July 8, 2014 | Kendall Creighton Under The Microscope Tuesday, July 8, 2014 New security threats, crowded airports, packed planes, costly luggage fees, data-mined passengers… a happiness blanket? And that was just the news last week. Just before the holiday weekend, the Department of Homeland Secuirty declared that uncharged mobile phones, especially iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy, won’t be allowed on United States-bound flights from Europe, Africa and the Middle East in response to reports of an increased threat from Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. The intelligence obtained by the US suggests that a bomb could be taken through airport security in a laptop or tablet computer, or concealed in shoes. Therefore passengers heading for America can expect their shoes to be screened, and any electronic devices to be closely inspected. The US believes the threat will come from returning “foreign fighters” who have been with the rebels in Syria. They think the perpetrators will have Western passports. More Privacy Invasion Not only will the TSA scrutinize you more, but now the airlines will too. An International Air Transport Association (IATA) sponsored program called “New Distribution Capability” was quietly approved by the DOT last month which now paves the way for the wholesale mining of airline passenger data. And you were worried about the NSA collecting metadata? Now the airlines want to find out who you are while you’re pricing airfares. It’s all about cross-selling, up-selling, advertising and data mining. The plan is that airlines and travel agents will have you enter all your personal info before you get the airlines’ airfare quote. They want to know where you shop, your age, zip code, marital status and will give you a price quote based on your habits. For example, if you are shopping at high-end places, they may determine that you can pay a higher fare, and then only display higher fares. Whereas if you were previously shopping at low-end places, they may only display low end fares. They say you will have a choice and you won’t have to provide the personal info, but then you’ll likely get only higher airfare quotes. In short, it is about the airlines doing everything possible to limit the ability of their customers to shop for the lowest available fares. The airlines employed this stealthy, back door approach with checked bag fees. When they first appeared, they were only a modest two dollars per bag. But that quickly escalated once the airlines gained acceptance for the practice and it quickly shot up anywhere from $25 to $100 a bag. This is a big red flag. Privacy advocates need to jump on this one soon. Mood Ring For The Body As if there was any question about the mood of passengers after beeing fleeced by fees, crawling through lines of security and then squashed into tiny seats, British Airways is testing a “happiness blanket” that will convey customers’ “meditative state” throughout the flight. The airline began testing the hi-tech blanket which changes color using brainwaves, to ensure it offers customers the “best flight’s sleep in the sky”. Each blanket has fiber optics woven into the material and measures electrical fluctuations in the brain. These fluctuations are recorded through a headpiece worn by the passenger and are sent via Bluetooth to the fiber optics in the blanket. When a flier feels anxious or uneasy, the blanket turns red, and when the flier is relaxed and happy, the blanket turns blue. Or, perhaps the airlines could just offer better customer service to begin with – call us crazy! Your Letters! Dear FlyersRights President, Paul Hudson: I am a supporter of Flyers Rights, and I am very glad you have taken over from Kate. I did not want the organization to die when Kate left. It is so difficult to organize consumers, and I think your newsletters are excellent. I wish you success. I wonder why consumers are so thoughtless. Soon whole trips will be nonrefundable, for example, given the success of nonrefundable hotel room rates. Don’t consumers know where that is taking us? I can’t understand them. Here is a story of our last flight yesterday. We went from Chicago to Denver. It isn’t earthshaking, but it is one more stress point for us as we fly. My husband is a million-mile flyer. We have gold cards. He was upgraded 24 hours before, and I was #1 on the upgrade list, only to be dropped to #2 a few hours before we boarded. The new #1 person did get upgraded. Bad luck for me. I think it may have something to do with the fact that she might have paid more for the ticket, one more new factor that dilutes our power as flyers for UAL. I then asked for and got my seat moved up to where my husband’s seat was. I’d be a little closer to the front I should say I am a nervous flyer. He did offer to change with me, but I said no. A family of 6 came onto the plane – husband and wife and 4 little girls. They explained to the attendant as they boarded that they had a problem in that their seats were all over the plane and in emergency rows. I am seated in an aisle reading. The middle seat is empty. The window is occupied by a UAL pilot or crew member. We say to each other, “Too bad, but I know that seat is going to get filled.” Little did we know. Next, an attendant comes up to us and asks us if one of us would move to row 23. The mom is standing there smiling with the 2-year-old in her arms. The pilot and I look at each other. I say I don’t really want to do that. He looks reluctant. I say, “Look, if you don’t do it, I will do it.” The neighboring passengers were looking at us, glaring now at me for having said no. Now the older girl has the window and the mom the middle seat, with the baby in her arms. The dad is now seated with the