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FAA throws down the hammer with new rules on unruly airline passengers

Those who cross the line may be fined up to $35,000 and could spend time in prison

If you plan on flying anytime soon, don’t act like a fool. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson has signed an order directing a harsher legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers. The move comes in the wake of recent episodes where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior, as well as cases in which some passengers refused to wear masks onboard a flight.

The move follows the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new set of standards for determining whether an airline was being unfair or deceptive in dealing with passengers. 

“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” Dickson said.

Be prepared to write a check for $35,000 if you act up

Up to now, the FAA has had a more lenient way of addressing unruly-passenger incidents by using a mix of warnings, counseling, and civil penalties. Dickson said the kid gloves are off now. Effective immediately, the FAA is getting rid of the simple warning or required counseling. Instead, the agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who “assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members.” 

If a passenger acts up in any fashion that crosses that warning line, they should be prepared to pay a fine of up to $35,000 and possibly spend time in prison on top of that. 

This policy will be in effect through March 30, 2021.

Don’t test the FAA

Dickson reminds the flying public that the FAA monitors and tracks all commercial passenger flights in real-time, and it has reporting mechanisms in place for crew members to identify any safety and security concerns that may arise in flight. 

“We have zero tolerance for threatening or violent behavior by passengers, and we will take the strongest possible enforcement action against any passenger who engages in it,” he said.

Airlines for America (A4A), an advocacy group representing the aviation industry, praised Dickson for the FAA’s assertiveness. 

“The safety and security of passengers and employees is always the top priority of the U.S. airline industry, and we welcome the FAA’s order to implement a more stringent policy regarding unruly passenger behavior,” A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said. “We cannot have any form of dangerous behavior that threatens the safety of passengers and crew members.”

If you plan on flying anytime soon, don’t act like a fool. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson has signed an order dire...
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Frontier joins other airlines in banning emotional support animals from flights

Service dogs are still permitted, but they must also follow new rules

Airlines continue to take a hard line against emotional support animals. Frontier Airlines is joining Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines in adopting new Department of Transportation (DOT) rules

The Denver-based carrier announced that it will no longer accept reservations for emotional support animals on any of its flights for all reservations booked on or after January 11, 2021, and for all flights departing on or after February 1, 2021

The DOT was getting gamed

The DOT said it was in a tough spot because the laundry list of concerns tied to emotional support animals raised by the airline industry, disabilities rights groups, and customers was growing out of control. Travelers have to bear some of the responsibility for why the DOT had to do what it did in closing all the loopholes its previous policy had left open to abuse.

“Airline employees will tell you that people with real disabilities present few problems in the airport environment,” the agency said. “Those abusing these policies are often easy to spot — their animals are often clearly pets and treated as such, are usually untrained for any service, the passenger often makes a big deal about it, and they generally stand out.”

“Those with real disabilities and real service animals benefit greatly from this change since it will reduce or eliminate those trying to appropriate their ADA benefit. Flight Attendants, too, undoubtedly see this as an improvement.”

Service dogs are still permitted

While it’s cutting off emotional support animals, Frontier will continue to transport service dogs specifically trained to support a qualified individual with a disability. The airline’s changes to its service animal policy are as follows:

  • Paperwork. Customers traveling with a service dog must complete and submit the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form, attesting to the dog’s health, behavior, and training. For reservations booked more than 48 hours prior to travel, customers must submit the completed form no later than 48 hours prior to travel. For reservations booked less than 48 hours prior to travel, customers must submit the completed form in person to a Customer Service Agent upon arrival at the airport.

  • What about animals other than dogs? For service animals booked prior to January 11, 2021, for travel through January 31, 2021, Frontier will transport dogs, cats, and miniature horses that have received training (including as a psychiatric service animal) to assist a qualified individual with a disability.

  • Maximum number of animals allowed. Under the new policy, the maximum number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability is two.

  • What happens if a service animal “acts up.” A trained service animal that engages in disruptive behavior or poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others may be denied boarding.

  • What about animals who don’t qualify? Animals who do not qualify as trained service animals may still be eligible to travel for a fee in accordance with Frontier’s Pet Policy.

Airlines continue to take a hard line against emotional support animals. Frontier Airlines is joining Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlin...
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Southwest Airlines launches fare sale with one-way tickets starting at $29

There’s fine print galore, so do your homework

Southwest Airlines kicked off 2021 with a huge fare sale that features $29 one-way fares -- $10-20 less than its previous promotional deals. It’s one of those if-you-want-it-act-now promotions because it only lasts through January 7, and it also only applies to certain markets, seats, and available days; a 21-day advance purchase is also required. 

The company avoided the subject of the coronavirus pandemic in its announcement, opting to focus more on spring travel when more people will have been immunized.

"Southwest is ready to take Customers to their favorite spring travel destinations," said Bill Tierney, Southwest Vice President of Marketing. "Whether it is hitting the slopes or soaking up the sun on the beach, Southwest is your ticket to the perfect getaway. With our legendary Hospitality, flexible policies, and low fares across our expanding network, we look forward to having our Customers onboard again when they are ready to get away."

Where will $29 get you?

The key to any of these deals is watching for trigger words and phrases like “as low as.” In Southwest-ese, its “as low as” includes $29 deals between:

  • Atlanta and Raleigh/Durham

  • Denver and Salt Lake City

  • Phoenix and Palm Springs

  • Boston and Baltimore/Washington

However, for $10 more -- $39 -- a one-way ticket between Dallas and New Orleans is available. Paying $89 will get someone from Nashville to Sarasota, and a $99 fare will be available for anyone traveling from San Diego to Hawaii. That last trip appears to be a particularly good deal. When ConsumerAffairs ran searches on Google Flights, most San Diego-Hawaii non-stop fares ranged from $124 to $159.

Southwest was very direct about its fare sale, saying there is “fine print galore.” And that there is. The biggest caveat is that the cheapest tickets are generally available for travel only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and for nonstop flights within the continental U.S. Sale fares for flights to Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico are generally offered on more days of the week.

Southwest Airlines kicked off 2021 with a huge fare sale that features $29 one-way fares -- $10-20 less than its previous promotional deals. It’s one of th...
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Qantas Airlines once again takes home the ‘world’s safest’ airline prize

An annual airline ranking now includes a category for low-cost airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, and Jetblue

Australia’s Qantas Airlines threw some extra shrimp on the barbie on Monday, as it learned it’s been named the “world’s safest airline” once again. 

AirlineRatings.com editors applauded the 100-year old Qantas for amassing a record of firsts in both operations and safety. 

“The Australian airline has been a clear leader in the development of Future Air Navigation System; real-time monitoring of its engines across its fleet, the flight data recorder to monitor plane and later crew performance; automatic landings using Global Navigation Satellite System as well as precision approaches around mountains in the cloud using RNP (Required Navigation Performance),” said AirlineRatings Christine Forbes Smith. Smith noted that Qantas has been either first or second to roll out the 16 major safety enhancements introduced in the past 60 years.

The Top 20

In evaluating an airline’s safety, AirlineRatings.com took an exhaustive range of factors into account, including: airline’s crash and serious incident record, government audits, audits from aviation’s governing and industry bodies, industry-leading safety initiatives, and fleet age.

Here’s how the researchers ranked its who’s who:

  1. Qantas

  2. Qatar Airways

  3. Air New Zealand

  4. Singapore Airlines

  5. Emirates

  6. EVA Air

  7. Etihad Airways

  8. Alaska Airlines

  9. Cathay Pacific Airways

  10. British Airways

  11. Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic

  12. Hawaiian Airlines

  13. Southwest Airlines

  14. Delta Air Lines

  15. American Airlines

  16. SAS

  17. Finnair

  18. Lufthansa

  19. KLM

  20. United Airlines

Despite Qantas sitting atop the field and United bringing up the rear, AirlineRatings.com editor-in-chief Geoffrey Thomas said that, in reality, there’s not as much disparity as it seems between #1 and #20.

“These airlines are standouts in the industry and are at the forefront of safety, innovation, and launching of new aircraft. In fact, there is very little between the top 20, they are all standouts,” Mr. Thomas said.

In the past, low-cost carriers have been excluded in the rankings. But in response to public interest, AirlineRatings.com editors decided to include them this time around. Their Top 10 safest & best low-cost airlines are as follows in alphabetical order: Air Arabia, Allegiant, easyjet, Frontier, Jetstar Group, Jetblue, Ryanair, Vietjet, Westjet, and Wizz.

Australia’s Qantas Airlines threw some extra shrimp on the barbie on Monday, as it learned it’s been named the “world’s safest airline” once again. Air...
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Alaska Airlines becomes the first U.S. airline to adhere to new DOT rules on emotional support animals

Service dogs are acceptable, but there are new rules for them as well

In a move to reflect recent changes to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) rules regarding emotional support animals on its flights, Alaska Airlines will no longer allow those pets to board. Effective January 11, 2021, Alaska will only transport service dogs, given their ability to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. 

The DOT’s recent changes come out more than 15,000 comments to the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking. It said its final determination “addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.” 

Welcome news

The emotional support animal issue has been a push-and-pull for nearly two years, with some major U.S. airlines -- including JetBlue, Delta, and Southwest -- either modifying or completely ditching their rules on what is and what isn’t a quantifiable “emotional support animal.”

At Alaska Airlines, the change brought a huge sigh of relief. 

"This regulatory change is welcome news, as it will help us reduce disturbances onboard, while continuing to accommodate our guests traveling with qualified service animals," said Ray Prentice, director of customer advocacy at Alaska Airlines.

The changes

As airlines start adhering to the new DOT policy, there will no doubt be some variation on the finer points, but every carrier will have to follow these basic requirements listed in the final rule:

  • “Defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;

  • No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal;

  • Requires airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals;

  • Allows airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;

  • Allows airlines to require individuals traveling with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time;

  • Prohibits airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process;  

  • Allows airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;

  • Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals; 

  • Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;

  • Allows airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft;

  • Continues to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and

  • Continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.”

In Alaska’s revised policy, the airline will accept a maximum of two service dogs per guest in the cabin. That includes psychiatric service dogs, which the DOT now requires airlines to treat the same as other service animals. Alaska passengers will be required to complete a DOT form, which will be available on AlaskaAir.com beginning January 11, certifying that their animal is a legitimate service dog, is trained and vaccinated, and will behave appropriately during the journey. 

Other airlines will no doubt follow suit and make similar announcements in the following weeks. For consumers who have a service animal or have flown with an emotional support animal in the past and have hopes of doing it again sometime soon, it would be wise to contact the airline you plan to fly with directly to find out exactly what its policies are.

In a move to reflect recent changes to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) rules regarding emotional support animals on its flights, Alaska Airli...
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American Airlines makes a safe return of the 737 MAX to the skies

Boeing says the FAA’s recertification process gave it the opportunity to create a more efficient version of the aircraft

American Airlines has become the first U.S. airline to return the once ill-fated 737 MAX to service. Two years after all 737 MAX were grounded following two fatal crashes and after 20 months of a rigorous recertification process by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the aircraft made a safe return to the skies Tuesday via an American flight from Miami to New York City.

