then consider combining or donating miles for a tax deduction.  

“I Saw You Naked And Yes, We Were Laughing.” 

A TSA Agent Dishes the Dirt

by former TSA officer Jason Edward Harrington, and it is alarming, but just what FlyersRights has been saying for years. 
He gives an inside look at why TSA makes air-travel so miserable for Americans. Throughout the piece Harrington emphasizes one thing: TSA is a joke.
In particular, the full-body scanners that passenger are forced to walk in and hold their hands above their head in the name of security, but look as if they’re under arrest, are a giant waste of time.

“We enjoyed laughing at passengers’ naked bodies”, says the Ex-TSA agent, confirming everyone’s fears.
He tells how TSA agents worried about radiation levels from the machines just like passengers but had to repeat the official government line, that everything was safe.
Harrington worked at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from 2007 until 2013 but then quit and is now writing a book about his time as an agent.

He confirms many of the suspicions about airport security screeners: they stop passengers for having an attitude, they confiscate snow globes from children and nail clippers from pilots, they profile passengers based on their nationality. 
And yes, they do see travelers naked in the X-ray photos.   
As the long-suffering American public waited in security lines, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues. | AP
‘Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible.
Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern-their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area,’ he wrote in the Politico article.
‘All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.’
The TSA issued a statement in response, saying: ‘Many of the TSA procedures and policies referenced in this article are no longer in place or are characterized inaccurately.’   
Harrington translated the underhanded code, words used by the agents to alert their friends to an attractive passenger approaching the line.
Fanny Pack Lane 2 and Alfalfa are both used to give a heads-up about an attractive woman headed towards the agents. Code Red and Yellow Alert are also used in the same way, depending on the color of her clothing. 
While the overly-detailed pictures provided entertainment for the screeners, Harrington writes that the expensive machines did little else. 

Even when a representative from the machine manufacturer came to give the TSA agents a tutorial on the $150,000 machines, he admitted that they barely worked.  
Harrington tells how anything can get past the X-ray machines and agents regularly got back at annoying passengers by having them go through extra checks.
‘He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket,’ Harrington wrote.
A number of agents became concerned about the amount of secondary radiation they were being put through by working next to the machines day-in and day-out, even though they regularly toed the party line that it was safe when passengers asked them the same question.
While he expressed empathy to alarmed pregnant women, they were told to go through the machine anyway.
The more serious allegations that came through in his piece came to his description of the not-so-random security checks of ‘suspicious’ passengers.
A number of boarding passes have a code- SSSS- printed on them based on the passenger’s name, indicating that they are on a watch list or have been flagged up for whatever reason.
Beyond that, a passenger’s nationality could also automatically prove reason for an extra-thorough check and each TSA agent is given a list of a dozen countries that they should memorize (or pin to the back of their shield badge for safe keeping): Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan, Cuba,  Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan.
Conspicuously absent from that list? Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two countries with a history of harboring terrorists. Harrington explained that the slip was not accidental but political.
Political posturing and possible security threats were not the only reasons that you could be selected for an extra search, however, as he also explained that ‘retaliatory wait time’ was a common practice, as agents regularly made the process more difficult when they simply didn’t like your attitude.
‘Pretending that something in your bag or on your full body image needs to be resolved- the punitive possibilities are endless, and there are many tricks in the screener’s bag,’ he wrote.


Public Comments Due This Week on US Airways and American Airlines Merger
FlyersRights has been out front criticizing the Justice Department’s settlement of the American-US Airways merger case, arguing that this deal should be rejected as not in the public interest. 
As we’ve been writing about for weeks, the airlines are making moves to close hubs, reduce frequent flyer programs, cut services and raise fares because of the lack of competition.  
Meanwhile airline stock prices have more than doubled in the past year. 
Also, there has been political pressure by special interests, who stand to benefit at the flying public’s expense from this merger. 
The comment deadline on the Final Judgment of the merger is February 7, 2014.
Please send your comments to:
William Stallings
Transportation, Energy & Agriculture Section
Antitrust Division
Department of Justice
450 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 8000
Washington, DC 20530
telephone: 202-514-9323 
After 23 Years, Eastern Air Lines Hopes To Rise From The Ashes
Yes, we need the competition. 
Just as several cities are losing air service and the number of under-served markets is multiplying, some good news -consumers could have another option when looking for their next flight. 
An airline with a familiar name is looking to fly out of South Florida again.
Eastern Air Lines Group announced last week that it has taken the first step to launching a new airline in Miami and filed paperwork to begin service.
Although the approval process can take up to 18 months, officials with the airline hope to begin flights as early as December.
The Miami-based airline would begin as a provider of charter services and work up to scheduled service when more investors come on-board, Ed Wegel, Eastern Airline CEO tells CNN Money.
Eastern Air Lines was founded in 1928 and earned a reputation as the major carrier along the East Coast. The airline filed for bankruptcy protection in 1989 and stopped service as a result of labor unrest and a drop in air travel following the Gulf War.
The group of former airline personnel purchased rights to the Eastern name and logo from bankruptcy court in 2009, but couldn’t begin the process to restart service until receiving several millions of dollars from investors.

Read More:

Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights

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