other girls behind me. They want my seat. A flight attendant asks me to move back to the emergency row. I say I don’t want to sit in the emergency row. The flight attendant asks if I will sit across my aisle in 12 C if the 12C guy will move to the emergency row. I say ok. It feels to me like the entire plane is now glaring at me. I should say that I am a thin-skinned person, but I try to stand my ground, too. It was a horrible flight. The dad says to his 4 year-old that “some people are more helpful than other people.” I want to say, “Look! I am scared of flying. I want to be as close to the front as I can. There are things you don’t know.” I do in fact say this to him later, and he says he wasn’t thinking of me when he said some people were helpful than others. Hmm. OK. I later try talking to the flight attendant about the way the issue was handled. She is totally unsympathetic and very defensive. “I just asked,” she says. “Think of the family and the mom etc. etc,” all of which I acknowledge but repeat that there has to be a better way of handling the issue than the way it happened. I got nowhere. When I got home I tried something. I made a reservation under the name of Tom Smith, Susan Smith and 4 little girls whose ages I tried to duplicate. When it came time to seat select, I put the 6 of them all over the plane. It worked. Even though UAL knew the ages, it allowed me to seat all 6 people in separate areas. I then called the premier line and got a totally unsympathetic woman on the phone. “Oh yes, she added, they could have reserved kids in the emergency row, too. The day of the flight, that would get changed. Yes, it is true we ask for the ages, but that is just for security.” I asked how it would get changed, given that flights are pretty well booked now She said it would get changed just the way it did. “You just say no, ” she said. The way I see it, UAL is more and more leaving everyone in the cabins to fend for themselves in situations set up for unpleasantness, or worse. If UAL is going to abdicate responsibility, the least it could do in such situations is Make an announcement over the whole system explaining the situation and asking if there were 3 people in a row willing for the sake of this family to move. Ask people in the back, not the front, to move so that at least they will have gained something rather than lost something. There is no reason, other than $$, given that UAL knows the ages, that it cannot create a program that would block such reservations. Do you think there is another reason? I hope you have stuck with me through this. Given the age we are now in, this story must seem trivial. It wasn’t to me though. I can sympathize with the family even if it made the reservation just hoping it would work out. It is the airlines that I think ought to take responsibility here. “”Good luck with that,” our son will say when I tell him what happened. He is young enough to have NO expectations. Best, CS Dear CS, Thank you for your letter of support. Kate did a phenomenal job in founding and building FlyersRights.org into the largest and only true mass membership based airline passenger organization and I am honored to be able to continue and build on her tireless effort. But to continue and grow so that passengers are both respected and treated fairly requires frequent flyers especially give financially and/or with volunteer time and expertise. This they sometimes forget to do. FlyersRights.org is the only airline passenger group with a free hotline, weekly newsletter and a Washington DC office for advocacy. We suggest frequent fliers give 1% of their air travel budget and 10-20 hours per year in volunteer time. FlyersRights.org receives no government funding or major foundation support and does not spend precious limited resources on fundraising. We do not sell or push travel products. Instead we depend on you the air traveler. Family seating is made worse because airlines now manipulate seating charts to hide available seats and end up scattering families and inconveniencing others to maximize fee revenue. This is another form of deception of passengers that needs to be stopped by the DOT as an unfair and deceptive practice. Sincerely, Paul Hudson President FlyersRights.org Dear FlyersRights: Sitting on tarmac at Newark for 6:15 flight to paris. United flt 904. First they said it was no AC. Now it is no navigation system. Now no word. 9:30 pm. Are they waiting so we can’t rebook ? They said to attendants they were going to test navigation system. But are telling us paperwork. What do we do? Have job in Paris. Must be there. Dear SR, Thanks for writing. I’m copying our Hotline Director, Joel Smiler, on this email. For international flights, by hour number 4 you must be allowed to deplane. Keep notes on everything, to use for possible reinbursement, and send a copy to FlyersRights. Sincerely, Kendall Creighton FlyersRights.org Thank you for your response. I really appreciate it your being there. They did allow us to deplane finally but the ridiculous stories they told us were insulting. Prior to boarding at 6:15 and shortly before we were to take off, they told us there was a problem with the ac and that it was still too hot to board. About an hour later after they kept changing the times we boarded. Then the fun really began. They now said nothing about the ac which was freezing and said there was a problem with the navigation system. Over the evening of being stuck there with no food, we were given no information or very lengthy ones by the pilot that made no sense. “The system needed rebooting from Chicago” “it really isn’t broken – just shows up that way” “now it is fixed but we have to do paper work””we have to get in line now” “these technicians are coming onboard to