American Airlines Flight 718 left Miami on time and landed in New York ahead of schedule, then turned around and made another safe trip back to Miami Tuesday afternoon. 

Confidence restored

On top of what the FAA inspected, American said it also conducted an exhaustive process to ensure that every 737 MAX in the air is safe and that its pilots, flight attendants, team members, and customers are confident in the return of the aircraft.

Needless to say, Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer, was ecstatic too. The company had moved toward dire straits since the MAX’ grounding, forcing it to ask lenders for $10 billion to help offset losses from MAX-related incidents and to fend off a $336 million lawsuit over its failure to complete 737 MAX orders.

Noticeable changes

The forced downtime was actually a blessing, in part, for Boeing. It says it was able to revisit the construction and layout of its 737 planes, which led to “new, more fuel-efficient engines and improved aerodynamics” that will reduce both fuel and emissions by 20 percent. In addition, the reconfigured plane can fly some 600 miles further than its predecessor. 

On the passenger side of the equation, fliers will enjoy a new interior replete with modern sculpted sidewalls, window reveals, LED lighting designed to enhance the sense of spaciousness, and larger pivoting overhead storage bins.

Boeing’s investment in retooling the MAX has already started to pay off. Just last week, Alaska Airlines announced that the carrier is buying 23 more 737-9 airplanes, building on its original order and options to acquire 120 aircraft in total. 

Still don’t want to set foot on a 737 MAX?

For travelers who are still skeptical about flying on a 737 MAX, American, for one, says it understands. 

“If a customer doesn’t want to fly on a 737 MAX aircraft, they won’t have to … in the immediate term, we’ll provide additional flexibility to ensure our customers can be easily re-accommodated if they prefer not to fly on the 737 MAX. And if their aircraft type ever changes to a 737 MAX, there is no end to the flexibility our customers will have,” the airline said in a release. 

For customers who prefer not to fly on a 737 MAX, they can:

  • Rebook on the next available flight in the same cabin at no cost.

  • Cancel their trip completely and receive travel credits redeemable with American Airlines.

  • Change their itinerary within a 300-mile radius at no extra charge, but only if there is no alternative American Airlines flight available to get them to their destination.

American Airlines has become the first U.S. airline to return the once ill-fated 737 MAX to service. Two years after all 737 MAX were grounded following tw...
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Airlines to receive $15 billion in additional aid under new stimulus package

Tens of thousands of furloughed employees should be called back to work

Under the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus agreement reached Sunday, U.S. airlines are scheduled to receive $15 billion in additional federal aid. The deal will also require airlines to call back more than 32,000 workers who were furloughed due to the financial strain of the pandemic. 

The nation’s passenger airlines were given $25 billion in aid under the CARES Act passed in March. Once that aid ran out and it became clear that additional federal support wouldn’t be approved fast enough, airlines made the decision to start furloughing employees.

The funds set aside for airlines in the second stimulus package would help keep airline workers employed until the end of March. The bill would also see that other struggling transportation sectors receive additional funding. It includes: 

  • $1 billion for airline contractors;

  • $2 billion for airports and concessionaires;

  • $14 billion for transit;

  • $10 billion for state highways;

  • $1 billion for Amtrak; and

  • $2 billion for private bus, school bus and ferry companies.

Travelers still not flying

Although many Americans are expected to travel this week, the airline industry has said it’s still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Flight bookings have declined due to the increase in new infections during the fall and winter, and new travel restrictions haven’t helped either.

A survey found that 66 percent of people who plan to travel this week plan to do so using their own vehicle so they can avoid crowded airports.

Under the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus agreement reached Sunday, U.S. airlines are scheduled to receive $15 billion in additional federal aid. The deal w...
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United Airlines and CDC partner up for contract tracing initiative

The effort is designed to collect detailed, real-time information to slow the spread of COVID-19

United Airlines and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put a plan into place to launch what the airline calls “the airline industry's most comprehensive contact information collection program for public health follow-up and contact tracing.”

The initiative is very straightforward: During a United passenger’s check-in procedure, they will be given the option to voluntarily provide their contact information (email, phone number, and the address they’re traveling to) -- details that the CDC previously had difficulty obtaining in real-time. Travelers can opt in and participate via United's mobile app, at united.com, or at the airport.

"Contact tracing is a fundamental component of the nation's public health response strategy for controlling the spread of communicable diseases of public health concern," said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. "Collection of contact information from air travelers will greatly improve the timeliness and completeness of information for COVID-19 public health follow-up and contact tracing."

United’s idea follows Delta’s contact tracing program announced on December 3 for international travelers returning to the U.S.

The phased-in approach

This initiative won’t start everywhere at once. The program will roll out in phases beginning this week with the voluntary collection of information for all international arrivals. In the weeks ahead, the airline will phase in domestic and international outbound departures. 

"Initiatives like testing and contact tracing will play a significant role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine is widely available," said United's Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist. "United continues to take a leadership role in both areas and is proud to support the CDC by doing our part to help them safeguard public health and safety."

Travel industry finally gets what it’s been begging for

Travel industry groups have been begging the Trump administration for months to produce a COVID-19 testing plan that would eliminate the patchwork of confusing state-to-state quarantines and travel bans while giving the re-opening of travel a fighting chance.

The American Society of Travel Advisors, Airlines for America, Travelers United, U.S. Travel Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with 15 others, wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf asking for a unified national plan way back in October.  

The groups were very direct about the value of contact tracing, saying the government should “eliminate the need for blanket restrictions and traveler quarantines by implementing comprehensive, cost-effective pre-departure testing procedures and contact tracing protocols … that are medically-based, affordable, dependable, scalable, privacy-oriented, and fit into the passenger journey with as little disruption as possible.”

United Airlines and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put a plan into place to launch what the airline calls “the airline indu...
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Southwest Airlines adds two more destinations to its schedule to raise its profile in California

The company thinks travelers want to visit outdoor destinations that feel safe from COVID-19

Southwest Airlines is not one to wait for the pandemic to be done and gone. On Wednesday, it announced that it’s adding another two destinations, now making 12 new cities it’s decided to add on this year.

The newest landing spots for the discount fare carrier are Santa Barbara and Fresno. Those additions now give Southwest coverage at 13 California airports from Sacramento all the way south to San Diego.

"Our arrival in the Heart of California, both on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley, will round out nearly four decades of investment in our California Customers and communities," said Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer & Executive Vice President Andrew Watterson.

"While other airlines seem to fall in and out of love with the state, we're focused on increasing the reach of our low fares and flexible policies in places where we expect them to make a difference."

Southwest’s shot was no doubt directed at American, JetBlue, and Allegiant, which all pulled out of various California destinations earlier this year. Southwest didn’t give an exact start for service to Santa Barbara and Fresno, leaving it at sometime in “the second quarter of 2021.”

Going where the pandemic isn’t

In an announcement, Kevin Meikle, Director of Aviation for Fresno Yosemite International Airport, let the cat out of the bag about Southwest’s possible reason for adding Fresno -- a gateway to nearby national parks.

"For years residents and businesses throughout Central California have expressed a desire for Southwest service and connectivity to their vast network of destinations and renowned customer service," Meikle said. 

"Southwest will expand the Central Valley's air transportation gateway to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and we look forward to our new partnership with Southwest and their arrival in the spring."

Southwest’s idea isn’t necessarily novel. In July, United Airlines figured out that people are more inclined to travel to outdoorsy places like national parks than they are to a city teeming with potential COVID-19 cases. In United’s case, it focused on adding open-air spaces like Aspen, Colorado; Bozeman, Montana; and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Southwest Airlines is not one to wait for the pandemic to be done and gone. On Wednesday, it announced that it’s adding another two destinations, now makin...
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Delta Air Lines scraps international change fees and adds flexibility to new tickets

Some changes might include caveats, so travelers should make sure they check all of the fare rules on a flight

With the coronavirus vaccine about to shine some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Delta Air Lines is reframing some of its typical restrictions in hopes of attracting millions of Americans who are more than ready to get out and travel again.

Topping the list of changes is an extension to an existing waiver that promises no change fees for all tickets purchased through March 30, 2021, for travel at any time to anywhere in the world. According to a Delta spokesperson, that includes Basic Economy fares, “which typically can’t be changed or canceled.” Delta is hoping that the modification will make it easier for travelers to book their 2021 spring break or summer vacation.

The other change Delta is making is to permanently eliminate change fees for international travel originating from North America -- including flights operated by joint venture and codeshare partners (Air France, KLM, et al) -- effective immediately. 

While this sounds like great news, there is one important note that wanderlusting consumers should make -- namely, that “permanently” isn’t exactly permanent in the general sense. Delta clarified to ConsumerAffairs that Basic Economy fares for international flights are excluded from this change after March 30.

“No year has better demonstrated the value of flexibility than this one,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “Our approach has always been to put people first, which is why we’re extending our current change fee waiver and making lasting changes to our practices, so customers have the trust and confidence they need long after the pandemic ends.”

Pay attention to the details on every flight

The COVID-19 pandemic has put airlines on an emotional rollercoaster as carriers look for ways to keep their planes in the air and passengers in seats. American, Southwest, JetBlue, and countless other airlines all took steps to be as consumer-sensitive as possible.

Delta’s latest move is likely to prod its competitors to do the same if not more. However, as ConsumerAffairs noted in the caveat about change fees for Delta’s Basic Economy fares, the devil is in the details. 

Anyone looking to purchase a ticket for future flights that look like great deals should always click on the “more details” or “other fees may apply” links in a reservation before clicking on the “book now” button. If there is still confusion, the next best option is to email the airline and ask for clarification. And, by all means, keep a copy of the airline’s response in case something goes wrong.

With the coronavirus vaccine about to shine some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Delta Air Lines is reframing some of its typical restrictions in...
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American Airlines to offer $129 preflight COVID-19 test

The program will start Wednesday for travel beginning Saturday

To boost customer bookings, American Airlines has announced that it will offer customers $129 at-home COVID-19 tests. 

The tests, which will be provided by LetsGetChecked, are intended to help travelers avoid quarantines in the places they are going. Some states -- including New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts -- require incoming travelers to quarantine for up to two weeks upon arrival. 

LetsGetChecked offers at-home nasal swab tests that promise results in under 48 hours. The program will go live starting Wednesday for flights leaving Saturday. American Airlines said the pre-flight coronavirus test it’s offering focuses on domestic travel. 

Airlines have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer demand for flights has remained far below normal levels due to travelers’ fears about contracting the virus, as well as quarantine requirements in the U.S. and abroad. 

Airlines and airports offering testing

In October, United Airlines started offering COVID-19 tests to consumers traveling to Hawaii destinations. The airline’s CEO said at the time that United is “committed to innovating to help customers continue to travel where they want to go in a way that is safe.” 

