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Southwest ends its $5 happy hour deal

Southwest says its drink prices are still competitive, but consumers who must drink mid-flight have a cheaper option

Southwest Airlines’ “$5 Happy Hour, every hour” is no more. The U.S.-based airline, which has long offered some of the cheapest prices on cocktail and beer...

Airlines suing Washington state over new sick leave law

The suit argues that the law is unconstitutional for Washington-based airline employees

A group of airlines including Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines is suing Washington state over its mandatory paid sick leave law.

Airlines for America argues that the new sick leave law, which went into effect Jan. 1, goes against the federal Airline Deregulation Act and could increase costs and delays for travelers due to overlapping regulations and requirements.

"Airlines cannot operate their nationwide systems properly if flight crews are subject to the employment laws of every state in which they are based, live, or pass through," the airlines said in a statement.

Inconsistencies

The trade group argues that imposing the new sick leave law on Washington-based pilots and flight attendants is unconstitutional because they spend most of their working hours outside of the state.

In 2016, Washington voters adopted the Paid Sick Leave Act, which established a statewide minimum wage and required employers to provide dedicated paid sick leave to every employee.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma Tuesday, said that at least six other states and 30 cities have paid sick leave laws.

"A flight crew departing from SeaTac International Airport, landing in Portland International Airport, and continuing to San Diego International Airport is subject to three different paid sick leave laws in a single duty period, each with its own accrual, compensation, reporting, and leave requirements," the group explained.

The group says the new law will make it harder for employers to spot fraud and abuse of sick leave policy since it restricts when employers can demand medical documentation for sick leave. They say this will lead to more employees calling in sick, which will in turn result in more flight cancellations or delays.

"We know there's a lot of passion and concern about the sick leave law, so we're not surprised by this action today," said Tim Church, a spokesperson for Washington's Department of Labor and Industries.

A group of airlines including Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines is suing Washington state over its mandatory paid sick leave law....

Google Flights adds two new features

The app now predicts delays and shows what's included in economy fares

Google has tweaked its Google Flights app, adding predictions about airline flight delays and spelling out more clearly what's included in basic economy fares.

"One of the most stressful parts of traveling happens between heading to the airport and waiting to board your flight, as you start checking to see if your flight is on time," the company writes in its blog. "Flights already shows delays, and now we’re sharing reasons for those delays and delay predictions too."

Using a machine learning algorithm, the app scans and analyzes historic flight status data and predicts which flights will take off on time and which may be delayed. Google says its Flights app will often have the information before the airlines do.

While the app will include official announcements from the airlines about the status of flights, it will also offer predictions, which Google says should be 80 percent accurate.

"We still recommend getting to the airport with enough time to spare, but hope this information can manage expectations and prevent surprises," Google said.

To access the flight status information, users enter the airline flight number and route and the details will pop up.

What's included in an economy fare?

Google Flights will also help travelers sort out the details of rock-bottom fares on three airlines -- United, American, and Delta.

Because studies have shown that consumers will pick a flight because its fare is as little as $2 cheaper, most airlines just advertise the base fare and put the growing number of fees in the fine print. The Flights app tries to focus attention on the add-on costs, at least for these three major airlines.

For example, the app will reveal whether a basic economy fare provides space in the overhead storage bin, allows you to select your seat, and what it costs to check luggage.

Google has tweaked its Google Flights app, adding predictions about airline flight delays and spelling out more clearly what's included in basic economy fa...

American Airlines warns of higher fares

Here's how travelers can help offset rising ticket prices

As it reported better than expected earnings this week, American Airlines told investors it would likely raise fares to offset higher fuel costs.

American CEO Doug Parker said jet fuel costs rose more than 20 percent last year, to $5 billion.

"Fares are too low for oil prices this high," Parker told airline industry analysts. "Over time, you'll see adjustments. It takes time."

Consumers with long memories may recall that American and most other airlines instituted fees for checked bags and other once complimentary perks after 2008 to compensate for rising fuel costs. However, they didn't drop the fees once fuel prices began to go down in 2015.

Advantages for retirees

If the trend is gradually rising airfares in 2018, consumers will have to work harder to find bargain fares. CheapOAir.com (an Accredited Partner), a budget airfare marketplace, says retirees may be best equipped to handle the new air travel economy because they usually have more flexibility in their plans.

Avoiding a destination's busiest season is the best way to find a bargain. By doing some research in advance, you can potentially save a lot of money by knowing when the airlines, hotels, and rental car companies are most in need of business.

In 2017, the company says international destinations most popular with seniors and retirees saw the biggest differential in airfare between the slowest and busiest times.

Consumers who traveled from the U.S. to China in September instead of June saved an average of 37 percent on airfare. Those who traveled to Spain last February instead of last June shaved 36% off their fares.

Going to Australia in August, when winter is ending in the Southern Hemisphere, saved 29 percent over those who traveled in December, when summer was just beginning down under.

A travel credit card helps

Signing up for a good travel credit card is another way to make airfare more affordable by taking advantage of the different types of perks they might offer. The co-branded CheapOair (an Accredited Partner) credit card by Synchrony Financial offers customers access to an enhanced loyalty program and includes a special financing offer to help manage the cost of travel.

The Capital One Venture Card provides a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from the account's opening. That's equal to $500 in travel.

The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card carries 80,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 on purchases during the first three months of account activity. That's worth $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

CheapOAir (an Accredited Partner) advises consumers to carefully research fares before booking. The company says airlines now charge extra for everything from checked luggage to seat selection. In most cases, you'll find those charges in the fine print, not in the base fare.

As it reported better than expected earnings this week, American Airlines told investors it would likely raise fares to offset higher fuel costs.Americ...

2017 was the safest year ever for air travel

Expert says safety has been improving for two decades

Air travel might not have been any more pleasant last year, but it was commercial aviation's safest year ever, according to data from the Aviation Safety Network (ASN).

The group recorded just 10 fatal accidents and 79 deaths in 2017 involving airliners, with none occurring in the U.S. In 2016, there were 16 accidents costing 303 lives.

Last year's accidents all involved cargo planes or smaller, propeller-driven passenger aircraft. No jetliners were lost.

While President Trump was quick to link what he called his "strict" approach to commercial aviation to improved safety, one expert credits a number of factors that have made the skies safer over the last two decades.

"I think continuous learning from accidents and sharing knowledge and improvements worldwide contributed over the years to safety, and still contributes," ASN President Harro Ranter told ConsumerAffairs.

Changing aviation culture

Ranter says aviation culture has changed over the last two decades to emphasize safety. For example, he points to policy changes that have encouraged pilots to anonymously report any safety issues they may encounter, even mistakes they made themselves, without having to fear sanctions.

"Airlines and authorities analyze those reports and can take action to make the operation of the airline safer, or even take valuable safety lessons for everyone in the industry," Ranter said.

The U.S. has been at the forefront of improved flight safety. Since November 12, 2001, when American Airlines flight 571 crashed on takeoff in a Queens, N.Y. neighborhood, there have been no major passenger jet crashes among U.S.-chartered airlines.

