Over Hostile Territory
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
The shooting down of MH17 was a wake up call.

A paramedic walks by a part of fuselage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine.
It called attention to the fact that commercial airliners fly over conflict zones and that codesharing means passengers may not be aware of the airline they’re flying on when they book a flight.
Many people are asking: What was an airliner doing flying over a war zone? 
Technically, MH17 was flying where it was supposed to, which indicates a larger failure.
Taking A Gamble
Three hundred planes were scheduled to fly over Ukraine on the day MH17 was shot down, despite warnings to airlines about ‘serious risks to safety’. 
On May 3rd, the FAA issued a Notice to Airman (NOTAM) prohibiting flight operations in Ukrainian airspace “over the Crimean Peninsula and the associated Ukrainian territorial sea, as well as international airspace managed by Ukraine over the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.”
Experts questioned Malaysia’s choice to fly near the fighting, when some airlines had been circumventing the country for weeks after warnings from authorities. That list included British Airways, Qantas, Korean Air, Asiana and all U.S. carriers. 
Aviation experts said that the reason some airlines continued to fly over Ukraine despite the warnings were because it offered a shorter route that saved fuel. Malaysian officials denied that was their motive.

Joshua Marks, CEO of aviation-data firm masFlight, calculated that flying over Ukraine instead of around the country saved Malaysia Airlines up to $1,500 per flight in fuel, or 2 percent, and shaved about 10 minutes off the trip.


KLM said in a statement it “avoids flying over the concerned territory”. FlyersRights asked KLM whether this is an old or new policy. The airline did not return our call for comment. 
We are forced to wonder whether those doomed passengers would still be alive today if they had chosen to fly on KLM and not Malaysia Airlines.
Codeshare Confusion
How many passengers were traveling on KLM tickets? 
KLM’s primary codeshare partner on this route is Malaysia. Few travelers bother to check the fine detail of their flight and who is operating it.
What responsibility does a codeshare airline have for its ticketed passengers – some of whom are traveling unknowingly on airplanes serviced and operated by vastly different companies?
Huge Threat to Aviation
What about possible threats to airliners overflying Iraq and Syria? It’s already known that ISIS terrorists have captured all kinds of equipment, but what if they can get their hands on anti-aircraft systems?

And what about Pakistan? How high is the risk of anti-aircraft systems getting captured by the Taliban in certain areas?
It’s a huge threat to aviation, especially because it would leave so many air routes in danger of being blocked off. If you were to put a no-fly zone across Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Gaza and whatever other trouble spots that may come up, it would severely limit Europe-Asian routes.  
Remarks from FlyersRights president, Paul Hudson:
“Many people don’t realize that flying to Southeast Asia, China, etc. from Europe often means flights over Russia or former Soviet states or the Middle East. With conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, and Afghanistan this is becoming much more dangerous.
Modern missiles possessed by many nations can easily shoot down commercial airliners flying at 30,000+ feet, accidentally or on purpose (e.g. the USS Vincennes shooting down an Iranian Airliner over the Persian Gulf in July 1988, that many think resulted in the retaliation bombing of Pan Am 103 in December killing over 550 total).
Tensions and conflicts are growing rapidly worldwide. Even from the Western US, flying to Asia often involves routes near North Korea and the China Sea where tensions and military confrontations between China, Japan, Vietnam and the US are growing.
The post-Cold War, Pax America era of the 1990s and 2000s is breaking down as the US retreats, Russia reasserts itself in Eastern Europe, South America, the Arctic and elsewhere, China now claims the entire South China Sea as its domain, and the Middle East is in turmoil and war. 
The shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board over war-torn eastern Ukraine is likely to have profound consequences for the world’s airlines.
The main point for passengers should be the ability to protect themselves from unwittingly flying over conflict zones. The right to know the airline you are actually flying on and the route the flight is taking requires that the DOT act to require this disclosure. 