A number of airports currently have testing requirements in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. In the coming weeks, the following airports are also expected to start offering COVID-19 testing: 

  • California. San Diego International Airport (SAN)

  • Colorado. Denver International Airport (DEN) 

  • Florida. Fort Lauderdale; Hollywood International Airport (FLL) 

  • Illinois. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD); Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) 

  • Maryland. Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) 

  • New York. Albany International Airport (ALB)

To boost customer bookings, American Airlines has announced that it will offer customers $129 at-home COVID-19 tests. The tests, which will be provided...
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Southwest Airlines warns 6,800 employees of imminent layoffs

One employee union argued that the airline is flush with cash and that its employees are willing to take unpaid leave

Southwest Airlines has done its best to hold steady through the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s finally thrown up its first caution flag. On Thursday, the airline warned 6,800 employees that they may be furloughed in the spring. 

According to CNN, potential furloughs would affect 2,551 ground crew members, 1,176 customer service agents, 1,500 flight attendants, and 1,221 pilots. Southwest said the employees are safe for now, but if the other shoe does indeed drop, the cuts would take place on March 15 or April 1. In October, the company’s CEO Gary Kelly essentially forecasted the furloughs when he said “we will all need to sacrifice more,” adding that company leaders are taking a 10 percent pay cut in the year ahead. 

If the threat becomes real, it will be the first time Southwest has had to resort to layoffs to stay afloat -- and no one can’t say it didn’t try to avoid that outcome. Over the last six weeks, ConsumerAffairs counted five major discounted airfare promotions that the airline offered consumers to try and recapture some of the $2.75 billion it lost during the pandemic. 

Holding out hope

An internal memo to Southwest employees stated that the airline is open to cutting a deal with union groups to avoid the nearly 7,000 furloughs. “We are not closing the door -- we'll continue negotiations if union representatives want to continue working toward reaching mutually agreeable solutions,” it read.

Two of Southwest's major unions fired right back, objecting to the company's planned furloughs and saying that union leadership will continue to fight to save jobs.

"While this development is not completely surprising, it is incredibly disappointing to our pilots and their families," said Captain Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA). He also said the union "remains committed to finding solutions that will dissuade the company from taking any further steps towards furloughs."

The Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents Southwest flight attendants, thinks the airline is crying wolf when it’s actually flush with billions in reserves. 

"Southwest Airlines has approximately $15 billion in cash on hand and is predicted to be the first airline to emerge in making money for its shareholders," said Dan Akins, airline economist and an advisor to the TWU. The union claims that it’s offered the airline a variety of cost savings proposals and that thousands of Southwest flight attendants even offered to take extra unpaid leave in order to save their jobs.

Southwest Airlines has done its best to hold steady through the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s finally thrown up its first caution fl...
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Delta introduces industry’s first contact tracing for travelers returning to the U.S.

The airline hopes the move will speed up the identification process for confirmed COVID-19 cases

As airlines continue their quest of giving travelers ways to feel comfortable enough to fly in the new pandemic normal, Delta Air Lines on Wednesday announced that it’s rolling out the first contract tracing program for passengers returning to the U.S.

Delta is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in this effort, along with the airline’s nine global airline partners -- AeroMexico, Air France, Alitalia, China Eastern, KLM, Korean Air, LATAM, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia. It will also work closely with government agencies, health officials, and aviation authorities to offer safer travel at every point in a traveler’s international journey.

The program begins on December 15, and participation is open to foreign nationals and/or U.S. passport holders traveling to the United States as their final destination.

Easy and completely voluntary

Keeping things as simple as possible, Delta says that the process will only require sharing five pieces of information -- passengers’ full name, email address, stateside address, primary phone, and secondary phone. Once a passenger fills out their form, Delta will securely forward that personal information to the Customs and Border Protection office, which, in turn, will pass it along to the CDC.

When a traveler has tested positive for the coronavirus, those five pieces of information allow Delta to expedite the process of informing the CDC and passengers who were in close proximity with a confirmed case. Currently, Delta provides the CDC with a passenger manifest that identifies all customers seated two seats around the confirmed case, This information is then transmitted to the appropriate local health departments for follow-up, with each department taking responsibility for passengers in their own jurisdiction..

One important note: the program is completely voluntary, but Delta hopes all travelers will realize its value and take part. 

“Independent studies have shown that the many layers of protection Delta has already put in place are effectively minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and contact tracing adds one more important layer to our efforts to ensure safety throughout travel,” said Bill Lentsch, Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer. “We want customers to feel safe when they return to travel, and this voluntary program is another way we can provide additional reassurance to customers and employees alike.”  

As airlines continue their quest of giving travelers ways to feel comfortable enough to fly in the new pandemic normal, Delta Air Lines on Wednesday announ...
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Consumer groups criticize new rules governing ‘deceptive practices’ by airlines

The Biden administration could reverse the rule change, but it could take a lot of time and effort

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has established a new set of standards for determining whether an airline was being unfair or deceptive in dealing with passengers. On the surface, that sounds great for the consumer, but consumer advocacy groups disagree, saying the new standards will actually make it more difficult to curtail bad behavior and create new protections going forward.

According to the Washington Post’s coverage of the policy update, the airline industry was behind the requested change. Chief among its complaints was that the Trump administration had enacted consumer protection rules which made it more difficult for airlines to do business, so the industry reportedly asked the government to pull back on those reins a bit. 

Early in 2018, airlines asked for industry-wide rule changes as part of Trump’s deregulation push, putting more than 30 flyer-oriented protections and regulations on the chopping block. This included certain regulations created under the Obama administration, such as a DOT requirement that airlines publish the entire cost of tickets, including fees and taxes; give passengers a full 24 hours to cancel a ticket after booking; and take additional steps to protect consumers from delayed or oversold flights.

“Critical” or “Disappointing”

Airlines for America, which represents the major carriers and championed the rule changes, applauded federal officials for taking action. “This reform is a critical step forward in ensuring a data-driven regulatory process, which will produce widespread and lasting benefits for air travelers, airlines and the economy,” Katherine Estep, an Airlines for America spokeswoman, told the Post.

However, the National Consumers League isn’t buying that. “The DOT’s decision, at the height of a pandemic, to kneecap its ability to protect millions of travelers from airline industry abuses is deeply disappointing. That the Department decided to do so on the Friday after Thanksgiving highlights that they hope this terrible decision will be forgotten by Monday,” said John Breyault, the League’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud. 

“It should be clear to every member of the flying public that current DOT leadership is focused squarely on doing the airline industry’s bidding between now and January 20.”

The incoming Biden administration could seek to reverse the rule change, but it may have things it considers more important on its to-do list, and changing a rule like this doesn’t exactly come at the snap of a finger. The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment from the Post, but Breyault said his organization has had positive conversations with the president-elect’s team about consumer protection issues.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has established a new set of standards for determining whether an airline was being unfair or deceptive in dealing w...
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Delta pilots sign off on deal to avoid furloughs until 2022

The airline says it’s not out of the woods yet, and it’s watching the COVID-19 spikes carefully

Delta Air Line pilots should be happy going into the Thanksgiving weekend. On Wednesday, they voted yes on a cost-cutting deal designed to avoid more than 1,700 furloughs until 2022. 

But the pilots also had some skin in the game, agreeing to accept up to a five percent cut in hours. In addition, any pilot that would have been furloughed by the airline at the end of the month is guaranteed to receive partial pay of 30 hours a month and will not have to fly.

Other Delta employees had caught a break earlier this year, saving tens of thousands from the unemployment line. Still, other airlines such as JetBlue and United had earlier cut deals with their pilots to escape some level of furlough. When all the coronavirus-led job losses are added up, U.S. airlines have cut more than 70,000 jobs this year, all in an effort to keep carriers from completely going belly-up. 

Delta says it’s grateful

Things like furloughs and shedding jobs to make ends meet is painful for everyone involved. Delta’s chief of operations, John Laughter, expressed his gratitude in a note to pilots, saying that the company is “grateful to keep all our pilots actively employed and provide stability for you and your families.”

Laughter also warned about potential challenges that the latest spikes in coronavirus infections might create for both the airline and its workers.

“Our recovery will be uneven -- as evident by the recent increase in COVID rates which are affecting our bookings for the holiday season,” Laughter wrote. “But there is still much to be thankful for, and by working together we continue to maintain and grow a loyal customer base that feels confident choosing Delta time and again for our safety, reliability and service.”

Delta Air Line pilots should be happy going into the Thanksgiving weekend. On Wednesday, they voted yes on a cost-cutting deal designed to avoid more than...
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United Airlines says spike in COVID-19 cases is impacting air travel again

Two other major U.S. carriers say things are tough, but they stopped short of blaming it on a rise in positive cases

The rollercoaster ride of the COVID-19 pandemic is tough enough for the average Joe, but it’s even more of an up-and-down existence for businesses, especially airlines.

Just three days after United Airlines appeared to feel good about testing a program that guaranteed passengers that the crew tested negative before departure, the company is now moaning that the spike in positive COVID-19 cases is starting to impact air travel once again.

According to a report from CNN, United warned in a filing Thursday morning that it has witnessed a drop in bookings and, concurrently, a rise in canceled reservations. It blames these two developments on the increased infection rates across the country.

Back to the chopping block

The potential outcome of what United is witnessing could lead to even bigger cuts to its fourth quarter schedule, far beyond the planned cut of 55 percent. To try and save themselves from bleeding any more red ink, seven major U.S. airlines (including United) lobbied Congress on Thursday for a new cash infusion to help keep them afloat.

United was the first major U.S. airline to pare back its domestic schedule in early spring when the initial stateside outbreak first started affecting air travel. Delta and American quickly followed suit

United didn’t mention job cuts in its filing, but it’s proven that it’s not shy about taking a knife to those, either.

Other airlines feel the heat

Speaking of American, it, too, mentioned a downturn in recent bookings. However, it did not tie that dip to a rise in reservations being canceled. Vasu Raja, American Airlines chief revenue officer, told investors at a conference on Tuesday that his airline also has "definitely seen a flattening of ticket sales."

"It's been nowhere near to the kind of negative effects we saw either in July or in the March-April period," he said. "But now we're at a place where we can absolutely anticipate it and plan a network ... around that. We've seen it."

In a report sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week, Southwest said it has experienced a “deceleration in improving revenue trends for November and December 2020 in recent weeks.” 

“While the Company expected the election to impact trends, it is unclear whether the softness in booking trends is also a direct result of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases. As such, the Company remains cautious in this uncertain revenue environment,” the company said.

The rollercoaster ride of the COVID-19 pandemic is tough enough for the average Joe, but it’s even more of an up-and-down existence for businesses, especia...
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Airlines lobby Congress for new infusion of cash to help keep them afloat

Adding urgency to the matter is the role airlines might play in distributing a new vaccine

Seven of the U.S.’ biggest airlines are begging Congress for another bailout, claiming the $25 billion payroll assistance they received earlier in the government’s COVID-19 rescue mission is not enough to get them through the end of the year.

The letter to congressional leaders was sent by lobbying group Airlines for America (A4A) on behalf of Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue Airways. 

No help could lead to more cuts

Airline executives claim that they’ve done all they can to curtail furloughs, reductions in workforce, and cuts to service, but they say there could be an even greater slashing of jobs and services unless Capitol Hill writes some new checks for the industry.

Then, there’s the situation with a coronavirus vaccine. Airline officials say they think their companies will play an important role in the distribution process.

