Experts say travel fees should prevent airport cuts

(MoneyWatch) When U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said this week that the sequester had already caused lines at airports to get longer, her apparent exaggerations set off a storm of criticism. Yet air travel advocates are indeed warning that delays and other travel problems will grow much worse because of the cuts in Transportation Security Administration and other government spending that took effect March 1. And they are furious about one part of the puzzle in particular: Every time passengers fly, they pay significant fees meant to fund everything from customs inspections to TSA pat-downs. Those hefty fees are intended to make the agency self-funded, and they should insulate the TSA from the kind of sharp drop in funding that would require it to suddenly curtail security checks and other service. "Our fees have not been have not been cut one penny, yet we're being threatened with draconian cuts," said Charlie Leocha, the director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, an advocacy group focused on airline travel. Nearly 80 percent of the flying-related costs incurred by the Federal Aviation Administration and DHS are funded by by travel taxes and fees, according to the Consumer Travel Alliance. In 2012, passenger taxes generated $3.8 billion for DHS, with the money funding TSA security and customs and immigration controls. As an example of the heavy fees travelers face, Leocha cited a litany of charges found at the end of one airline ticket from Austin to Washington D.C. -- an excise tax of $77.50, security fee of $5 and facility fee of $9, among others. Those payments are collected by the IRS and distributed to different government agencies. Additional taxes and fees are tacked on for international travel, including separate $17.20 charges for airport arrivals and departures, $7 immigration user fee, and $5 plant and animal inspection fee. Because the fees passengers pay are a separate source of funding from government funding, Continue Reading

Martin Agency Exec Drags UPS Client Into Rant About Delayed Delta Flight

Last Updated Jul 16, 2009 4:48 PM EDT Andy Azula, creative director at The Martin Agency, learned the hard way how not to complain about airline delays after he posted a diatribe against Delta and then -- after it embarrassed himself, his agency and key client UPS -- took it down. Now his blog has filled up with angry reader comments denouncing him as a self-obsessed whiner who thinks that his "Wall Street Journal interview" trumps the nations' ragged air-travel infrastructure. Azula, who is also the star of UPS's "whiteboard" ads, had booked himself and his family on a Delta flight to Atlanta on June 18. The flight was delayed 13 hours and ultimately cancelled. Delta also refused to allow Azula to book himself onto another flight. While his experience sounded frustrating enough to be worthy of a damaging blog post for Delta, Azula checked his humility at the door before typing. (You can read the full, deleted, post after the jump. You can still see a cache of the original blog item here.) He began: I am a frequent-flyer with Platinum status on Delta. And one of your biggest fans. I'm also the guy in those UPS Whiteboard commercials on TV. And I'm not just the actor. I'm also am the creative director at the ad agency who creates the advertising for UPS. After describing Delta's screwups and the fact the the airline didn't give them any food while they waited, Azula wrote: Consequently, I missed a few things in Atlanta: The Direct Marketing Association's conference â€" of which I was the guest speaker. It was a paid event and the DMA was understandably shocked, mortified and embarrassed by the situation. They had to offer refunds to all their attendees. I also missed my Wall Street Journal interview. I also missed my meeting. His kids cried a lot too, he said. The blog item was picked up by Consumerist and then Reddit. But after some initially sympathetic comments, readers turned on Azula. They didn't see a lousy airline needlessly angering its best Continue Reading