During that time there were fatal crashes involving commuter aircraft in Charlotte, N.C., Lexington, Ky., and Clarence, N.Y. In 2013, an Asiana Airlines jet crash landed at San Francisco International Airport, killing two passengers.

Global airlines are catching up

Most recently, the world's air safety record has improved. Ranter credits international industry organizations like ICAO, IATA, and EASA in Europe.

"ICAO has audited every member state to see how well they have implemented all international standards and recommended practices," Ranter said. "It gives countries a clear insight into how they're doing and where they should do better."

IATA does the same by only allowing airlines to become a member after they pass a safety audit that must be renewed.

Along with better training, more sophisticated equipment has made flying jet aircraft safer. Data is constantly collected and analyzed -- mostly for more efficient operations -- but Ranter says the analysis provides information the airlines use to create policies that promote safety.

Air travel might not have been any more pleasant last year, but it was commercial aviation's safest year ever, according to data from the Aviation Safety N...

Southwest offers cheap flights for the upcoming holiday season

The limited-time sale covers flights originating from across the country

Travelers planning holiday flights will want to move quickly on Southwest's ultra-cheap deals happening now through Thursday, October 12 at 11:59 p.m.

On its site, the airline says that travelers can book one-way trips for nonstop domestic routes for as little as $49, but longer trips across the country or to destinations outside the U.S. can cost upwards of $150. The sale features flights originating from nearly 100 destinations, including major airports like Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Baltimore, New York, Boston, and Chicago.

While the deal will only last until 11:59 p.m. on October 12, all purchased flights must be limited to travel between October 31 and December 19 of this year, or between January 3 and February 14 of 2018.

Other restrictions – including exemptions for weekend flights and trips to certain international locations – are detailed under the web page’s terms and conditions.

Travelers planning holiday flights will want to move quickly on Southwest's ultra-cheap deals happening now through Thursday, October 12 at 11:59 p.m.O...

How new airline boarding procedures could curb the spread of diseases

Researchers say reducing the amount of contact between passengers could be the key

When major disease epidemics strike, airlines are often forced to shut down travel between countries to stop outbreaks from spreading. But a recent study by Florida State University (FSU) researchers shows that changing boarding procedures could drastically reduce transmissions rates.

Ashok Srinivasan, a computer science associate professor, and his team found that the current zoned boarding procedures used by many airlines plays a major role in the spread of disease. To fix the problem, Srinivasan suggests sacrificing some efficiency to reduce clustered contact between passengers.

"There's been a lot of boarding and deplaning research framed in terms of speed and efficiency, but we aren't looking for efficiency. We're looking to decrease the spread of disease," he said. "It turns out that procedures that are generally good at getting people onto a plane very fast are also very bad at preventing infection."

Reducing spread of infection

Using sophisticated computer simulations and algorithms, the researchers analyzed how airline travel procedures affected the spread of infection for major diseases. They found that deplaning tended to be much less dangerous than boarding because passengers weren’t forced to congregate in large groups.

"While deplaning is a fairly fast and efficient process in terms of avoiding the spread of infection, our model shows that boarding the plane is the big problem. When you have many zones, people in the same zone tend to come very close to each other, close enough to easily transmit infections," said Srinivasan.

So, how can we avoid spreading diseases during the boarding process? The researchers suggest that airlines adopt a two-zone system that divides the plane lengthwise and lets passengers board randomly. Doing so, they say, would help reduce the amount of time that travelers are in contact with each other and cut transmission rates.

Worth the wait

In a model of the system, the researchers found that the probability of an Ebola outbreak spreading to 20 new people per month was reduced from 67% under the currently used system to 13% under the suggested system.

"When you have passengers board randomly, people are less likely to spend extended periods of time close to each other," Srinivasan said. "On the whole, random boarding does take longer, but if passengers had to choose between getting Ebola and being seated a few minutes later, we suspect they'd prefer the latter."

"When outbreaks occur, there are often calls for wholesale flight cancellations, but this can harm countries that are already reeling under the onslaught of an epidemic," he continued. "Our research provides insight on the tradeoffs involved in the different policy options. Decision makers need to consider which policies are best, the practical steps that need to be taken and which tradeoffs they're willing to make."

The full study has been published in Physical Review.

When major disease epidemics strike, airlines are often forced to shut down travel between countries to stop outbreaks from spreading. But a recent study b...

Disaster barely averted at San Francisco International Airport

Landing jet nearly crashed into four other airliners last month

Airline crashes, once almost commonplace, are now pretty rare. Better training, better equipment, and enhanced safety protocols have saved countless lives in the last two decades.

But that's not to say that there haven't been some extremely close calls, the most recent occurring last month at San Francisco International Airport.

A report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reveals an Air Canada jet that was landing at the airport very nearly crashed into four other airliners full of passengers sitting on a taxiway.

Air Canada flight 759, an Airbus A320, was preparing to land on runway 28R at San Francisco. But instead, it approached on parallel taxiway C, which is not a runway.

There, four other airliners were lined up, waiting to get clearance to takeoff. Among the four planes were two Boeing 787 Dreamliners. A collision would undoubtedly have led to a catastrophic loss of life.

'Advanced the thrust levers'

Fortunately, the NTSB report notes that when the plane was just 100 feet above the ground, the flight crew saw the other aircraft and "advanced the thrust levers to initiate a go-around" just in time to overfly the first aircraft, missing it by an estimated 59 feet.

The NTSB reports said night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the incident. The agency said it was notified of the incident two days later and began its investigation. However, since that time the plane's cockpit voice recorder had been overwritten, so it did not have access to that data.

The report notes that at the time of the incident, Runway 28L was closed because of construction and its approach and runway lights were turned off. Runway and approach lighting for runway 28R, the runway the Air Canada jet was instructed to use, were on and set to default settings.

The report does not reach a conclusion as to the cause of the incident. The NTSB said it plans to interview members of the flight crew and review Air Canada records.

Airline crashes, once almost commonplace, are now pretty rare. Better training, better equipment, and enhanced safety protocols have saved countless lives...

American Airlines announces new baggage alert system

Customers will now be notified if their baggage is delayed and advised on steps they can take

Nothing annoys air travelers quite so much as arriving at their destination only to get stuck waiting at baggage claim for luggage that never comes. While airline companies are constantly striving to reduce the amount of lost or delayed luggage, many are also looking into ways of promptly notifying customers when something goes wrong.

Yesterday, American Airlines announced that it will be doing just that with the introduction of its Customer Baggage Notification (CBN) system. The company says that CBN will notify customers about the status of their checked baggage shortly after they land if it was not on the same plane. The system will also provide information on the next steps fliers should take.

“CBN is an exciting innovation that helps take care of our customers and our team members. Customers get more information quickly and our team members get more time to help those who have complicated baggage claims,” American Airlines said.