“As the nation looks forward and takes on the logistical challenges of distributing a vaccine, it will be important to ensure there are sufficient certified employees and planes in service necessary for adequate capacity to complete the task,” the letter said.

'We respectfully ask that you come together and extend the successful PSP (payroll support programs) this year so that we can continue to support our critical aviation workforce and infrastructure. Your leadership is needed before the close of the 116th Congress so that this bipartisan and incredibly effective COVID-relief measure can continue to save American jobs and allow us to continue our significant role in the health of our US economy.”

Will push come to shove?

When the first round of checks were sent, some U.S. senators thought they were large enough to help airlines stay alive without having to resort to job cuts. However, airlines wrestled with the strings attached to receiving the aid -- namely, that they would need to keep a certain level of workers employed. 

Later, when Delta and JetBlue decided to reduce employee hours to cope with their loss of revenue, lawmakers were quick to say they would be violating the goal of the Payroll Support Program. More than a dozen U.S. senators fired off letters to airline CEOs pushing for an immediate end to the “potentially illegal” action. 

In late September, as the airline’s commitment to the payroll support program came to an end and airlines threatened to make even more cuts, congressional leaders took another swing at an additional infusion of cash, but it went nowhere, despite President Trump’s support.

“Time already ran out for U.S. airlines and many of our employees, yet there is a glimmer of hope that our leaders in Washington will act and save these jobs before it’s too late to turn back the clock,” A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said at the time.

“Some U.S. airlines may be able to reinstate employees if they receive direct payroll assistance from the federal government soon, but that becomes increasingly challenging with each passing day. Extending the Payroll Support Program is a critical step for preserving jobs, rebuilding the travel industry and restoring the economic health of our country.”

As they say, fasten your seatbelt. This turbulence is likely to continue.

Seven of the U.S.’ biggest airlines are begging Congress for another bailout, claiming the $25 billion payroll assistance they received earlier in the gove...
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FAA gives Boeing permission to restart production of its 737 MAX aircraft

Companies that use the aircraft will be able to bring them back into service after fulfilling requirements

There’s cause for celebration at Boeing. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rescinded the order that halted commercial operations of Boeing 737-8s and 737-9s -- aka the 737 MAX -- after the jets were involved in two fatal crashes. 

The FAA’s move gives all airlines under the FAA's authority to take whatever steps necessary to resume service using the aircraft and gives Boeing the all-clear to deliver those planes to buyers.

What the FAA will be watching for

In the traveler’s best interests, the FAA thoroughly examined the 737 MAX from cockpit to rudder to look for anything that could prove troublesome and cause another crash -- like the structural cracks it found on 38 of Boeing’s 737 NG jets. 

The agency’s new Airworthiness Directive spells out the requirements that must be met before U.S. carriers can resume service with their 737 MAX’, including installing software enhancements, completing wire separation modifications, pilot training, and accomplishing thorough de-preservation activities that will ensure the airplanes are ready for service.

"The FAA's directive is an important milestone," said Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide."

Boeing’s commitment going forward

Needless to say, Boeing does not want to go through another 20-month period where it can’t sell one of its best-selling jets and certainly can’t afford to lose more billions of dollars in sales cancellations or put its employees at risk of losing their jobs like this setback caused. 

To set itself up for success going forward, the company has realigned its org chart by merging more than 50,000 engineers into a single organization that includes a new Product & Services Safety unit, intended to unify safety responsibilities across the company.

It’s also empowered those engineers to identify, diagnose, and resolve issues with a higher level of transparency and immediacy.

Southwest commits to rigorous testing

Southwest Airlines -- one of two major domestic carriers using the 737 MAX --  likes what it’s seen from the FAA so far. Alan Kasher, Southwest’s Pilot and Senior Vice President of Air Operations, said that “with these changes we believe the MAX is now amongst the most reviewed and tested commercial aircraft in the world.”

Further up the corporate ladder, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said that his company wants to thoroughly test out the the 737 MAX before risking the safety of a single passenger. The executive has committed to flying on the MAX before Southwest returns the aircraft to service — and he promises the same for many other Southwest Leaders.

“Before we return the aircraft to customer service, however, every active Southwest Pilot will complete additional FAA-required flight training in one of our nine 737 MAX simulators and will complete additional FAA-required computer-based training covering MAX procedures,” Kelly said.

“Southwest will also require active Pilots to re-take our original 737 MAX 8 computer-based differences training as a refresher to complement the FAA-required training. Additionally, Southwest will conduct multiple readiness flights on each of our 34 MAX aircraft and complete thousands of hours of work, inspections, and the software updates before any of our Customers board a Southwest 737 MAX.”

There’s cause for celebration at Boeing. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rescinded the order that halted commercial operations of Boeing...
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Latest DOT metrics show on-time performance for airlines is up, but so are complaints

One interesting statistic is the number of complaints about mishandled wheelchairs and scooters

The once unfriendly skies of the COVID-19 pandemic are now producing an improvement in on-time performance. However, getting a refund from an airline continues to be a major hassle for travelers, according to the latest metrics from the Department of Transportation (DOT).

In monitoring 10 airlines -- Allegiant, Delta, Southwest, American, United, Spirit, JetBlue, Alaska, Frontier, and Hawaiian -- the ups and downs shook out like this:

Arrivals

Highest on-time arrival rates:

1.    Southwest Airlines – 94.5 percent and a near 15-point improvement from the previous year

2.    Alaska Airlines Network – 92.5 percent 

3.    Hawaiian Airlines Network – 91.7 percent 

Lowest on-time arrival rates:

1.    JetBlue Airways – 85.4 percent 

2.    Allegiant Air – 85.5 percent 

3.    Frontier Airlines – 87.0 percent 

Cancellations

In July 2020, reporting marketing carriers canceled 0.8 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, a higher rate than 0.4 percent in June 2020 but a lower rate than 2.1 percent  a year before (July 2019). 

Lowest canceled flight rates

1.    Spirit Airlines – 0.1 percent 

2.    American Airlines Network – 0.6 percent 

3.    Southwest Airlines – 0.7 percent 

Highest cancellation rates:

1.    Hawaiian Airlines Network – 4.1 percent 

2.    Frontier Airlines – 3.2 percent 

3.    JetBlue Airways – 2.8 percent 

Complaints 

In July 2020, the DOT received 11,117 complaints about airline service from consumers -- up an unbelievable 493.2 percent from the total of 1,874 filed in July 2019, but down 30.3 percent from the 15,946 received in June 2020. Of the 11,117 complaints received in July 2020, 10,257 concerned refunds.

The bad boys of the complaint world turned out to be United (850 total with 93.8 percent of those regarding refunds), Frontier (795 total with 72.4 percent regarding refunds), and American (615 total with 81.9 percent regarding refunds). 

Bad news aside, every airline should get a little credit for being efficient with handling luggage. Overall, baggage-related complaints were down from 11.8 percent in July 2019 to 0.5 percent in July 2020.

Mishandling of wheelchairs

Travelers usually don’t take into consideration things like how efficient an airline is when it comes to things like mishandling assistive devices like wheelchairs. But with the pandemic already producing enough stress as it is, every little thing that goes wrong only adds to a traveler’s stress levels.

In July 2020, airlines reported mishandling a rate of 1.17 percent mishandled wheelchairs and scooters, a tick better than a year ago, but still something a traveler who needs assistance should be aware of.

While Southwest scored well in the on-time category and American in the cancelled flights segment, neither fared well in the wheelchair/scooter breakout. American (and its subsidiaries) mishandled 150 wheelchair/scooter requests, and Southwest was a distant second at 31. The airline with the best record in this category was Hawaiian, who bungled zero wheelchair/scooter requests.

Other metrics

In the animal department, it looks like all the problems related to animals have completely vanished. Whether it was the DOT’s recent involvement or the airlines just paying more attention, who knows. However, there were zero animal-related complaints in the latest DOT statistics, and for travelers with pets, that’s a welcome change.

Also down were the complaints about discrimination -- possibly a result of a House committee calling out airlines about the matter. Discrimination complaints fell from 11 in July 2019 to only five in 2020. Of those, one regarded race, three regarded national origin, and one regarded religion. The DOT says that all complaints alleging discrimination are investigated by the Department to determine if there has been a violation(s) of the passenger’s civil rights.

The once unfriendly skies of the COVID-19 pandemic are now producing an improvement in on-time performance. However, getting a refund from an airline conti...
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New Boeing study proves effectiveness of cleaning tools and methods to stave off COVID-19 on aircraft

The airplane manufacturer says it will continue to validate the effectiveness of various disinfectants

A new joint study from aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the University of Arizona shows that cleaning tools and techniques effectively destroy the virus that causes COVID-19.

The significance of that silver lining could go a long way in giving travelers the confidence to take back to the skies and set some of their clouded fears about the health safety of an airplane aside.

As part of its Confident Travel Initiative (CTI) -- an effort to support customers and enhance the safety and well-being of passengers and crews during the COVID-19 pandemic -- the tests were performed on a real but unoccupied Boeing airplane against a live virus called MS2. The University of Arizona’s Department of Environmental Sciences then compared those results to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

With a forecasted spike in coronavirus cases and cold weather -- an environment COVID spreads easily in -- upon many of us, the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is getting renewed interest.

Why MS2 and not the actual COVID virus?

Using MS2 instead of an actual COVID-19 virus might be a head-scratcher to the non-scientists among us, but according to the scientists involved in the study, MS2 served two purposes.

First, it is safe and harmless to humans. Secondly, it’s more difficult to kill than SARS-CoV-2. Scientific and industry studies have used the MS2 virus for years, but until now, never in an airplane cabin. 

“While these cleaning solutions had been tested in other environments, an airplane behaves differently. It was critical for us to evaluate and confirm the chemicals and techniques we recommend for our customers’ use are effective and battle-tested,” said Mike Delaney, who leads Boeing's CTI efforts. “By working with the University of Arizona, we were able to employ their world-renowned expertise in virology to do exactly that.”

Everything from overhead bins to arm rests tested

The MS2 virus was strategically placed on high-touch points throughout the aircraft’s cabin in areas that fliers are most likely to come in contact with -- seat tray tables, arm rests, seat cushions, the bathroom, overhead bins, and the galley. 

Technicians then disinfected each area with various products and technologies in two separate ways -- manual wiping and also with an electrostatic sprayer like United Airlines employs.

The tests also measured how well Boeing’s own ultraviolet wand and antimicrobial coatings worked. Antimicrobials are long-lasting coatings that destroy germs and viruses on surfaces and American Airlines was given the OK to use that method by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this year.

The final analysis

After Boeing did its part, the University of Arizona then performed a post-infection analysis on each high-touch area to determine effectiveness. The final results were a mix of various levels of effectiveness, but Boeing claims that “ultimately all the recommended products, methods and technologies successfully destroyed the MS2 virus.”

Boeing said while the first test showed impressive results, it’s not going to stop there. In a statement, the company said it will continue to work with the University of Arizona to test recommended cleaning methods against SARS-CoV-2 and other similar viruses so they could further validate their effectiveness.