Southwest fined for long flight delays

DALLAS - The federal government is fining Southwest Airlines (LUV) $1.6 million for stopping passengers from leaving planes grounded for hours during a winter storm in Chicago in 2014. The storm hit during an increase in employees calling in sick, which the airline has said was widely seen as a protest against stalled contract negotiations. It is a record fine for an airline violating federal rules against long tarmac delays. "Airline passengers have rights, and the Department's tarmac delay rules are meant to prevent passengers from being stuck on an aircraft on the ground for hours on end," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. Southwest will pay $600,000. The airline was given credit for $269,000 it spent to compensate passengers and $431,000 on new equipment, and $300,000 will be waived if Southwest doesn't break the rules again in the next year. The Department of Transportation said Thursday the fine covered 16 planes that were stuck on the ground for at least three hours after landing at Chicago's Midway Airport. Passengers on two of the planes were stranded for more than four hours. The government said that during a winter storm on Jan. 2, 2014, Southwest didn't have enough employees to handle baggage, remove snow, de-ice planes and move the planes to and from gates. Southwest officials said the weather -- the temperature plunged below zero that night and was accompanied by blowing snow, but runways stayed open -- and airport congestion made for challenging conditions. Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said that after the incident, the airline increased staffing and monitoring equipment to prevent a recurrence. Southwest was also dealing with a shortage of ramp workers. In filings related to a union lawsuit in federal court in Dallas, Southwest has said that it was dealing with an "inexplicable increase" in sick calls by Midway ground employees that was widely seen as a protest over stalled contract talks. One-third of the Continue Reading

These are your rights your flight is cancelled or delayed during bad weather

AIRLINE travel can be a very stressful experience - particularly if your flight is delayed or cancelled. In some situations you can be entitled to compensation if your flight has been affected. Here's all you need to know... What are my rights if my flight is cancelled? If your flight is cancelled or delayed, you have a legal right to either a full refund within seven days or a replacement flight. You may also be able to claim compensation if your flight was delayed for three hours or more and you were flying from or to a European airport, or with an EU-based airline such as Ryanair or British Airways. However, airlines are not legally obliged to compensate customers for delays or cancellations in instances where the flight was cancelled due to reasons beyond the airlines control, such as a volcanic eruption, a strike or extreme weather. In the case of strikes or computer glitches, like the one which recently affected BA passengers, you can claim compensation from the airline for cancellations and delays of more than three hours. Some airlines may stretch the definition of the extraordinary circumstances that won't permit them to fly, says consumer body Which?, so if you don't agree that there were extraordinary circumstances you can challenge them. For example, if you are told you can't fly due to weather conditions, but other flights are departing, you may choose to challenge the airline. In most cases, however, the airline doesn't have to pay compensation for flights cancelled as a result of severe weather. If you are not entitled to financial compensation for flight delays in these circumstances, you could be entitled to refreshments at the airport, but this may have to be claimed on your travel insurance. In some cases, travellers are entitled to free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required. If you are struggling to get compensation directly from the airline, contact the Continue Reading

UK snow cancels 500 flights and three airports SHUT DOWN thanks to Storm Emma

PASSENGERS are facing a fifth day in a row of travel chaos today as Storm Emma batters the UK and Ireland - with another 500 departing flights cancelled. 166 flights have been cancelled at Heathrow - with British Airways making up the bulk. Other airlines affected include United and Scandinavian. Dublin Airport has suspended all flights until Saturday morning, cancelling 211 flights in total. 28 flights have been cancelled from Bristol Airport which is shut today until at least midday due to the snowy and stormy weather. Glasgow Airport is now open again after it was forced to entirely shut down yesterday, but 33 flights have been cancelled. Edinburgh Airport is open again too after it shut yesterday due to the weather, though 49 flights are cancelled today. Several more flights have been cancelled at Birmingham, London City, Luton, Manchester and Leeds Bradford airports. These numbers stated are set to rise as the day goes on so it's worth checking with your airline if you're due to fly. These cancellations follow on from travel mayhem yesterday with 2000 flights cancelled across Europe in total. You can also check the status of arrivals in and out of all the UK’s major airports at Skyscanner. Whether you've already booked your tickets or you've been left stranded partway through your journey thanks to the snow, you need to know your rights when it comes to getting your money back. Unfortunately, if your flight is cancelled or delayed by severe weather conditions like ice, snow or fog, you are not entitled to your money back. However if other airlines were operating the same flight on the same day without cancellations then you can put this in writing to the airline. If they refuse to pay out, you can challenge them. It's best to check the status of your flight before setting off to the airport. You can check if your journey is affected by the weather here. Hannah Maundrell, Editor in Chief said: "There is a chance the airline Continue Reading