Customer alerts

American Airlines says that fliers who use the CBN system will receive one of three types of alerts when they land at their destination. They include:

  • Early Baggage Arrival: This message lets fliers know that their baggage has arrived before them and will direct them of where to go to pick it up.
  • Late Baggage Arrival – Go to the Baggage Service Office: This alert tells customers that their baggage will be arriving late and directs them to see an agent at the BSO office to resolve the issue.
  • Late Baggage Arrival – Mobile Baggage Order (MBO): This alert will advise travelers to fill out a Mobile Baggage Order (MBO) on their mobile device. The form will ask for the customer’s delivery details and a bag description to help expedite the process of getting checked luggage back to its owner. Taking this step will allow customers to forego going to the Baggage Service Office to file a claim.

To receive alerts from the CBN system, customers will have to download the American Airlines app, sign up for an AAdvantage account, or provide contact information during booking or check-in.

Nothing annoys air travelers quite so much as arriving at their destination only to get stuck waiting at baggage claim for luggage that never comes. While...

U.S. to lift laptop ban for flights from Middle Eastern countries

However, airlines will soon have to adapt to new security measures

Back in March, the U.S. Transportation Department imposed a ban that prohibited electronic devices from airline cabins on some flights originating in Middle Eastern countries. The news was not received well by critics, who said that the new rule would put a strain on U.S. relations with foreign nations and business interests.

But just last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced new security measures for commercial flights coming to the U.S., and among the changes was a proposed rollback of the electronics ban. Now, it seems that rollback is just about complete.

According to a Reuters report, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lifted the electronics ban for passengers traveling on Saudi Arabian Airlines on Monday, the last carrier that was still affected by the restrictions.

With the lifting of the ban from King Abdulaziz International Airport, Saudi Arabian Airlines main hub, the only airport still affected by the ban is King Khalid International Airport. However, TSA officials said that they will be visiting that location “later this week to confirm compliance there as well.”

Complying with new security measures

Regarding the new security measures it released in June, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also issued a revised directive to all airlines that will be going into effect later this week on July 19.

The directive explains in more detail what steps airlines will have to take to avoid new restrictions on laptops in cabins. These include increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas, expanded canine screening, closer inspection of electronic devices, and additional checkpoints where travelers will need to be cleared before departure. Airlines also have until July 19 to put in place increased explosive trace detection screening.

Airline groups have criticized the new requirements, saying that they will be “extremely difficult” to implement and that the deadlines are too restrictive because of a “lack of availability of screening equipment technology and resources.” But TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says the new requirements are necessary for addressing future threats and keeping electronics available on flights.

“As we look to stay ahead of the evolving threats, we’ll be working with global aviation stakeholders to expand security measures even further,” she said in a statement, adding that recent world events have led to a “web of threats to commercial aviation.”

Back in March, the U.S. Transportation Department imposed a ban that prohibited electronic devices from airline cabins on some flights originating in Middl...

Infant passenger briefly hospitalized after tarmac delay

Mother of four month-old said the child overheated as cabin temperatures spiked

Parents have been told repeatedly not to leave young children in a hot car, and most by now have gotten the message.

So the mother of four month-old Owen France was very concerned when their United Airlines flight was delayed on the tarmac Thursday afternoon at Denver International Airport and the cabin temperature began to spike.

The child's mother, Emily France, said her son's body temperature rapidly rose to the point that he became overheated. During the nearly two-hour delay, she told the Denver Post it got worse.

"I really thought my son was going to die in my arms," she told the newspaper.

United's response

In a statement issued to NBC News, United said the plane returned to the gate and was met by paramedics, who rushed the baby to a hospital, where he was treated and released.

"This should never have happened,” the airline told NBC News. “We are profoundly sorry to our customer and her child for the experience they endured. We are actively looking into what happened to prevent this from occurring again.”

Tarmac delays are not uncommon, though federal regulations impose penalties on airlines when they extend beyond a certain length of time. The consumer group FlyersRights.org says if a boarded aircraft remains on the tarmac for three hours without taking off, it must return to the gate and allow passengers to get off if they desire.

After two hours, the airline must offer stranded passengers water and food. At all times, the group says, the airline must provide working lavatories and appropriate medical care.

Why so hot?

Why does it get so hot on a plane when it's sitting on the tarmac? Part of the problem, The Economist notes, is that the U.S. tarmac rule does not set any requirement for maintaining cabin temperature during delays.

While most commercial aircraft are able to maintain some level of air conditioning without the main engines running, the air output apparently is not as strong as when the plane is in the air.

If the outside temperature is unusually high, as was the case in Denver this week, the auxiliary power often can't offset the extreme outside temperature.

Parents have been told repeatedly not to leave young children in a hot car, and most by now have gotten the message.So the mother of four month-old Owe...

Officials announce new security measures for commercial flights coming to the U.S.

The new measures will roll back a previous electronics ban implemented in March

Back in March, U.S. officials announced a laptop ban on certain flights originating from 10 airports in eight countries, a measure meant to address the threat of in-flight bombs being smuggled in electronics.

The new rule was met with an outcry from all corners and did little to ease tensions between the U.S. and foreign countries. But in an announcement yesterday, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly proposed a new set of security measures that will roll back the restriction, according to a Reuters report.

“We cannot play international whack-a-mole with each new threat. Instead, we must put in place new measures across the board to keep the traveling public safe and make it harder for terrorists to succeed,” he said.

“Today I am announcing a first step toward this goal by requiring new security measures to be applied to all commercial flights coming into the United States. These measures will be both seen and unseen, and they will be phased in over time.”

Increasing security protocols

The new security measures include increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas, expanded canine screening, closer inspection of electronic devices, and additional checkpoints where travelers will need to be cleared before departure.

The new measures would apply to 180 airlines in 280 airports from 105 countries, affecting nearly 325,000 airline passengers on 2,100 commercial flights arriving in the United States daily. U.S. officials say that airlines have 21 days to implement explosive trace detection screening and 120 days to comply with all the other proposed changes.

Kelly said that airlines that do not meet the new security requirements could still face in-cabin electronics bans, but at the same time he expressed confidence that 99% of airlines would comply.

Additionally, officials stated that the 10 countries currently subject to an electronics ban can be removed from that category if they meet the new requirements, but they did not say how long that process might take.

More changes coming

While travelers, especially those who pay for business class seats, may be relieved at the lifting of the electronics ban, industry trade groups have spoken out against the Department of Homeland Security for not working more closely with them in crafting the new policies.

“The development of the security directive should have been subject to a greater degree of collaboration and coordination to avoid the significant operational disruptions and unnecessarily frustrating consequences for the traveling public that appear likely to happen,” said Nicholas E. Calio, Chief Executive of the trade group Airlines for America (A4A).

However, it’s likely that the agency and trade groups will have ample opportunity to work together going forward. In his announcement, Kelly said that these changes are only among the first that will be implemented, with short-term, medium-term, and longer-term improvements slated to take effect over the next year.

Back in March, U.S. officials announced a laptop ban on certain flights originating from 10 airports in eight countries, a measure meant to address the thr...

Passenger group warns against privatizing air traffic control

But White House has cleared the overhaul for take-off

A group representing airline passengers is warning that a proposal to privatize the nation's air traffic control system won't turn out well for consumers.

FlyersRights.org expressed concern as top executives of the airline industry headed to the White House Monday to discuss the plan.