A new joint study from aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the University of Arizona shows that cleaning tools and techniques effectively destroy the virus th...
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Southwest Airlines says it will start selling its empty middle seats

Travelers will still get to choose between flying on a full flight or opting for one with a smaller number of fliers

Now there are three major U.S. airlines that have decided to resume sales of tickets for middle seats amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The newest addition is Southwest Airlines, joining its competitors American Airlines and United Airlines. Delta Air Lines’ blocking out of the middle seat will stay in place at least through January 6, 2021.

For nervous Thanksgiving travelers, there is a modicum of good news inside Southwest’s new policy -- the new change won’t go into effect until December 1.

Safety remains a top priority

In Southwest’s Third Quarter 2020 announcement, Gary C. Kelly, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, said that the carrier’s top priority remains the safety of its employees and customers. 

Still, Kelly is fully aware that the negative effects of the pandemic persists and the airline is doing what it can to “prudently adjust our available seat miles (ASMs, or capacity), while pursuing further revenue and cost opportunities.”

Specifically, on the company’s change of mind regarding the practice of keeping middle seats open, “bridged us from the early days of the pandemic, when we had little knowledge about the behavior of the virus, to now,” Kelly said. 

Kelly thinks things have changed because the airline now has “science-based findings from trusted medical and aviation organizations,” which is sufficient evidence that it can move toward selling all available seats. The science-based findings he pointed to come from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Stanford University School of Medicine, who both arrived at the same conclusion -- that the “risk of breathing COVID-19 particles on an airplane is virtually non-existent, with the combination of air filtration and face covering requirements.”

The final decision is up to the customer, or is it?

Nonetheless, Southwest is giving its customers a choice. He said Southwest is pairing the change with what he called “enhanced flexibility” that allows for customers on fuller flights to rebook to another flight, if they so desire. 

Southwest’s satisfaction rating during the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a bit of a hit from ConsumerAffairs reviewers, particularly in the area of vouchers and flight credit. 

“Every other vendor involved in our vacation plans was accommodating and understanding as this pandemic is affecting us all. Southwest Airlines offered NO option or deviation from their normal policy and gave us flight credits equally divided between each passenger, with an expiration date,” complained Bryan from Greenfield, Indiana. 

Rebecca of Scottsdale, Arizona, also aired her negative experience. “(Southwest Airlines) reached out and said (a voucher) would be, NO ISSUE AT ALL - and within three days they would e-mail me the new number with an extension of six months time due to covid restrictions - GREAT! Right? - No. They then sent nothing, went radio silent,” she wrote.

Now there are three major U.S. airlines that have decided to resume sales of tickets for middle seats amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The newest ad...
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United Airlines tests out new COVID-19 ‘health pass’ to help regain some momentum

One analyst thinks it’s way too early to start singing the app’s praises

United Airlines is keeping its foot on the safe-to-fly accelerator with the trial of a “COVID passport.” 

The airline announced on Wednesday that it plans to try out a digital health pass as part of a pilot program that it hopes will speed up a safer opening of its international routes’ borders, as well as get more travelers feeling confident about global travel.

The move follows the airline’s recent move of giving passengers rapid COVID-19 tests. Cathay Pacific is also reported to be engaging with a set of volunteers to test this on certain flights in its route network. 

Say hello to CommonPass

United’s effort will use the backbone of the CommonPass system, “a secure and verifiable way to document” a traveler’s health status as they move from country to country. The advantage that CommonPass will bring United is that it cuts time and red tape in having to prove a passenger’s wellbeing. Not only can the system work for airlines and immigration screening, but airports and other travel industry stakeholders as well.

In United’s first trial with CommonPass on Wednesday, volunteer passengers on a flight from London’s Heathrow airport to Newark Liberty in New Jersey who had taken a coronavirus test from a certified lab at least 72 hours prior to traveling, logged those results on the CommonPass app on their smartphones.

Those passengers were also asked to use the app for other screening measures like a health declaration the country they’re flying into might require. Once a passenger has completed all the necessary data, the app creates a unique code that United staffers and border officials can scan and verify.

United’s also going the extra mile to make sure its efforts are observed and chronicled. It says that both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be waiting for passengers when the flight lands at Newark.

Not a silver bullet

Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for the Commons Project, told MarketWatch that many of the required COVID-19 test results are shared on printed paper from unestablished labs and written in languages foreign to the people in charge of inspecting and verifying the results. 

“Today we demonstrate that you can document COVID status in a certified manner across international borders in a privacy-preserving manner,” Crampton said.

But one analyst is skeptical about posturing the CommonPass app as a silver bullet -- at least for now. Sandy Morris, equity analyst at Jefferies, said neither COVID testing nor vaccines are a perfect solution. 

“However, the combination of rapid testing, vaccines and the CommonPass digital health pass could offer a way forward,” Morris said. “The open question is how fast a digital solution like CommonPass can be deployed. Our guess is it will be rapid.”

CommonPass said that if its trials work out as they hope, it will go for full scale deployment of the framework at the beginning of 2021 with more airlines and more international routes. 

United Airlines is keeping its foot on the safe-to-fly accelerator with the trial of a “COVID passport.” The airline announced on Wednesday that it pla...
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TSA reports its first million-flier weekend since the pandemic began

The agency says travelers should take note of new flying requirements

There’s some hopeful news for the aviation industry in light of all the joy the pandemic has taken out of its life. Over the weekend (October 16-18), more travelers flew in the U.S. than at any other time since March 17.  

How many is more? The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it screened a million passengers at domestic airport checkpoints. On top of that, it also screened 6.1 million passengers at checkpoints nationwide from October 12 through October 18, which is a weekly high since mid-March.

TSA reminds fliers of new changes

To the millions of travelers who haven’t boarded a plane prior to the pandemic, flying has a whole bunch of new requirements. These include “significant TSA checkpoint modifications,” according to TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. 

The modifications Farbstein refers to are mostly added safety measures like passengers screening their own boarding passes and a reduction in the number of security lanes. Some other things to be mindful of include:

Hand sanitizer. Until further notice, the TSA is allowing travelers to bring hand sanitizer up to 12oz in their carry-on bags. “Just remember to remove the larger container from your bag and place it in a separate bin for screening,” the agency says, adding that fliers should “keep in mind that all other liquids, gels and aerosols brought to a checkpoint continue to be allowed at the limit of 3.4oz or less and carried in a single quart-sized bag.”

Expired Driver’s License and REAL ID extension. Because of the pandemic, some people were unable to renew their driver's license or state-issued ID if it expired on or after March 1, 2020. In those cases, the TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued ID a year after expiration. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also extended the REAL ID enforcement deadline to October 1, 2021. For specific information about the REAL ID deadline, the TSA has a dedicated website for travelers to reference.

Pre-moistened sanitized wipes. Another area the TSA is showing some flexibility in is the size restrictions on pre-moistened wipes inside carry-on bags. For the moment, “large tub, small tub, or in a baggie, pre-moistened wipes are allowed in carry-on bags without any size restrictions or packing requirements,” the TSA says. 

For a complete list of all changes that might affect a flight, check-in, security, or carry-on items, the TSA keeps an updated list that covers everything any flier needs to know. It’s available here.

There’s some hopeful news for the aviation industry in light of all the joy the pandemic has taken out of its life. Over the weekend (October 16-18), more...
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Delta suspends flights to 16 U.S. markets due to COVID-19 impact

The airline’s CEO remains upbeat and says more people are returning to the sky

The pandemic continues to lay waste to the commercial aviation industry. 

On Wednesday, Delta Air Lines pressed pause on flights to another 16 cities across America, putting the airline in the unlucky position of suspending more flights in more cities and for far longer than its direct competitors. Earlier this year, Delta said its planned reduction would impact 10-15 percent of its U.S. flights.

While Delta doesn’t want to leave any consumer without a way to get someplace, it has no choice but to be frugal in the COVID-19 environment. Also on Wednesday, the company announced a quarterly pre-tax loss of $2.6 billion -- a decline of 79 percent on 63 percent lower capacity when compared to the previous year -- and another $4.0 billion of items directly related to the impact of coronavirus, including early retirement programs for Delta employees.

Impacted cities

The cities that Delta has not set plans to return to are:

  • Akron-Canton, Ohio (CAK)

  • Aspen, Colorado (ASE)

  • Bangor, Maine (BGR)

  • Erie, Pennsylvania (ERI)

  • Flint, Michigan (FNT)

  • Fort Smith, Arkansas (FSM)

  • Lincoln, Nebraska (LNK)

  • Manchester, New Hampshire (MHT)

  • New Bern, North Carolina (EWN)

  • Newburgh/Stewart, New York (SWF)

  • Newport News/Williamsburg, Virginia (PHF)

  • Peoria, Illinois (PIA)

  • Santa Barbara, California (SBA)

  • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania (AVP)

  • Williston, North Dakota (XWA)

  • Worcester, Massachusetts (ORH)

How long will these flights be suspended?

According to The Points Guy, Delta could resume flights to any of these 16 cities whenever it likes, but no changes are likely for at least a month because that’s how long the airline takes to finalize its monthly schedules. For example, if Delta were to restart service to Lincoln, Nebraska on October 14, travelers could possibly see service resume to Lincoln by December.

Despite the suspensions, Delta CEO Ed Bastian feels encouraged by what he’s seeing. 

“While our September quarter results demonstrate the magnitude of the pandemic on our business, we have been encouraged as more customers travel and we are seeing a path of progressive improvement in our revenues, financial results and daily cash burn,” he said. “The actions we are taking now to take care of our people, simplify our fleet, improve the customer experience, and strengthen our brand will allow Delta to accelerate into a post-COVID recovery.”

The pandemic continues to lay waste to the commercial aviation industry. On Wednesday, Delta Air Lines pressed pause on flights to another 16 cities ac...
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Delta executives say air travel recovery could take ‘two years or more’

The carrier reported a net loss of $5.4 billion for the September quarter

Delta Air Lines on Tuesday reported a net loss of almost $5.4 billion in the third quarter. The carrier warned that its recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could extend into 2022 or even beyond. 
The pandemic had a drastic impact on its peak summer travel period, but Delta President Glen Hauenstein said demand is slowly beginning to climb. Delta and other airlines have made changes to help customers feel safe flying during the pandemic, including enhancing cleaning procedures and leaving middle seats open on flights. 
“With a slow and steady build in demand, we are restoring flying to meet our customers’ needs, while staying nimble with our capacity in light of COVID-19,” said Hauenstein.

Recovery likely to take time

Combined with its second-quarter results, Delta has reported a loss of more than $11 billion during the pandemic. The carrier ended up bringing in around 20 percent of the business it did in the third quarter of 2019. 
Hausenstein warned that it could take “two years or more” for Delta’s sales to recover. 
“While it may be two years or more until we see a normalized revenue environment, by restoring customer confidence in travel and building customer loyalty now, we are creating the foundation for sustainable future revenue growth.”
In the earnings release, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the company has been encouraged to see steady improvement. 
“While our September quarter results demonstrate the magnitude of the pandemic on our business, we have been encouraged as more customers travel and we are seeing a path of progressive improvement in our revenues, financial results and daily cash burn,” Bastian said.
To help offset the financial impact of the health crisis, Delta has retired dozens of aircraft and offered thousands of employees buyouts and early retirement packages. 
Delta Air Lines on Tuesday reported a net loss of almost $5.4 billion in the third quarter. The carrier warned that its recovery from the impact of the COV...
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New Harvard Public Health bulletin says airline sanitation procedures are effective

Travelers still have to do their part with hand-washing, masks, and social distancing

Airlines have been working the sanitation angle for months to try to get travelers to believe that air travel is safe during the pandemic. While some travelers have held onto some of their doubts, a technical bulletin from the faculty at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health might be able to change that perception.