Had it been disclosed to the MH17 (KLM codeshare KL4103) passengers that they would be flying over eastern Ukraine where several military planes have been shot down, many might have declined to fly on this flight. 
Such disclosures to passengers would likely cause such flights to be rerouted or canceled.”
By Friday, snapshots from flight-tracking services showed dense traffic to the west of Ukraine, light traffic over western Russia, and very few planes over Ukraine.

U.S. airlines abandoned the international flying zone over the Eastern Ukraine when war escalated in Eastern Europe months ago, but unfortunately Malaysia Airlines continued to use this air route. 
Eastern Ukraine is a conflict zone where surface to air missiles have been in use since April. The world did not respond to this situation, thinking that this is a conflict involving only Russia, The European Union and the United States.
Should Malaysia Be Allowed To Operate An Airline? 
Much was written about the Malaysian government following the loss of MH370, described as a case study in government incompetence and insularity. 
There’s no margin for mistakes for Malaysia post-MH17, warned a Bloomberg columnist. The Malaysian government cannot afford to make any mistakes in its response to the shooting down of MH17, even though it is not to blame for the tragedy which killed 298 people, said journalist William Pesek. 
He noted that the national carrier was already the target of jokes by international air travelers.
“This company had already become a macabre punch line, something no business can afford in the Internet and social-media age,” said Pesek.
Malaysia has come under an unusual global spotlight, with pressure from foreign media and governments exposing widespread poor management.

The Airlines’ Special Interest Legislation

Don’t you love it when bills come with names that imply they do the opposite of what they actually do? 
Making its way through Congress is H.R. 4156, the “Transparent Airfares Act of 2014” that would only reduce price transparency.  
FlyersRights, along with other major consumer groups have sent a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, urging them to reject the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014.

Your Letters

(Letters to may be published in edited form without further notice with names and contact info protected, unless writer marks the letter, “Not For Publication”.)
In response to last week’s newsletter: 
Dear FlyersRights:

Generally speaking, I am OK with vendors separating their costs from taxes as this tends to keep taxes in check. Case in point: most european countries have creeped up their sales tax to 21% by burying it in the retail price.

However there should be transparency in cost, for example if a fare is $100 and unavoidable taxes are $60, they should be displayed on an equivalent footing: no asterisks, as you say, and same type size. Eg Fly to Orlando for $100 plus $60 in taxes. Or better: Fly to Orlando for $160, includes (snack, pillow and) $60 in taxes.

I appreciate your eagle eye on the way the airlines price tickets.  Next you need to center the cross hairs on the auto rentals at the airports that advertise $34 a day for a car that cost $74 by the time all the “extra fees” and 3 or 4 taxes are applied.  The rental companies quote a bare bones price and then add things like a portion of the registration fee, the airport concession fee, the shuttle cost to the rental lot, etc.  The cities, counties and states don’t like to raise taxes on their citizens but they are good at passing them on to the traveling public.


It never ceases to amaze how lacking airlines and rental car companies are when it comes to disclosure of charges.   
I agree, DP, it does seem like a double standard, going after the airlines,
but the airlines occupy a unique space in American commerce. They can’t be sued in state courts because of federal rulings, so the DOT is the only bulwark against any unfair or deceptive business practices.  
While it’s true that hotels and car renters are also adept at promoting “teaser” rates that don’t immediately disclose the full cost the customer will pay, the anti-transparency act doesn’t deal with that issue, which is in the Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction. Also, airlines don’t compete for customers with hotels and car-rental companies. It’s more likely that they are marketing partners, promoting each other’s services on their websites.
Airline pricing is probably one of the most confusing consumer products, where the price can swing wildly within a week, day, or hour.

While this pricing makes sense to the airlines for yield management, it is extremely consumer unfriendly and very hard for consumers to understand. Almost no other product in the world is priced this way.
You could argue the airlines brought this on themselves; when you nickel and dime consumers to death, you’re bound to eventually get attention. We’ve now reached a point where airlines are trying to sell tickets for $9, but then dumping $100 in “optional” fees on top of that fare. 
Kendall Creighton


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with Paul Hudson, President

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