Currently, air traffic controllers are under the direction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). But Paul Hudson, president of the consumer group and member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, said the plan under consideration essentially turns the system over to the airlines.

He's concerned that putting such a system in place would lead to new fees and taxes for passengers to pay. Kate Hanni, FlyersRights.org founder, is also dismayed.

'Political handout'

"This unfortunately provides another political handout to a highly-concentrated industry with a terrible track record of leaving passengers on the tarmac for hours without food and water, cramming paying customers into inhumane seats, and verbally and physically assaulting them all while charging for everything under the sun," Hanni said.

FlyersRights.org lists several reasons it says the air traffic control system should not be turned over to an airline-controlled entity.

First, it says the FAA has been working on upgrades to the air traffic control system and should have it completed by 2020. The airlines, the group charges, have been holding things up by not installing the necessary equipment on aircraft.

Second, privatizing the system would likely disrupt that modernization effort, remove Congressional oversight, and create a monopoly that has the power to tax consumers.

Finally, the group says other nations that have tried to privatize their air traffic control systems have usually encountered problems, requiring taxpayers to step in and bail out the private entity.

'Least-capable industry'

In a statement, FlyersRights.org calls the airlines "the least-capable industry" to run air traffic control, pointing to recent computer outages and customer relations meltdowns. It claims airline problems, including broken planes and tardy flight crews, are responsible for most of the delays in the system.

But after meeting with airline executives Monday, President Trump left little doubt that he supports the plan to remove air traffic control from the FAA's jurisdiction.

Trump said a private system would reduce wait times, increase route efficiency, and eliminate many delays.

A group representing airline passengers is warning that a proposal to privatize the nation's air traffic control system won't turn out well for consumers....

Delta latest airline to face consumer lawsuit

Passenger claims he was assaulted aboard a flight in 2015

For the airlines, the world changed on April 9, 2017.

That's when United Airlines summoned Chicago airport police to forcibly remove a passenger on a Louisville bound flight after he refused to give up his seat to a United employee. Video of the incident was recorded by numerous passengers, sparking world-wide outrage.

Since then airlines have been subjected to intense scrutiny by passengers, fed up with the often unpleasant rigors of today's commercial air travel. Every encounter, it seems, is now recorded on smartphones and Tweeted around the world.

Though not every incident ends up in court, some do. The latest is a complaint filed against Delta Airlines by a passenger who says he was assaulted by members of a Delta flight crew during a flight from Atlanta to Palm Springs, Calif., two years ago.

Alleges assault and battery

Courthouse News, which obtained a copy of the complaint, reports Atef Bandary is seeking damages for assault and battery, emotional distress, and charges the airline with negligence. According to the 14-page document, this is what Bandary alleges:

During the flight, he says he asked a flight attendant for some water and a light snack, because he needed to take medication that required it to be taken with food. Bandary said the request was denied.

Bandary, who says he is HIV positive, took the medication without food and says that caused a case of diarrhea. He says when he got up to go to the lavatory, a flight attendant ordered him to sit down. He says he explained the situation -- including the fact that he is HIV positive -- to no avail.

Forcibly restrained

When he insisted he must use the toilet, he says the flight attendant notified the captain, who enlisted a fellow passenger who was a law enforcement officer, to forcibly restrain him, in the process injuring his shoulder.

Adding insult to injury, he says during the altercation his pants fell down around his ankles and, despite his pleas, those subduing him refused to pull up his pants.

Delta later pressed charges against Bandary and he was indicted on criminal charges of interfering with a flight crew member. After hiring a lawyer, he says the jury acquitted him.

In his suit against the airline, Bandary also charges the airline targeted him because he is a naturalized citizen, is gay, and because he had complained about the service on the flight.

Bandary does not specify the monetary damages he seeks. Rather, he says he wants the court to determine the amount, should it find in his favor.

File photoFor the airlines, the world changed on April 9, 2017.That's when United Airlines summoned Chicago airport police to forcibly remove a p...

United accused of flying plane 'not in airworthy condition'

FAA charges jet made 23 flights in 2014 without a repair inspection

United Airlines faces a $435,000 civil penalty from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for allegedly flying a plane "that was not in airworthy condition."

The agency said the incident occurred three years ago.

According to the FAA, United mechanics replaced a fuel pump pressure switch on one of the new Boeing 787 jets in response to a problem highlighted by the flight crew two days earlier. The FAA charges United failed to perform an inspection of the repair before the plane was put back in service.

The FAA complaint alleges the airline used the plane on 23 flights before it inspected the work 19 days later. It further maintains United used the plane on two flights after being notified by the FAA that the inspection had not been completed. Under FAA rules, the plane did not meet the technical requirements of being airworthy on all 23 flights.

“Maintaining the highest levels of safety depends on operators closely following all applicable rules and regulations,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Failing to do so can create unsafe conditions.”

United has not commented publicly but the FAA says the airline has requested a meeting with the agency to discuss the case.

United Airlines faces a $435,000 civil penalty from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for allegedly flying a plane "that was not in airworthy condi...

Delta airlines testing facial recognition technology

Will be used at automated bag drop for international travelers

Airlines are under increasing pressure to do something -- anything -- to improve the customer experience. Delta says it may have a way to do that.

The airline said it will test facial recognition technology at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this summer. The technology will be employed at four self-serve bag drops, allowing passengers to check their bags themselves.

One of the stations, for international travelers, will be equipped with the facial recognition technology, matching passengers with their passport photos.

"We expect this investment and new process to save customers time," said Gareth Joyce, a senior vice president at Delta. "And, since customers can operate the biometric-based bag drop machine independently, we see a future where Delta agents will be freed up to seek out travelers and deliver more proactive and thoughtful customer service."

Increasingly automated

Airports are becoming increasingly automated, and Delta sees this as just the next, natural step in that process. Previously, the airline began attaching radio frequency identification technology (RFID)tags to luggage, to keep better track of it.

"We're making travel easier than ever for our customers and continuing to deliver a leading customer experience," Joyce said.

The effort comes at a time when airlines are under pressure from passengers and policymakers. After the forcible removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight April 9, almost every instance of passenger angst aboard a commercial aircraft is recorded and spread across social media.

For its part, Delta said it will collect passenger feedback during the Minnesota trial and run process analyses to make sure this addition of technology not only saves the airline money, but improves the overall customer experience.

Delta says it believes it will. It cites studies it says show that self-service bag drops have the potential to process twice as many customers per hour.

Airlines are under increasing pressure to do something -- anything -- to improve the customer experience. Delta says it may have a way to do that.The a...

Spirit Airlines pilots face federal court order to go back to work

The decision bars pilots from participating in any slowdown efforts

Yesterday, we reported that Spirit Airlines had taken legal action against its pilots for an alleged slowdown that resulted from a contract dispute. The airliner said that the pilots’ actions put the safety of customers and staff members at risk after a brawl ensued at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after a flight cancellation.

“These pilots have put their quest for a new contract ahead of getting customers to their destinations and the safety of their fellow Spirit Team Members,” company spokesperson Paul Berry said.