The bulletin -- “Air Cabin Cleaning and Disinfection” -- says that the disinfecting and ventilation efforts that carriers such as Southwest, Delta, United, American, and others have made are effective “when administered properly…on surfaces.” 

Focusing on high-risk areas

Sanitization and ventilation initiatives aren’t an end-all or be-all by themselves, but Harvard officials said that coupling them with individual risk reduction like frequent hand-washing, use of sanitizers, and wearing masks works as a multi-layered strategy that, “taken together, offer(s) significant protection against respiratory infections including COVID-19.”

Nonetheless, the bulletin doesn’t discount the fact that COVID-19 can be transmitted from person-to-person via respiratory particles in a normal setting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says these droplets have the potential to hang in the air for hours.

In trying to separate particles that would stay on surfaces at home or in the workplace from those on a plane, the report says that aircraft lavatories are the most problematic areas because they’re high-frequency touch areas and touched by the greatest number of people.

In comments about the study, Delta Air Lines said that it is already on the case. 

“While in the air, flight attendants regularly make sure lavatories are clean, tidy, fully stocked with supplies and ready for customers,” the airline noted. It also said it’s in the early stages of installing hand sanitizer stations near the boarding portal and the lavatory.

While all airlines that ConsumerAffairs has tracked during the pandemic have some type of systematic cleaning in place, only Delta appears to be cleaning lavatories during a flight. 

Southwest, United, and American do not specifically list in-flight lavatory cleaning as a sanitary measure, but a New York Times report says that Southwest “deep cleans” its aircraft for 6-7 hours every night. The publication also notes that United deploys electrostatic spraying before “most flights.” Airlines tend to replicate nuances that their competitors do, so it’s possible that others will follow in Delta’s footsteps.

Airlines have been working the sanitation angle for months to try to get travelers to believe that air travel is safe during the pandemic. While some trave...
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Southwest to ask workers to take pay cuts to avoid furloughs next year

The airline says the request is necessary due to conditions created by the pandemic

Southwest Airlines says it will ask its workers to take pay cuts in order to avoid losing their job due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  

On Monday, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told employees that he needs them to take a 10 percent pay cut to avoid furloughs in 2021. In an interview with CNBC, he said the action would help save the airline around $500 million a year -- “real money,” as Kelly described it. 

Like other airlines, Southwest is struggling to weather the economic impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for flights remains significantly lower than before the pandemic. Kelly told employees that airline revenue is down 70 percent from a year ago.

“We will all need to sacrifice more,” he said, adding that company leaders are taking a 10 percent pay cut in the year ahead. Kelly himself has taken reduced pay since March and has agreed not to take a salary next year. 

"For our union contract employees, I promised you I would let you know if and when we decide to approach your union representatives for concessions," said Kelly, according to a memo seen by CNN. "Because of the inaction of the federal government, and the ongoing losses, that time has arrived."

Kelly said the airline “simply cannot afford to continue with the conditions required to maintain full pay and employment."

Federal aid needed

Airlines and labor unions are hoping that the White House will approve $25 billion in additional federal aid to support airline worker payrolls. Kelly told employees that he’s aiming to have cost-saving agreements in place with labor unions by January 1. Furloughs will be a “last resort,” he said. 

Pay could be restored to normal if Congress approves additional payroll support for carriers, he added. 

“If we’re so fortunate to have the federal government act and extend the PSP through next March as has been proposed, then all these pay-cut efforts will be discontinued or reversed,” said Kelly.

Southwest Airlines says it will ask its workers to take pay cuts in order to avoid losing their job due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  On...
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FAA chief gives Boeing 737 MAX plane a positive review after flying it

‘I liked what I saw,” the FAA official said

After being grounded since March 2019, Boeing’s 737 MAX jets underwent a test flight by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson. 

Dickson, a former commercial pilot, flew the aircraft on Wednesday during a test flight in Seattle. He said the revisions to the flight control system made in the wake of the two fatal crashes gave him confidence in its airworthiness.  

"I liked what I saw," Dickson told reporters in a news conference after the flight. "I completed a number of test profiles today to examine the functionality of the aircraft and I liked what I saw, so it responded well.” 

He added that the test flight didn’t have anything to do with the FAA’s official recertification process, which is still underway. But Dickson gave the jet an overall positive review after flying it for several hours and taking it through a number of different scenarios. 

"I did two landings and also some air work maneuvers over about a two-hour period... and I felt prepared,” he said. I think most importantly, I felt that the training prepared me to be very comfortable.” 

Addressing safety issues 

Boeing’s 737 MAX has been grounded for about a year and half following two crashes that occured within five months of each other, killing a total of 346 people. 

Both crashes were caused, in part, by a faulty automated flight control system, called MCAS. Following the crashes, Boeing made changes to MCAS and expanded pilots' training to include simulator time before they can fly the plane. 

Dickson has assured the public that the plane won’t be allowed to resume service until it has undergone rigorous FAA testing. The aircraft will also need to be safe enough to earn his own personal seal of approval.

"I made a promise I would fly the 737 Max and that I wouldn't sign off on its return until I was comfortable putting my family on it," he said. "It was important to experience the training and the handling of the aircraft."

Not rushing recertification process

The FAA has released a list of changes that must be made in order for the aircraft to be recertified to fly. Dickson has said the process cannot and will not be rushed, but at this point, it appears to be close to wrapping up. 

"The FAA continues to take a thorough and deliberate approach in our review of Boeing's proposed changes to the 737 Max, he said. "The FAA will not approve the plane to return to passenger service until I'm satisfied that we've adequately addressed all of the known safety issues."

After being grounded since March 2019, Boeing’s 737 MAX jets underwent a test flight by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson. Dick...
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American and United furlough 32,000 workers after government funding ends

The COVID-19 impact on air travel may take years to recover from

The moment the clock struck midnight on October 1, both American Airlines and United Airlines initiated the furloughing of more than 32,000 employees after talks for a hopeful COVID-19 aid package fell apart in Washington. 

The October 1 pivot point was the agreed-to end date for $25 billion in payroll grants that were established under the CARES Act. Most of the largest U.S. carriers -- American, Delta, United, Southwest, Spirit, JetBlue, Alaska -- had applied for those aid packages.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told his workers that the airline “will begin the difficult process of furloughing 19,000 of our hardworking and dedicated colleagues” -- an amount that’s nearly 14 percent of the airline’s pre-COVID-19 staff. 

Is all hope lost?

In the months following the government handing out those grants, airlines did just about everything they could to cut costs and salaries to try and make ends meet. But consumers were still nervous about using air travel, and cranking up the ventilation and taking out middle seats simply didn’t reverse that gut check. 

The end result was big, fat, and in red ink. Passenger loads were down by 75 percent over the summer and industry-wide revenue losses climbed to more than $400 billion.

COVID-19’s ad infinitum expiration date continues to loom large. Airline executives have said a return to normal may not happen for years and that the hit the aviation industry has taken is more serious than after 9/11.

All hope may not be lost, however. Both United and American say that if a stimulus package makes it through Congress, they are ready and willing to reverse course. Neither said how long they could keep that promise alive, though. PSA Airlines, an American-owned regional carrier, told pilots that if Washington doesn’t approve another stimulus package by Sunday, October 4, “the furloughs will still occur,” according to a company memo seen by CNBC.

The moment the clock struck midnight on October 1, both American Airlines and United Airlines initiated the furloughing of more than 32,000 employees after...
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Treasury Department closes CARES loans for seven major U.S. airlines

The industry is at the eleventh hour and hoping for an extension of the loan program

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it has closed loans to seven major passenger airlines as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The seven carriers are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, and United Airlines. 

Officials say it’s likely that the initial loan amounts the airlines applied for in its pool of $25 billion will be increased because some major airlines may opt to secure financing in the private market instead of through the Treasury Department. 

“The payroll support and loan programs created by the CARES Act have saved a large number of aviation industry jobs, and kept workers employed and connected to their health care, during an unprecedented time,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin.  

“We are pleased to conclude loans that will support this critical industry while ensuring appropriate taxpayer compensation. We call on Congress to extend the Payroll Support Program so we can continue to support aviation industry workers as our economy reopens and we continue on the path to recovery.”

The eleventh hour

A key element of the CARES loan package -- particularly for airlines -- is a commitment to maintain employee levels through the end of September. Now that the commitment is in its eleventh hour, both airlines and employees are waiting for word of a COVID-19 relief package extension.

“This is no time for governments to walk away,” Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “The industry is grateful to those governments that have already provided support, but new job-saving measures are needed -- including financial measures that do not add to overstressed balance sheets.”

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it has closed loans to seven major passenger airlines as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Econom...
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United reaches deal with pilots’ union to avoid thousands of worker furloughs

The airline will drastically reduce flying schedules to preserve jobs

United Airlines announced on Monday that it’s come up with a plan that will allow it to avoid having to furlough thousands of employees. 

Under an agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association, United will reduce flying schedules and maintain pay rates as it seeks to weather the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, the carrier planned to furlough 2,850 pilots after its federal aid ran out. The furloughs were set to take effect on Thursday. 

United and other airlines have said the lack of new federal support has made it necessary to enact cost-cutting measures, like furloughs. While United has reached an agreement that it will allow it to avoid some furloughs, the airline is still planning to cut nearly 13,000 jobs beginning in October. 

The airline’s pilots’ union said the deal will allow United to stay afloat until flying demand returns. However, United executives have said they don’t expect to fully recover until a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is widely available.

The furloughs that United is still planning would affect flight attendants, mechanics, and other union employees. In an effort to make it easier to bounce back once demand returns, pilots -- who have to go through a lengthier training process -- will be kept on during the health crisis. 

“Our members understood that in order to protect pilot jobs, we needed to approve this agreement,” said Todd Insler, chairman of the union’s United Airlines council.

United Airlines announced on Monday that it’s come up with a plan that will allow it to avoid having to furlough thousands of employees. Under an agree...
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Southwest Airlines updates COVID-19 policies for both passengers and employees

Travelers who haven’t flown the airline lately should make note of what to expect

With an end-all and be-all of the COVID-19 pandemic still undetermined, Southwest Airlines is renewing its vow to support the well-being and comfort of both its customers and employees by continuing to limit the amount of seats sold on every flight to allow middle seats to remain open.

People flying together as family and friends still have the option of sitting together and will be allowed to occupy a middle seat if they like.