UK snow cancels 360 flights and three airports SHUT DOWN thanks to Storm Emma

TRAVELLERS face a fourth day of chaos today with the highest number of flight cancellations yet due to the Beast from the East. Stormy and snowy weather conditions have caused more than 360 flights to be cancelled in the country - and Glasgow and Edinburgh airports have had to shut down entirely. British Airways have cancelled 91 flights across the UK due to the weather, with the majority at Heathrow. A British Airways spokesperson has advised those flying to check its website. They said: "Due to the severe weather conditions and restrictions and potential closures at some airports we fly to and from, we have been forced to cancel and merge some of our flights on Thursday and Friday to ensure that we protect the rest of our schedule. "We are keeping customers informed and offering those due to travel up to and including Sunday a range of flexible rebooking options, even if their flight is still due to fly as planned. "We are sorry that the weather this week is leading to some delays and disruption to our schedules. We continue to do all we can minimise the effect the poor weather may have on our flights. "It has been jointly agreed between Heathrow Airport, National Air Traffic Services (NATS) and airlines operating at the airport to reduce the flights schedules on Thursday 1 March. "There will also be an agreed reduction in schedules on Friday 2 March. "This decision has been taken to help give customers more certainty around their travel plans. "Safety is always our priority, and we're working hard to keep our operation moving. "We're sorry that some of our services are being delayed by the weather conditions across the UK and Europe but many aircraft have to receive de-icing treatment before departure to ensure that they are safe to take-off. "We are advising customers to keeping checking our website, for the latest information about their flights." Ryanair have been forced to cancel all Continue Reading

Delta followed the rules but left answering questions after 12-hour KCI tarmac delay

Delta Airlines sought to explain on Thursday how and why passengers were stranded for 12 hours on the tarmac at KCI during an ice storm Tuesday. The airline told The Star that a combination of persistent freezing rain, complications with de-icing and limitations on how long flight crews can be on duty contributed to the calamity. Several flights were canceled after an ice storm Tuesday ensnared the Kansas City metro area, but passengers who boarded Delta Airlines flight No. 2195 early in the day watched as the airplane pulled back from the gate a few times but ultimately never took off until the airline decided to cancel the flight 12 hours later. Federal regulations govern how airlines are supposed to treat passengers stuck inside a plane on a tarmac for lengthy delays. Airlines are required to give passengers opportunities to get off the airplane before three hours on the tarmac and make snacks and water available. It appeared that Delta did follow those rules at KCI. Still, airline officials apologized to affected passengers. “This was not Delta at its finest,” Delta Airlines spokesman Michael Thomas told The Star. “And I think most of your readers will know and be quite familiar with Delta's otherwise pretty stellar operational reliability.” Delta said it compensated customers with $100 vouchers. Federal regulations do not require airlines to compensate passengers for weather-related delays, only instances in which a flight is overbooked and a passenger is bumped off the flight without their consent. Thomas said that Delta tried to operate as many flights as it could out of Kansas City, but weather conditions — several hours of freezing rain and ice — led to ice build up on the plane. “For this particular flight, we were making every effort to operate the aircraft under the circumstances and conditions we were up against in Kansas City,” Thomas said. Eventually, the flight crew assigned to Delta flight No. 2195 Continue Reading