Now, it looks like that legal action is producing results. The Washington Post reports that a federal court granted Spirit Airlines a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, which is meant to put an end to a “pervasive illegal work slowdown.” Spirit says that the pilots’ actions have resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations that have affected thousands of travelers.

Court order

The court decision, which was issued on Tuesday morning, found that the pilots’ actions violated the Railway Labor Act because it interrupted normal flight operations. The order mandates that the pilots and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) cease “from calling, permitting, instigating authorizing, encouraging, participating in, approving, or continuing any form of interference” with Spirit’s airline operations until further hearings are conducted.

The order is pretty broad and bars the defendants from any concerted effort to refuse their normal pilot operations, including refusal of voluntary or overtime flight assignments and any slowdown efforts.

The court said that issuing the restraining order was necessary to help Spirit avoid suffering “immediate and irreparable damage in the form of damage to its business reputation and customer goodwill, increased costs for measures designed to avoid flight delays and cancellations, and loss of revenue and associated costs caused by flight delays and cancellations.”

Restoring normal operations

In response to the decision, the ALPA said that it would continue its efforts to return Spirit to normal operations.

“The court has spoken and Spirit pilots will fully comply with the order handed down, which is completely in line with our overriding goal: the resumption of normal operations. We call on the company to join forces with ALPA and the Spirit pilots to do just that,” the union said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that we can put this moment behind us and get back to serving our customers,” added Berry. “We sincerely apologize to our customers for the disruption and inconveniences they have suffered. . . We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group.”

As of Wednesday morning, Spirit still led all airlines in flight cancellations by a large margin with 61, approximately 13% of its flights, according to FlightAware.

Yesterday, we reported that Spirit Airlines had taken legal action against its pilots for an alleged slowdown that resulted from a contract dispute. The ai...

Family speaks out about being tossed from Delta flight

Couple says they were threatened with arrest for refusing to give up seat they had purchased for teenage son who took another flight

During the same week that airline executives appeared before Congress to endure lectures about the state of their customer service, a family has come forward saying it was thrown off a Delta flight for refusing to give up one of the seats they had purchased.

The incident, recorded on video as most are now days, occurred April 23, two weeks after a Kentucky physician was dragged off a United Airlines flight in Chicago. The family only came forward with its story this week.

Brian and Brittany Schear, of Huntington Beach, Calif., were returning home after a vacation in Hawaii. Initially, the couple said, they purchased tickets for themselves and their teenage son, and planned to hold their young children, ages one and two, on their laps on the long flight.

Before departure, the couple told NBC News, they purchased a ticket on another flight for their oldest son and planned to use the third seat for their two-year-old. The Schears said they gave that information to the Delta gate attendant, who told them it would be okay.

Overbooked

But the flight was oversold. Once the Schears were aboard, an airline official told them the Delta was reclaiming the third seat the Schears had purchased. A lengthy argument ensued, with the Schears threatened with arrest if they did not comply. When they refused they were removed from the flight. It was late at night and the Schears said they were left to find their own hotel and purchase new tickets to get home. The video of the encounter is below:

Technically, Delta might have had the right to reclaim the seat since the person to whom the ticket was initially issued (the Schears' teen-aged son) failed to show up. The Shears said they paid for it and had someone else that could use it and didn't understand why it was being taken away from them.

But being technically correct may not be enough in this day and age, especially as anger at airlines seems to be building. Delta issued a statement saying the company is sorry for "the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta." The airline said it plans to refund the family's travel and provide "additional compensation."

Received conflicting messages

Consumers rate Delta Air Lines

The Schears were especially upset because they say a Delta gate attendant told them their two-year-old son could sit in the unused seat. But when it became apparent the flight was overbooked, Delta enforced the letter of its policy, which required the person to whom the ticket was issued sit in the seat.

Since United found itself in an uncomfortable spotlight last month, it's apparent that these types of things are not all that uncommon. Now, however, when they happen we'll all going to hear about it.

United has announced a number of policy changes in the wake of the dragging incident that it hopes will improve customer service. One provision gives airline personnel on the ground the power to make decisions "in the moment" if they will improve the customer experience.

At a time when airlines are selling every seat on a plane, and then some, that might not be a bad idea for United's competitors to consider too.

During the same week that airline executives appeared before Congress to endure lectures about the state of their customer service, a family has come forwa...

Congress hauls United CEO before committee

House comittee probing airline customer service policies

United Airlines has already reached an undisclosed settlement with Dr. David Dao, the passenger dragged off of one of its planes. The airline has also announced several policy changes is says will prevent future such incidents.

But its ordeal in the aftermath of the public relations disaster is not over. United CEO Oscar Munoz and other top airlines executives are being hauled before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, whose members say they still have questions about what happened aboard United Flight 3411 on April 9.

The committee said the subject of the hearing is airlines customer service policies and issues, both the good and no-so-good.

Much needed answers

“The oversight hearing will give committee members an opportunity to get much-needed answers about airline customer service policies and what is being done to improve service for the flying public,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

In addition to Munoz, United Airlines President Scott Kirby is also scheduled to appear as a witness. Executives from United's competitors will also testify. Kerry Philipovitch, a senior vice president at American Airlines, Joseph Sprague, a senior vice president at Alaska Airlines, and Bob Jordan, executive vice president at Southwest, are also on the witness list.

The committee is also scheduled to hear from William McGee, an aviation consultant with Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

Touched a nerve

The incident aboard the Chicago to Louisville United Express flight touched a nerve among airline passengers all over the U.S., who have experienced less comfortable air travel over the last decade. Since the financial crisis, airlines have added fees to check bags and for other things that were provided free in the past. There are fewer flights and more flights that are booked to capacity. Factor in all the post-911 security measures, and flying has, for many, because a thoroughly unpleasant experience.

The April 9 incident aboard United Flight 3411 occurred because the small jet was full and mostly boarded when United announced it needed to get four employees to Louisville to work the next day. It found three passengers who voluntarily gave up their seats. When Dao was involuntarily bumped to make room for the fourth, he refused to give up his seat.

The airline summoned security personnel who ultimately used force to remove Dao from his seat and drag him from the aircraft, in front of horrified passengers, many of whom video taped the scene on their smartphones.

Dao's attorney said his client was seriously injured in the encounter, suffering a concussion, a broken nose, and damaged teeth.

United Airlines has already reached an undisclosed settlement with Dr. David Dao, the passenger dragged off of one of its planes. The airline has also anno...

United wants to prevent another passenger-dragging incident

Employees will be given more power to resolve issues on the spot

Call it a lesson learned. United Airlines has been subjected to a firestorm of consumer and policymaker wrath since it forcibly removed a Kentucky physician from a flight on April 9.

Now the airline has announced several policy changes, many of which might have prevented the public relations nightmare of social media videos showing burly security officers dragging a bloodied Dr. David Dao from the airliner so that a United employee could take his seat.

As you may recall, the flight from Chicago to Louisville was sold out when United suddenly announced the need to get four of its employees to Louisville so they could work the next day. Three passengers aboard the flight voluntarily gave up their seats but when no one else did, a computer picked Dao and airline personnel told him he was being involuntrily bumped.