Health-conscious Thanksgiving holiday travelers will be happy to know that the airline’s commitment will last through Nov. 30. As part of its COVID-19 plan, the airline will continue to require face masks to be worn at all times. It will also enforce physical distancing measures in airports and onboard aircraft and rigorously clean its facilities and aircraft every single day.

Southwest updates what travelers can expect 

  • Face Coverings Required: All airline employees and any passenger over the age of two are required to wear a covering over their mouth and nose from the moment they board the plane until they’re out of the gate area when they land. All travelers are required to a) acknowledge an awareness of the carrier's face covering policy; and b) wear a face covering. If a passenger doesn’t have a mask, Southwest will have them available at the airport and onboard to ensure compliance with the policy.
  • Customer Health Declaration: All travelers are required to confirm they do not have symptoms of COVID-19; nor have they been diagnosed with, or exposed to, COVID-19 in the 14 days prior to travel; and that they do not have a fever at travel time.
  • Physical Distancing in Airports: If you haven’t flown Southwest lately, boarding a Southwest flight in the COVID-19 heyday, the process may be new to you. To allow for distancing, the airline boards in smaller groups of 10 and only on one side of the boarding poles in the gate areas. In addition, the airline has installed Plexiglas at ticketing and gate counters and baggage service offices to further insure protection during in-person transactions and interactions.

For a complete rundown of Southwest’s updates and policy changes, you can find them here.

With an end-all and be-all of the COVID-19 pandemic still undetermined, Southwest Airlines is renewing its vow to support the well-being and comfort of bot...
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Delta employees escape more furloughs due to buyouts and shorter schedules

Flight attendants and ground workers will also take on new tasks such as catering and refueling

Delta Air Lines has been busy this week. On Monday, the carrier found a creative way to finance operations for the near future by securing loans by exchanging frequent flier rewards. Its workers caught a break on Tuesday, saving tens of thousands from the unemployment line. 

In a memo to staff, Delta CEO Ed Bastian reported that thanks to shorter work schedules and other cost-saving measures more than 40,000 employees agreed to accept, the furlough wolf is away from the carrier’s door for the time being.

Bastian said that a 25 percent reduction in work hours for its ground-based employees also played a significant role in protecting jobs. The airline still plans to furlough close to 2,000 pilots as of October 1, but the company said it is working around the clock to cut the best deal possible with the pilots union.

Delta’s new focus

Bastian laid out the company’s new priorities in the memo. He said Delta wants to protect workers’ health, safety, and jobs; preserve the company’s liquidity and cash balance to get it through the crisis; and position the carrier for success in the future.

“The work our teams have done to ensure a safe environment on our planes, at the airport and in our workspaces is nothing short of remarkable. We have also made great strides to protect Delta jobs amid an unprecedented drop in our revenues,” Bastian wrote.

“We had an enormous response to the enhanced early retirement and departure packages that were offered this summer, with 20 percent of our people choosing voluntary exits,” Bastian said. “While it is difficult to see so many of our colleagues leave, every one of those departures helped save Delta jobs.”

Bastian said Delta’s flight attendants and ground-based frontline employees in the U.S. will likely avoid involuntary furloughs, but they’ll be performing some new tasks. Flight attendants will support the airline’s catering processes and take part in its rotating month-on, month-off Fly On/Off program. Ground workers will also take on new responsibilities such as wheelchair handling, plane refueling, and cargo handling. 

Delta Air Lines has been busy this week. On Monday, the carrier found a creative way to finance operations for the near future by securing loans by exchang...
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Delta becomes fourth major airline to secure loan with frequent flyer miles

Analysts say it’s an aggressive but necessary move in light of the pandemic

Delta Air Lines is going to use its frequent-flier SkyMiles program to secure $6.5 billion in cash so it can make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it seems like an unusual use of collateral, Delta isn’t the first airline to take this route. In recent months, United Airlines, American Airlines, and JetBlue all announced plans to do the same.

Delta has been brutally honest about its financial situation. Officials stated that the company was sitting on about $16 billion in cash but burning through somewhere in the neighborhood of $27 million a day. At that rate, its coffers would be bare in less than two years. 

Airlines and banks both win

It’s not only a good deal for the airlines, which can quickly net billions of dollars, but also for banks that can turn the miles into perks for their own credit card customers.

Frequent-flyer programs “are really the golden goose of the airlines. They’re the reason why North American airlines have historically...only had about 20 percent of global capacity but half of global airline profit,” said Morningstar equity analyst Burkett Huey in an interview with the Financial Times.

Huey went on to say that the miles-for-money swap is one of the most aggressive moves he’s seen so far.

Delta Air Lines is going to use its frequent-flier SkyMiles program to secure $6.5 billion in cash so it can make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.Whil...
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United Airlines and pilots union cut a deal to avoid furloughing 3,000 pilots

The union is still waiting on congressional and White House leaders’ promises to help the airlines

Staving off the warning that it broadcast in July, United Airlines and its 13,000-strong pilots’ union have reportedly reached an agreement to avoid furloughs of nearly 3,000 pilots.

In August, the airline said it was on track to furlough or completely lay off 2,850 pilots by October 1, when the federal aid that protected those jobs was set to expire. 

“Any potential mitigation must achieve our goals: stop planned furloughs, stop displacements, and include long-term permanent gains for any short-term, fully recoverable modifications,” Todd Insler, chairman of the United Airlines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), told union members in a note on Tuesday, according to CNBC.

Neither United or the union have provided details of the agreement, including how much time they’re going to give it or how it would give the airline sufficient working capital to keep the lid on furloughs. The agreement needs to be approved by union members and leaders.

United said in a statement that it’s still committed to reducing the number of involuntary furloughs. Company officials said they were “happy we were able to reach an agreement in principle with ALPA that can potentially save pilot jobs.”  

Holding out hope

With airlines’ hopes for a quick recovery dashed for the foreseeable future, airline labor unions are still nudging lawmakers to approve an additional $25 billion in aid that could keep jobs in place through the end of March 2021.

In a recent letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the ALPA reminded those leaders that they need to follow through on the promises they've made.

“We are heartened by public statements by government leaders about a COVID-19 economic relief package such as ‘We’ll be helping the airlines’ and affirming that ‘a bipartisan agreement still should be reached’ as well as committing to ‘save the lives and livelihoods of the American people.’” wrote Capt. Joseph G. DePete, President Air Line Pilots Association, and Sara Nelson International President Association of Flight Attendants. 

“We appreciate these sentiments and urge you to return to the negotiating table to translate these words into action— action that will save jobs and ensure that the United States remains the world’s aviation economic engine.”

Staving off the warning that it broadcast in July, United Airlines and its 13,000-strong pilots’ union have reportedly reached an agreement to avoid furlou...
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Boeing warns of delays in delivery of new Dreamliner aircraft

The carrier says three separate production flaws have been discovered

Boeing said Tuesday that a trio of production flaws discovered over the past year could delay deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner, the aircraft the company has been developing as an alternative to its embattled 737 MAX. 

The latest flaw, found in February and disclosed on Tuesday, involves the 787’s horizontal stabilizer (also known as the tail). Boeing said that during the fabrication process, some of the parts were “clamped with greater force than specified, which could result in improper gap verification and shimming,” Reuters reported. 

The issue could make it necessary for officials to inspect roughly 900 of the jets, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday that it “is investigating manufacturing flaws affecting certain Boeing 787 jetliners. The agency continues to engage with Boeing.”

Boeing has been attempting to revive its business and win back public support following two deadly crashes that led to the carrier’s 737 MAX being grounded globally. The company has set out to posit its 787 Dreamliner as its primary “cash cow” in the wake of the crashes, since consumers will likely remain hesitant to board Boeing’s 737 MAX jet for some time.

The FAA said on Monday that it was also investigating two other issues in some of the carrier’s 787 Dreamliner’s, in addition to the tail flaw. FAA officials said it’s too soon to tell if these flaws will warrant new inspections. 

Boeing said Tuesday that a trio of production flaws discovered over the past year could delay deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner, the aircraft the company ha...
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United plans to cut 16,000 jobs in about a month

The airline said it can’t continue staffing at its normal level once federal aid runs out

United Airlines said Wednesday that it plans to furlough 16,000 jobs due to low air travel demand and a lack of new federal aid. 

In a memo to employees, the airline said that its “heart-wrenching” decision to cut jobs will come ahead of the expiration of payroll restrictions tied to a federal bailout set to end October 1. Congress has been working on another coronavirus relief package, but it doesn’t currently appear to include anything for airlines. 

The airline said it "cannot continue with staffing levels that significantly exceed the schedule we fly” and that it doesn’t expect things to return to any level of normal “until a vaccine is developed and widely administered.” 

An extension of the CARES Act “would be the one thing that would prevent involuntary furloughs on October 1 and hopefully delay any potential impact on employees until early 2021," the memo said.

Struggling to stay afloat

The cuts will shave nearly 17 percent off the airline’s workforce. However, United noted that the figure is significantly less than it thought it would have to cut back in July. The lowered total was made possible by the thousands of volunteers who accepted buyouts, early retirement packages, and other forms of temporary leaves or reduced schedules. 

United and other airlines are currently trying to win back public support. In the absence of a vaccine, United CEO Scott Kirby said air travel demand this year will likely top out at just half of what it was in 2019. 

United recently announced that it would permanently scrap a $200 ticket-change fee for passengers. Shortly after the airline made its announcement, Delta, American, and Alaska Airlines announced that they would also be doing away with the $200 fee. 

United Airlines said Wednesday that it plans to furlough 16,000 jobs due to low air travel demand and a lack of new federal aid. In a memo to employees...
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American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines join United to waive most seat change fees

There are some caveats that consumers need to know about, especially regarding bargain fares

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines have joined United Airlines in the change fee waiver dance line.

Delta and American's policies are pretty much a carbon copy of United’s -- eliminating the $200 change fee on domestic tickets. But there are exceptions travelers should look for before popping the cork.

Caveats among airlines

Delta is permanently scrapping change fees for tickets purchased for travel within the domestic U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in Delta’s First Class, Delta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+ and Main Cabin. However, Basic Economy tickets are not exempt from a change fee.

Like Delta, American’s fee waiver also includes all 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It also tacks on Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada as fee waived destinations. American also waives change fees in the Main Cabin, Premium Economy, Business Class, and First Class, but it does not waive the change fees in Basic Economy.

Unlike other airlines, American’s fee waiver is not permanent. When ConsumerAffairs contacted American to see if there was an end date on the waiver program, we were told that unless the airline extends the waiver, Basic Economy fares that are purchased starting on January 1, 2021, will not be changeable.

Like Delta, Alaska Airlines’ says its change is permanent. Its new change-fee policy applies to all tickets except for Saver fares. As far as destinations are concerned, Alaska has included every place it flies both domestically and internationally.

What’s the catch?

Is this a too-good-to-be-true maneuver, or are the airlines going to start showing some long-forgotten consumer love? 

“In this case, there’s probably not (a catch),” Skift’s Brian Sumers said. “Airlines are hurting, and they need to win public support and attract new business. They’re not likely to waste the goodwill they generated this week and turn around and institute a new fee on something else next month. They will stick with passenger-friendly policies for a while.”