fix it” etc etc. A very surly boss at the gate yelled at us and said to those of us who wanted our bags to try and find another airline that if we took our bags we could not reboard which he estimated would be in 20 minutes since the problem was fixed and could not guarantee reimbursement. Then he said we could not have our bags anyway since that would make the plane late for everyone else. A couple of agents tried to help us and rebooked a few of us on flights for the 6th. We were then told to reboard around 10:30 -11pm and of course you know what it is coming. After 40 minutes they said the plane was fixed but the crew had to leave. Before deboarding, we had asked the crew and they told us that they were fine with the time but weren’t so sure about the pilot.When we saw the pilot as we left the airport, he said he was fine to stay time-wise. We were told that we could not have our luggage which is now stored at Newark and we are rebooked for tonight the 6th on the same flight. They said our bags will be transferred to the flight and would probably get there. We had to pay $50 to get home by taxi and today we will have to pay for car service again. Basically, we were lied to all evening. I purchased a business class full fare ticket and my husband paid $2137 and used miles for an upgrade to Business Class. I am a consulting corporate psychologist and I am working in Paris during fashion week. If I don’t get there on time, which now will be Monday and it will be fun trying to function that day, I will lose a lot of money. My clent company is unlikely to reimburse my flight if I don’t make it. Furthermore my luggage has everything I need for fashion week which is what I work on for my client. The worst part of this experience was the lying, the hostile manager and the silly flight attendants who were chatting amongst themselves all evening and did not offer any food. During the final ten minutes, a woman said do you have any food and they looked shocked and put out a box of crackers!!! This was after a day of things all going wrong at Newark. Check-in was also a disaster as was security and even the lounge was a nightmare. I know it was a holiday weekend but everyone who was working – and there was a skeleton crew and long lines everywhere – was not able to do their jobs. Again most wanted to chat amongst themselves. United had 2 people trying to help people in BC check-in with machines and the line piled up. We finally got a Skycap to check us in. You get the gist of it – we felt like we were in an alien nation and perhaps we were and still are. Thank you for all you do. Best -SR Dear FlyersRights: We must pursue ALL remedies on the latest Spirit Airlines tarmac fiasco! Please help the affected passengers in obtaining counsel and suing; file complaints with regulators, and contact Congress for corrective legislation. Too, obtaining or even paying for media coverage and focus, should be pursued. Keep us posted on what you and other advocates are doing about this. WE MUST MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF SPIRIT! -HR Dear FlyersRights: If a flight has mechanical problems, and the airline has to get another plane, is there any compensation if you arrive at your destination more than two hours late? Or, is the compensation only for those who are bumped but the flight is not cancelled or rescheduled? -RS Dear RS, That is correct. At this time, there is no compensation for mechanical delays. Compensation is required by law only when you are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold. Airlines almost always refuse to pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight. However, if FlyersRights passes our “Bill of Rights 2.0” in Congress, it does cover delays due to mechanical problems or crew shortages. Sincerely, Kendall Creighton FlyersRights.org Dear FlyersRights: (In response to: Not In It For The Long Haul) Great story on the 787 early ETOPS approval. This should shed some light on why Boeing moved, just their headquarters, from the nice state they were in to a place like downtown Chicago. Its all pay for play, to get your way. Being in the right place and giving to the right politicians and the right unions will get you a lot in this corrupt city. I live here. -DC Dear FlyersRights: This is the report I sent to Air india on July 3rd 2014: I think it should be mandatory for travel agents to include a note on passengers’ rights along with their ticket. I am glad to see that USA travelers will be getting a bill of rights, and hope it will become international before too long. REPORT BEGINS: We boarded Dreamliner Air India at 130 from LHR – MUM on 1st July 2014. The flight was to leave at 1330 hrs. Passengers included one elderly lady in a wheelchair, one pregnant lady, 7 or 8 babies, several children under 14, and a number of elderly passengers. Our plane was delayed due to a technical fault. We were served food around 1430hrs, but deplaned only around 1800hrs. We were taken back through immigration and left to stand in the exit lobby for 3 hours. We were bused to Heston Hotel, but no accommodation was available. We were told to eat, but there was no food. After waiting outside for over an hour we were bused to accommodation in Bentley Hotel, reaching well past midnight. No meal was provided. Next day (July 2nd) we were bused after breakfast to Heston Hotel for lunch at 1200hrs, then to the original departure lounge at LHR. Flight was first scheduled for 1430. then 1600hrs. At 1900hrs we were given meal vouchers. Finally we boarded after 2200hrs. The flight took off at 1130 hrs, 31 hours late. At no time was information given voluntarily. Air India agents left it to LHR staff to take the brunt of angry passengers. No provision was made for passenger