But Dao refused, saying he was completing a long trip and had patients to see the next day in Louisville. At that point security personnel were summoned and, after Dao still refused to budge, he was dragged from the aircraft in front of horrified fellow passengers who recorded the scene on their smartphones. Dao's attorney said his client was seriously injured in the encounter, including suffering a concussion and broken nose.

What's changing

From now on, United says it will only summon law enforcement to deal with issues of safety and security. It will also not demand a passenger already seated on a plane to give up a seat, unless it's an issue of safety or security.

For passengers who volunteer to give up their seat when a flight is oversold, the company is raising the compensation up to $10,000. It had been about $800. It also said that it will reduce the amount of overbooking, meaning United flights may have a few empty seats in the future.

While the Dao incident was generally described as an overbooking issue, it wasn't. Every seat was filled with paying passengers when United decided it needed to get four employees to Louisville and they were going to get there on that flight.

'Customer solutions team'

In the future, United says employees taking a flight to get to a work location must be booked at least an hour in advance. In addition, the airline is establishing a “customer solutions team” to come up with creative solutions when these conflicts arise, such as using other airlines, and even other nearby airports.

Perhaps more important, the policy is being changed to allow airline employees to make decisions on the spot to resolve issues before they escalate. Along with that, United employees will undergo additional training.

No arguments about lost luggage

In a final bone to frustrated airline passengers, United said it will cut a lot of red tape when it comes to permanently lost luggage, adopting a “no questions asked” policy.

"Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect,” said United CEO Oscar Munoz. “Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard and we profoundly apologize.”

Munoz says a lot of things went wrong in Chicago on April 9, when he said the airline's policies got in the way of doing what's right.

Call it a lesson learned. United Airlines has been subjected to a firestorm of consumer and policymaker wrath since it forcibly removed a Kentucky physicia...

Air travelers consumer rights microsite now available

It's an easy way to learn what you should expect from your airline

The  Department of Transportation (DOT) has a new tool to help consumers understand their rights when traveling by air.

The “flights and rights” microsite contains information on what airlines can and cannot do when it comes to things like flight cancellations, tarmac delays, and overbooking, just to mention a few.

Meanwhile, air travelers had an easier time getting where they were going during February.

According DOT's Air Travel Consumer Report, airlines canceled just 1.5% of their scheduled domestic flights in February. That's an improvement of 0.5% from January and 0.1% from the same period a year earlier.

On-time arrival rates were a a mixed bag, with a February rate of 82.6%. It's much better than January (76.0%), but worse than February 2016 (83.6%).

Additionally, airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours during February on domestic flights, and four delays of more than four hours on international flights. All are being investigated by the DOT.

The consumer report also includes data on chronically delayed flights and their causes, and a variety of consumer complaints including problems with baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability access, and discrimination.

The complete report is available in the DOT website.

The  Department of Transportation (DOT) has a new tool to help consumers understand their rights when traveling by air.The “flights and rights” microsi...

Airlines tweak policy manuals in wake of United incident

American reportedly ups the ante for bumped passengers

United Airlines' costly public relations disaster has caused several airlines to re-evaluate policies on how they deal with passengers, according to various published reports citing internal company memos.

Notably, United took the first step, reportedly advising company employees that they are not to involuntarily remove a ticketed passenger to provide room for a United employee in the future.

That's what happened eight days ago, when a 69-year old physician was forcibly removed from a United flight from Chicago to Louisville. Dr. David Dao was not bumped because the flight was overbooked, which had been widely reported, but because United wanted his seat for a company employee.

The reports say United has advised its personnel that company employees who must get to a specific location to work now have to get their request in at least 60 minutes before departure.

In a formal apology to Dao, the airline also said it had changed its policy on the use of law enforcement. It said in the future it will not ask officers to remove a passenger from an aircraft unless it is a matter of safety and security.

Big change at American

American, meanwhile, has reportedly changed its policy to promise never to bump a passenger once they are seated aboard the aircraft. Seth Kaplan, managing partner at Airline Weekly, told ConsumerAffairs last week that incident involving Dr. Dao was probably exacerbated by the fact the passenger was already aboard the aircraft when he was bumped.

"What almost never happens, but happened here, is the guy was already on board and in a seat," Kaplan said. "If a passenger is involuntarily bumped, it's going to almost always happen in the gate area."

Delta, meanwhile, has reportedly upped the ante for passengers who are asked to give up their seats because a flight has been oversold. Published reports cite an internal memo that authorizes Delta supervisors to offer up to $9,950 to a passenger to willingly give up his or her seat.

Incidents will still arise

For consumers, the new environment may mean airlines will be a little kinder and gentler, but it doesn't mean it will always be smooth sailing, as a couple on their way to their Costa Rican wedding aboard a United Airlines flight learned over the weekend.

KHOU-TV in Houston reports Michael Hohl and Amber Maxwell were asked to leave the flight after the airline said the couple repeatedly tried to move to higher-priced “economy plus” seats.

Hohl told the TV station he asked to pay for the upgrade because the couple found a man sleeping across both of their assigned seats.

United said the couple was booked on a later flight.

United Airlines' costly public relations disaster has caused several airlines to re-evaluate policies on how they deal with passengers, according to variou...

What to do if you are involuntarily bumped

Your first step should be to ask for a written explanation of the bumping policy

The outrage directed against United Airlines' handling of Dr. David Dao, on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, has been building for nearly a week.

On Sunday, Dao refused to give up his seat to a United Airlines employee who needed to get to Louisville, and his attorney says he was severely injured when security personnel dragged him off the plane in front of dozens of smartphone-wielding passengers who recorded the incident and spread it around the world.

In a news conference Thursday, Dao's attorney Thomas Demetrio painted a picture of a callous and sometimes brutal airline industry, and truth be told many regular fliers would not disagree.

But moral outrage aside, it begs the question; just what exactly should you do if you find yourself in Dao's position someday, told by the airline that you must give up your seat? Would you refuse and resist as Dao did?

Bumping will continue

It is almost certain that no airline will ever again subject a passenger to what Dao endured, having learned from United's painful lesson. But make no mistake, airlines have not stopped involuntarily bumping passengers and probably won't, so it could happen to you in the future.

Should it happen, the law is pretty clear. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires the airline denying boarding to a ticketed passenger to give the passenger a written statement detailing his or her rights and the airline's criteria for selecting a passenger to bump.

There is no evidence this was done in the case of Dr. Dao and it isn't clear how many, if any, airlines do this. So as a first step, passengers being involuntarily bumped should politely ask for this document. It signals to the airline that you know your rights and perhaps they will move on to bump some other poor soul.

But if you are handed the document and are still told to get off the aircraft, do you risk physical injury if you refuse? Again, probably not, since airlines will undoubtedly have new procedures in place to prevent future horrific encounters.

Legal risks

But refusing might land you in legal trouble, because your rights aboard a ship or aircraft are not always the same as they are on terra firma. Specifically, the law grants special powers to captains.