$30M for damage control at JetBlue

JetBlue's catastrophic blunders will cost the company at least $30 million, but the airline's charismatic leader insists the carrier is stronger for the lessons learned. Calling its ice storm meltdown "a defining moment for JetBlue," David Neeleman said the discount carrier is prepared to dole out close to $10 million in refunds and an additional $16 million in vouchers to make amends with passengers it left hopelessly waiting last week. Combined with an additional $4 million in spending related to the logistical disaster, the price tag for the companywide fumble in service has reached $30 million. But with more than 1,000 flights canceled and roughly 100,000 customers significantly inconvenienced, severely delayed or in some cases stranded on thetarmac at Kennedy Airport for half a day, the damage "certainly could go higher," Neeleman acknowledged. In a conference call yesterday, an effusively apologetic Neeleman promised that JetBlue would quickly right the wrongs in its system - and outlined the terms of financial compensation passengers would receive if the company fails in the future. "We've learned our lesson now. We've strengthened the system and we're going to be much better because of it," Neeleman said. "We are going to make sure it doesn't happen again." To do so, Neeleman said, the company will drastically improve its ability to adapt to major service interruptions by doubling the number of employees in its customer service call center and by creating a quick-response team of several hundred employees that could be dispatched to an airport to help existing staff troubleshoot. No less important, Neeleman said, is a customer bill of rights that lays out a sliding scale of compensation for passengers who experience "delays that are controllable by JetBlue." The payments include full refunds or vouchers for round-trip tickets. Though the formula excludes delays caused by inclement weather or air traffic controllers, the payments kick in if Continue Reading

Passengers get compensation for airline frustrations

They were headed to Texas to celebrate, but instead found Texas-sized frustration. “My husband and I flew on Continental Airlines from New York to Houston to attend our daughter’s graduation,” 49-year-old A.S. Unterweiser of Roosevelt Island recalled. “Due to long lines at the airline’s check-in counter and incorrect information provided by airline personnel, we wound up missing our flight. We were placed on a standby list for the next flight to Houston and showed up at the appropriate gate on time,” she said. But rather than quickly jetting off to the family event, their troubles got even more confounding. “The gate attendant was rude and unhelpful,” Unterweiser said. “When we asked for the gate attendant’s name, she hid her badge and responded, ‘It’s the one my father gave me.’” They were allowed on the flight, but couldn’t sit together and grew more frustrated when the plane lingered on the tarmac. Thoroughly dissatisfied with how Continental handled the matter, Unterweiser, who works in broadcasting and is a manager of a software company, sent a complaint letter to customer service and to the airline’s president. “Two months later,” she said, “we received a form letter, some mixed nuts and a box of golf balls.” For the record, Unterweiser said she and her husband enjoyed the nuts, but neither play golf. More often than ever, airline passengers have complaints. Chief among them are delayed or canceled flights, missed connections, rude or unprofessional airline employees, extremely long wait times when calling an airline, lousy food, lost or pilfered luggage, problems at security checkpoints or difficulties dealing with fellow passengers. In fact, during the first half of 2007, complaints against airlines increased by a whopping 47.2%, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Continue Reading

Renovate LaGuardia Airport — and finally give all its workers the respect they deserve

When Vice President Joe Biden compared LaGuardia Airport to a “third world country” last year, it didn’t come as much of a shock to the millions of New Yorkers and air travelers who use or work in the deteriorating airport. After many missteps and delays, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is about to name a developer for the $3.6 billion LaGuardia makeover that will turn it into the kind of world-class airport we deserve. While modernization and upgrading is welcome news, LaGuardia will not be a truly world-class airport until the Port Authority makes good on its promise to lift the thousands of contracted workers there who make poverty wages and have little or no benefits or job protections. These men and women — like baggage handler Gian Lopez, who struggles to support himself, his girlfriend and their young daughter — have bravely fought for more than three years to be treated with dignity and respect. And they continue to fight even in the face of broken promises from the Port Authority. When they started this fight in 2012, most of these baggage handlers, cleaners, wheelchair attendants and security guards were making the then $7.25-an-hour minimum wage or slightly higher. While the minimum wage has risen to $8.75 and the Port Authority — under intense public and political pressure — has increased that to $10.10, the Authority has failed to meet its self-imposed deadline of last Sept. 30 to draft a comprehensive plan to address wages and benefits, and the right of workers at all the New York area airports to join a union of their choice. These workers, who clean the terminals and airplane cabins, help passengers get to and from their planes and help keep the airports safe, remain second-class citizens at the airports. Deregulation of the airlines has allowed some carriers to contract out these jobs to save money, so not only are the workers not making what they should, they also Continue Reading