comfort, particularly families with small children, and the elderly. Passengers were made to stand for hours in areas where there was little or no seating. No effort was made to provide meals at reasonable intervals. We had to ask for vouchers. Passengers were not informed about the plan of action, resulting in frayed tempers. Our luggage was not handed over to us. Passengers were not informed of their rights, if any. Additional comments: Aisle seat 11c restricts free passage quite severely. Passengers occupying this seat are frequently trodden on and bumped by boarding/disembarking passengers. Many passengers did not know how to flush the toilets, resulting in filthy conditions. Instructions must be given along with the safety check. Buttons operating screen, light, etc on the inside of the armrest can be accidentally knocked. Hello Jane, The EU and UK provides more rights to compensation than those in the US. You should check www.euclaim.com and file a complaint. You are due compensation for your delayed flight. Joel Joel J Smiler DVM Hotline Director www.flyersrights.org (Followup:) It was indeed shocking. I am over 70, and am still recovering from the fatigue. There were a number of passengers who were my age or older. They all looked utterly exhausted. Some leaflets were handed out the following morning (july 2nd) saying that we could fly by another carrier, but since we didn’t have our luggage only two people with urgent meetings took this up. In any case we had no idea when we would be asked to board – in 10 minutes or 10 hours. There was no suggestion that we could claim compensation. There were few apologies. The Heathrow staff did what they could but I guess most of the decisions were Air India’s. When you think about it, passengers become virtual hostages once they have checked in. Their baggage has vanished, and they are often no longer in contact with their families. The mobile phone has made this easier, but if you are in transit you may not have a signal. I don’t think many passengers know that you are entitled to any phone calls. Passengers MUST be informed of their rights. They should be printed on the ticket – and not in small print either. Frankly, I will never fly Air India again. We have had a long and unhappy association (I was delayed 24 hours last year too). I was attending my mother’s funeral. At the height of the holiday season, AI was the only airline with tickets. Nor will I willingly fly by Dreamliner… it sounds a thoroughly unreliable plane. It was great to have leg room and a slightly wider seat than some planes i have flown on, I loved the blue windows and the lid-down flush (though they do need to put some graphics demonstrating how this works) – but I found the toilets claustrophobically small. Row 11’s c and h seats should never have been there. Their position means that the occupant gets a good bashing as passengers go by. I note that in most planes the seats adjacent to the door are two, not three. Yes, please do include my report. I don’t think Air india will want to have it publicised, but passengers should be aware that airlines will do as little as possible for you if your flight is delayed, unless you make a huge fuss. Dear FlyersRights: My 6 year old granddaughter was diagnosed on April 1st with stage 3 rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer. She has been at Saint Jude in Memphis since that time. Saint Jude flew her and her mom to Jacksonville FL on Sunday, June 29th where she was to start treatment at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute on the 30th.They flew out of Memphis and everyone there was great. They had a layover in Charlotte NC and that is where the trouble started. Their flight was delayed twice and then eventually canceled. By the time she got through the line at customer service the only flight to Jacksonville was full. She asked if they would see if someone on that flight would let them have their seats so that she could get her daughter to Jacksonville. She was already behind on medication and didn’t have any feeds with her. She was told no. Then the nurse from Jacksonville asked to speak to the manager to explain the situation, as if it were not obvious, and was told that they would not speak to her. So they were put on a flight to Daytona. My son in-law then had to drive to Daytona to pick them up, after he had driven from Memphis to Jacksonville thinking her would pick them up at the airport there. Then to top that off, they lost their luggage, which had everything for 2 months in Florida and medications. They keep getting told that their luggage will be delivered at certain times, and needless to say it hasn’t come yet, and now they can’t even get anyone to talk to them. They were treated very poorly by the US Airways staff during what is already a very trying situation. We don’t want to see anyone else go through this. I will attach a picture of my granddaughter and you will see that it is obvious that they weren’t on a fun trip to Florida. She needed to get to Jacksonville as soon as possible. Thank you, VR Dear VR, For what it is worth I would write a letter of complaint to USAirways customer relations (found on their website), tell your story on their twitter page, and send a complaint to the US Department of Transportation at www.dot.gov/airconsumer . Sorry for your troubles with the airline. You did not need that. Joel Joel J Smiler DVM Hotline Director www.flyersrights.org FlyersRights.org depends on your tax-dedcutible contribution. Thank you. Kate Hanni, founder with Paul Hudson, President Like what you’re reading? Get the best of FlyersRights’ articles, links and conversation, delivered each week to your inbox. Send your comments to the newsletter editor, Kendall Creighton. Thank you!