The federal aviation regulations (Title 14) also specify that passengers must obey all orders given by the pilot in command. So this is where a passenger must be careful. Should the plane's captain be summoned and order you off the plane, your refusal could be considered “interfering with an airline crew,” a felony.

However, it's something of a gray area if the plane is still at the gate with the door open. Until the aircraft pushes back from the gate, the airline's ground agents may be considered in charge of the aircraft.

Prudence might dictate that you don't want to be the test case. It may be wiser to comply with the order, then seek legal redress once you are safely off the plane.

In some cases, but not all, the airline bumping you involuntarily will provide some compensation. However, Transportation Department rules say that if the airline can arrange alternate transportation and get you to your destination within an hour of the original arrival time, there is no requirement for compensation.

In Washington, bumping may become a hot topic. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is asking the Transportation Department to do more to protect the rights of airline passengers. In a letter to the agency, he's asking that it investigate airline industry practices, including involuntary bumping of passengers.

The outrage directed against United Airlines' handling of Dr. David Dao, on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, has been building for nearly a week.On...

Congress questions United's forcible removal of passenger

Roughed up passenger, meanwhile, gets a belated apology

The story of United Airlines' forcible removal of a passenger from a flight Sunday isn't going away.

On Sunday, United asked Chicago aviation police to remove a passenger, now identified as Dr. David Dao of Louisville, from a plane bound from Chicago to Louisville.

Dao had not done anything wrong, the flight was simply overbooked and United had run out of passengers willing to voluntarily give up their seats to United flight crew members who needed to get to Louisville.

A computer picked Dao to be "involuntarily" denied boarding, even though Dao was already in his seat. The doctor declined, saying he was needed at a Louisville hospital the next day.

United then called in aviation police officers, who pulled a limp Dao from his seat and dragging him down the aisle of the aircraft, apparently battering his face against an armrest in the process, as horrified passengers screamed and recorded the incident on smartphones. The video immediately went viral, triggering near universal outrage.

Senate committee wades in

Two days later the Senate Commerce Committee fired off a letter, signed by both key Republicans and Democrats on the panel, to United CEO Oscar Munoz, asking for an explanation.

"We recognize the importance of having passengers comply with the lawful instructions of airline crew and law enforcement, but it is hard to believe that some combination of better planning, training, communication, or additional incentives would not have mitigated this particular incident or avoided it altogether," the lawmakers wrote.

The letter went on to request information about standard operating procedure in cases such as this and what United personnel told the security personnel tasked with removing the passenger.

Belated apology

Munoz, meanwhile, retreated from an earlier position and issued something of an apology on Tuesday, admitting that "no one should ever be mistreated this way." Earlier however, a purported internal memo from Munos to United employees surfaced in the media. In it, Munos told United employees that the passenger was belligerent and they followed proper procedure in removing him from the aircraft.

However, they may not have. According to the Department of Transportation, U.S. law requires "each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't."

There is no account of the incident aboard Flight 3411 that describes Dao being given a written document of any kind.

The social media firestorm that erupted in the wake of the incident has spread to China meanwhile, where United is one of the major international carriers serving the country. The treatment of Dao, who is of Chinese decent, has touched a nerve in that country. Various media sources report that internet chatter in China is building for a boycott of United.

The story of United Airlines' forcible removal of a passenger from a flight Sunday isn't going away.On Sunday, United asked Chicago aviation police to...

Ratings system shows airlines improving performance

But after the last few days, there are some consumers who might not agree

It has been quite a week for the nation's airlines.

Delta struggled since the middle of last week to get its flight operations back on track after severe weather in the Southeast resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations.

Some consumers complained that it was difficult to communicate with Delta during that time to reschedule flights and the airline itself admitted the way everything was handled was less than ideal.

Then came United Airlines' public relations disaster, when security personnel dragged a passenger off the plane after he refused to give up his seat as ordered.

So it was somewhat ironic when, during the middle of all this, that the annual Airline Quality Rating (ARQ) came out, showing airlines improved their performance over the last 12 months.

Improved performance in all four categories

The ARQ found airlines performed better in all four categories on which they are measured: on-time performance, rate of involuntary denied boardings, rate of mishandled bags and the rate of customer complaints.

There are 12 airlines in the rating system and the ARQ shows nine of them logged improvement in on-time, baggage handling and customer complaints. Seven of the airlines improved in all four categories.

Alaska, American, Delta, ExpressJet, Frontier, SkyWest, Southwest, Spirit, and United all recorded improvement. At the same time, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Virgin America lost ground, according to the ratings.

“The best-ever overall industry AQR score is largely due to best-ever performance in the rate of involuntary denied boardings and the rate of mishandled bags,” said Dean Headley, associate professor of marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University.

'Air travel great again'

And the last week's events not withstanding, Headly says “air travel is great again – that statement can be followed with a period, exclamation point or question mark depending on the individual’s perspective.”

As for individual airlines, Alaska Air jumped to number one while last year's top-rated airline, Virgin America, slipped to number three. Here's the entire list, with the previous year's rank in parenthesis:

  1. Alaska (5)
  2. Delta (3)
  3. Virgin America (1)
  4. JetBlue (2)
  5. Hawaiian (4)
  6. Southwest (6)
  7. SkyWest (7)
  8. United (8)
  9. American (10)
  10. ExpressJet (9)
  11. Spirit (13)
  12. Frontier (11)

Involuntary denied boardings

When it comes to reducing the rate of involuntary denied boardings, Hawaiian and Delta did the best. ExpressJet had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate per 10,000 passengers.

Denied boardings occur because most airlines routinely sell more tickets than the aircraft has seats. It anticipates there will be a few no-shows, so overbooking means it flies with fewer empty seats.

But when everyone who purchased a ticket shows up, the airline then has to bump some passengers from the flight.

It has been quite a week for the nation's airlines.Delta struggled since the middle of last week to get its flight operations back on track after sever...

What are the world's best airlines?

According to TripAdvisor's top 10 list, only two are based in the U.S.

Travel site TripAdvisor.com has named what it considers the 10 best airlines in the world. Unless you do a lot of international travel, you might not get to enjoy most of them.

Coming out on top is Emirates, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It's followed by Singapore Airlines, and then Brazil's Azul.

It's only in the fourth spot that a U.S.-based airline -- JetBlue -- makes an appearance. It's followed by Air New Zealand, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, and Thailand-based Thai Smile at number eight.

Alaska Airlines, the only other U.S.-based carrier to earn a spot on the list, is ninth and Garuda Indonesia rounds out the top 10.

Some airlines investing in improved service

"The airline industry is investing billions of dollars in new aircraft and service enhancements to differentiate the flying experience and these awards recognize the carriers offering the very best experiences and value to the traveling public," said Bryan Saltzburg, Senior Vice President and General Manager for TripAdvisor Flights.

In addition to the top 10 list, TripAdvisor rated airlines in different categories of service, such as first class, business class, premium economy and economy. The awards were based on an algorithm that analyzed airline reviews and ratings submitted by travelers worldwide over the last year.

Besides being named number one overall, Emirates took honors for Best First Class and Best Economy Class.

"The fact that the awards are a result of unbiased reviews and feedback speaks to our commitment to deliver a superior travel experience for our customers," said Sir Tim Clark, President, Emirates Airlines.

Russia's Aeroflot was awarded Best Business Class and Air New Zealand was named Best Premium Economy Class.

Special category for U.S. carriers

Since U.S. carriers were not overly represented on the list, TripAdvisor created a category for North American airlines. It named Delta the top major airline in the U.S.

When it comes to mid-size and low-cost North American carriers, it breaks down this way:

  1. JetBlue
  2. Alaska Airlines
  3. Southwest
  4. Virgin America
  5. Westjet (Canada)
Travel site TripAdvisor.com has named what it considers the 10 best airlines in the world. Unless you do a lot of international travel, you might not get t...

Delta passengers voice frustration over flight cancellations

The airline continued to struggle through the weekend to get its planes back in the sky

Delta Airlines and its customers had a nightmarish weekend, a holdover from the severe weather that battered the Southeast during the middle of last week.

Flight cancellations continued to affect operations through the weekend. The company said things are beginning to stabliize, but it reported that flight crew availability continued to hamper operations because not enough people were within the federally mandated crew rest and duty day guidelines.

"We know this is extremely frustrating for our customers and we apologize for that," Delta said in a statement. "Delta teams continue to work around the clock to fully reset our operation and keep customers informed."

Passengers sound off

Over the weekend, ConsumerAffairs heard from Delta customers who were experiencing that frustration. It was perhaps made worse that last week was spring break at many schools, with families planning long-anticipated vacations.

John, of Jericho, N.Y., was on his way with his family from New York's JFK Airport to Orlando. When his departing flight was canceled, he was told he could not rebook until April 11. That was just three days before his scheduled return on the 14th.

"Had to cancel entire trip," John wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "My two young sons were crying in the airport."

Loretta, of Anaconda, Mont., wrote to ConsumerAffairs that she spent "many, many hours on hold" or waiting for a return call from Delta as she tried to rebook her flight.

Amy, of Hollis, N.H., said her flight was cancelled twice during the four days she had taken off for a vacation. She too had a frustrating time communicating with the airline.

"Calling Delta requires two to three hours trying to reschedule flights," Any wrote in her ConsumerAffairs post. "We found another airline to direct us to our destination at our expense."

Ticket refunds

That might not have been necessary. Delta says that if a customer's flight is canceled or significantly delayed 90 minutes or more, he or she can request a refund for the unused portion of the ticket. Even if the flight is not canceled, a one-time change to the ticket may be made without a fee. Delta provides more details on that policy here.

Delta said it cancelled about 120 flights on Sunday. Today, Delta customers should continue to check the company's website and the Fly Delta Mobile App for updates on flight status.

Meanwhile, Gil West, Delta's Chief Operating Officer, said he understands Delta's recovery from the outbreak of severe weather "has not been ideal."

Delta Airlines and its customers had a nightmarish weekend, a holdover from the severe weather that battered the Southeast during the middle of last week....

Virgin America to take the name of its new mate, Alaska

It may be a modern merger, but the two shall soon be known by a single name

Well, you knew this was going to happen. Alaska Airlines has teased and tantalized Virgin America's loyal followers, saying it might let Virgin keep its name after the two were joined together as one. 

But it turns out that was just honeymoon talk. The kindly looking old fellow whose visage adorns Alaska's tails has turned grumpy and exercised the patriarch's prerogative. In other words, Virgin America will soon be no more. In its place will be a lot more Alaska Airlines planes, Alaska made clear this week.

"After months of research and in-depth conversations with fliers, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire the Virgin America name and logo likely sometime in 2019," the company said in a press release. "However, many of the elements you love about Virgin America will live on, paired with Alaska’s unbeatable performance and top-rated customer service." 

Virgin America was beloved by many of its regulars. Maybe it was the mood lighting, the nifty entertainment system, the snacks and meals you could order whenever hunger struck, the leather seats. Whatever it was, it was brilliantly executed.

Not that there's anything wrong with Alaska, of course. Besides being the biggest state in the country, it's a perfectly fine airline. It just doesn't have the zing that Virgin America created.

Shazaming and such ...

But Alaska is determined to change all that and its press releases are sounding more like Virgin's all the time. 

"Imagine arriving at the airport and immediately feeling welcomed to a fresh, modern experience.

You know you’ll reach your destination on time with minimal hassle, and the airline you’ve chosen offers consistently low fares and more nonstop flights to more destinations from the West Coast than any other. At your gate, you can’t help Shazaming every song on the upbeat playlist, and the overhead announcements tell you what you need to know with a healthy dose of fun."

This might sound like your old uncle trying to be one of the cool guys, but Alaska deserves some credit for trying. It is, after all, now the fifth largest airline in the country and trying to keep that youthful vibe is a worthy goal.

Alaska says it will be making upgrades to both Alaska and Virgin aircraft over the next few years, including faster wi-fi, expanded first class and premium sections, and an integrated awards program. 

Well, you knew this was going to happen. Alaska Airlines has teased and tantalized Virgin America's loyal followers, saying it might let Virgin keep its na...

U.S. bans electronic devices from airline cabins on some Mid-East flights

Rule covers direct flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa

A new U.S. Transportation Department rule taking effect today prohibits passengers from carrying electronic devices aboard commercial aircraft flying directly to the U.S. from certain Middle Eastern countries.

A number of news outlets reporting the ban have quoted “senior U.S. officials” providing details of the new rule.

The devices – including smartphones, laptops, and tablets – may be packed in checked baggage.

The ban is said to be limited to flights departing 10 airports from the Middle East and North Africa and is based on security concerns. Officials told The Washington Post that intelligence continues to pick up on terrorist interest in targeting commercial aviation. The concern is that electronic devices can be modified to contain explosives.

According to Reuters, the affected cities include Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Doha, Qatar; Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.

Reuters quotes Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen as saying the U.S "did not target specific nations. We relied upon evaluated intelligence to determine which airports were affected."

The affected airports are served by nine airlines that have non-stop flights to the U.S. The carriers include Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad Airways.

A new U.S. Transportation Department rule taking effect today prohibits passengers from carrying electronic devices aboard commercial aircraft flying direc...

January -- a tough month for air travelers

A security incident in Florida caused massive tarmac delays

Getting off the ground was a major challenge in some areas if you were flying anywhere during January.

According to the Transportation Department's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR), airlines reported 30 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and 12 delays of more than four hours on international flights.

Fourteen of those long domestic delays and eight of the delays on foreign flights international were at occurred at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on January 6 because of a security incident. That may have had a ripple effect at other airports on this date. DOT is investigating all reported extended tarmac delays.

During the same month, carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 76.0%. While that's not as good as the 81.3% on-time rate a year earlier, it is a bit better than December's 75.6% mark.

The airlines also report canceling 2.0% of their scheduled domestic flights in January, an improvement over the year-ago rate of 2.6%, but worse than the 1.6% rate chalked up a month earlier.

The ATCR, which is found on the