Sumers goes on to predict that the airlines will eventually find other revenue-making angles once they pay back the U.S. government for the bailout loans. “Still, they likely will be smarter about what they implement, perhaps adding new fees passengers understand and respect,” he said.

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines have joined United Airlines in the change fee waiver dance line.Delta and American's policies a...
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United Airlines announces that it will drop ticket-change fees

Airlines are trying to bring back customers they lost due to the pandemic

United Airlines announced on Sunday that it will be doing away with ticket-change fees for good. 

The monetary penalty for changing a ticket for travel within the U.S. previously cost $200. The fee is now going away permanently as the airline strives to enact more flexible policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis stemming from it.

“Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service,” said United CEO Scott Kirby in a news release. “United Airlines won’t be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis. Instead, we’re taking a completely different approach – and looking at new ways to serve our customers better.”

Rival Southwest Airlines has already opted not to charge consumers ticket-change fees. United's move will likely push Delta Air Lines and American Airlines to scrap their change fees as well. 

In January, United will also be allowing travelers who want to depart earlier or later on the same day as their scheduled flight to fly standby without paying the $75 same-day change fee. 

Travelers slowly coming back to airlines

Air travel has rebounded slightly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s still well below normal levels. Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released data showing that over 831,000 travelers were processed at security checkpoints on one Sunday in August.

While that was the highest number the agency had recorded since mid-March, the figures were still well-below normal levels. On the same Sunday last year, the TSA estimated that over 2.6 million people went through airport security.  

If other airlines follow United and Southwest’s lead in doing away with ticket-change costs, the airline industry as a whole stands to lose about $2.8 billion in ticket-change and cancellation fees, according to the Department of Transportation. 

United Airlines announced on Sunday that it will be doing away with ticket-change fees for good. The monetary penalty for changing a ticket for travel...
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Boeing grounds eight 787 Dreamliners over manufacturing flaw

The manufacturer’s woes continue as it takes more planes out of service

Boeing has uncovered an issue in the manufacturing process of its successful widebody 787 Dreamliner. 

An early diagnosis suggests that the problem stems from two distinct manufacturing issues in the join of certain 787 aftbody fuselage sections. That, in combination, “result(s) in a condition that does not meet our design standards," the company said in a statement. 

Company officials said a thorough review is being conducted to get to the base cause of the problem. For the time being, eight of the planes will be grounded for inspection and repair. 

Production of the 787 Dreamliner slowed considerably since the pandemic began, primarily because there was little travel being done internationally. Long-haul flights have typically been where the aircraft shines due to its comfort and fuel efficiency.  

Boeing’s problems continue

The 787 Dreamliner was temporarily grounded in 2013 when its lithium batteries created fires, and a whistleblower brought up potential safety issues with the plane just last year.

But Boeing’s problems extend much further than this latest issue. The FAA recently outlined proposed changes to Boeing jets following two fatal crashes involving the company’s 737 MAX jets.

The company declined to name the three airlines that own the 787s grounded for inspections. However, aviation news site The Air Current cites a source familiar with the situation as pegging United, Air Canada, and Singapore Airlines as the owners of the eight grounded planes. Spokespeople for Singapore and United confirmed Air Current’s information.

Boeing has uncovered an issue in the manufacturing process of its successful widebody 787 Dreamliner. An early diagnosis suggests that the problem stem...
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Airlines say furloughs and layoffs are likely if more federal aid isn't received by October

Thousands of competing airline workers may soon be out of a job

If Congress can’t come through with an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program soon, tens of thousands of airline employees could see themselves without a job come October 1.

The first flare went up on Tuesday at the headquarters of American Airlines when the company announced that it will cut 19,000 employees from its payroll when the federal aid that protected those jobs expires

The 19,000 American employees include 17,500 flight attendants, pilots, and mechanics, plus 1,500 administration and management jobs. All told -- when combined with pink slips American handed out earlier and the 39,000 employees who opted for voluntary leave or early retirement -- American’s total workforce is about 41 percent smaller than the total workforce it had at the onset of the pandemic

“We have come to you many times throughout the pandemic, often with sobering updates on a world none of us could have imagined,” wrote American Airlines CEO Doug Parker along with the company’s president, Robert Isom, in a note to its staff announcing the cuts. 

Expect other airlines to follow suit

American isn’t the only airline trying to keep itself afloat. On Monday, Delta Air Lines also announced that it will have to furlough 2,000 pilots if it can’t get some relief from its labor union.

In June, United Airlines did its best to get ahead of the situation by coming to terms with the pilots union over early retirements and voluntary furloughs.

Southwest -- which has enough money in the bank to survive the pandemic for at least two years -- said it doesn’t foresee cutting jobs in 2020 because a fourth of its workers have signed up for either a buyout package or voluntary leave. 

Holding out for hope

While the $25 billion in payroll support the CARES Act provided U.S. airlines evaporates on October 1, there’s some hope that there could be an extension of that support.

A couple of weeks ago, 16 Republican senators wrote a letter urging Congress to consider a “clean extension” of the payroll support for airline employees who were included in the CARES package. There are reports that the rallying cry has also received support from some Democrats as well.

If Congress can’t come through with an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program soon, tens of thousands of airline employees could see themselves witho...
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EPA gives American Airlines approval for new long-lasting surface disinfectant

The new tool doesn’t combat airborne particles, so proper cleaning and hygiene is still necessary

The age-old axiom of “no good deed goes unpunished'' has come true for American Airlines. The company was able to get an emergency authorization from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement a new antimicrobial product designed to protect against COVID-19 on aircraft surfaces. 

The good news is that the product -- SurfaceWise2 -- has been proven to last up to seven days and is the longest-lasting surface protectant that has earned the EPA’s blessing. The bad news is that while it protects against transmission on surfaces like tray tables, the coronavirus is widely believed to spread predominantly through close contact between people.

The emergency authorization is currently limited to the state of Texas, with the state permitting American Airlines airport facilities and planes to use the disinfectant at specific locations. 

Personal hygiene still rules the day

While the EPA stated that SurfaceWise2 may help “address the current national emergency” and “increase consumer confidence,” it also noted that the disinfectant is not a substitute for proper cleaning practices.

“This product is not a replacement for routine cleaning and disinfection with products from EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. EPA recommends that facilities continue to follow the cleaning and disinfection recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the agency wrote.

The agency went on to remind people that a sanitizer by itself is not the be-all and end-all for COVID-19.

“Please note that according to the CDC, while ‘it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,’ the virus is thought to spread mainly through close contact between individuals.”

Officials say that the approved emergency use is only good for a year. As new data emerges, it’s possible that the agency may alter the approval of the product’s emergency use.

The age-old axiom of “no good deed goes unpunished'' has come true for American Airlines. The company was able to get an emergency authorization from the E...
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Delta will sell more seats on its flight, but it’s still being cautious about distancing

The company says safety is a top priority as we approach the holiday season

Delta Air Lines has carefully been plotting a full return to the skies. Earlier this week, it announced that it was testing every single one of its employees for COVID-19 to ensure that its flights were safe. 

On Thursday, it announced that it plans to start selling additional seats on its flights. While more passengers will be coming onboard, the company says it is keeping its promise about blocking the middle-seat to lessen the possibility of any spread of coronavirus between passengers.

The cap on the number of seats sold and blocking out the middle seat will stay in place at least through January 6, 2021.

Safety remains the priority

In a news release, the airline positioned itself against its competitors, saying it is “your choice for safer space.” 

“Medical experts, including our own partners at Emory Healthcare, agree – more distance on board makes a difference,” said Bill Lentsch, Chief Customer Experience Officer. 

“We believe that taking care of our customers and employees and restoring confidence in the safety of air travel is more important right now than filling up every seat on a plane. We’ll continue taking a thoughtful, layered approach ensuring customers know to expect the highest standard of care as they prepare for their holiday travels.”

Delta’s proactive and flexible plans

Delta is making a bid to be the most cautious of the major airlines when it comes to pandemic-related prevention efforts. Its latest announcement continues that cautionary tone, and the company said that it realizes that flexibility is more important than ever. 

Plotting out its next steps for health-conscious fliers and people or families who might be flying together come holiday time, Delta’s policy on middle seats will work like this:

  • For customers in parties of 1-2: Middle seats will be blocked for safety.

  • For customers in parties of 3 or more: Middle seats will appear as available for booking, to allow families and travel companions to select seats together.

As far as capacity is concerned, Delta says that passengers can expect Delta to do the following through October 31:

  • Limit the number of customers on board all aircraft – with or without middle seats.

  • Limit the First Class cabin to half capacity to further ensure more space between customers. However, on regional jets in 1x2 configurations, the First Class cabin will be capped at 67 percent.

  • Block one aisle of seats on aircraft without middle seats.

On routes where its planes begin to fill, Delta says it will continue to look for opportunities to upsize to a larger aircraft type or, if necessary, add more flights.

The only area that will be offered at full capacity (effective October 1) is the Delta One cabin, which is available on long-haul international flights and in select long-haul domestic markets. Its argument for doing that is that the seats in Delta One are already well-distanced because of the configuration of the cabin and the design of the seats (such as being able to turn into a bed). 

Delta Air Lines has carefully been plotting a full return to the skies. Earlier this week, it announced that it was testing every single one of its employe...
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JetBlue and Goldman Sachs roll out a buy now, pay later credit plan

The concept could give a boost to the economy after being hit by the pandemic

Despite all the ups and downs the airline industry has faced recently, JetBlue has decided to offer consumers a little perk. The airline and Goldman Sachs are joining forces to allow travelers to use MarcusPay -- Goldman Sachs’ instant credit, buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) plan -- to pay for retail purchases over time at the point-of-sale.

The new arrangement expands on an earlier deal to provide MarcusPay as a BNPL option for JetBlue Vacations packages of hotels and airfare. JetBlue customers can apply for a MarcusPay loan from the payment page on jetblue.com or at jetbluevacations.com. It will also be available in the coming weeks on the JetBlue mobile app.

How it works

MarcusPay can be used for trips that cost between $750 and $10,000. There are several available loan options for customers, and there’s no upfront deposit required. There are also no fees that come with the loan, and the interest rate will be fixed. Neither JetBlue or Goldman Sachs published a rate specific to this program, but MarcusPay’s current APRs run from from 10.99 percent to 25.99 percent with a payoff option of 12 or 18 months. 

While the interest rates aren’t exactly prize winners, JetBlue and Goldman Sachs think that removing some of the hassle and added cost of planning a vacation will play well in the uncertain financial environment brought on by the pandemic.

“MarcusPay gives customers a smart alternative to financing large purchases,” said Elisabeth Kozack, head of Consumer Lending Partnerships at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. “JetBlue is a terrific partner for MarcusPay. They remain focused on delivering against their customers’ needs and providing transparency, which helps them deliver a differentiated customer experience for travelers.”

BNPL plays well in the coronavirus crisis

Not that the pandemic needs thanking, but the fact of the matter is that U.S. consumer spending has been in a tailspin since COVID-19 came to town. However, PYMTS Buy Now Pay Later Tracker indicates that BNPL options could be a way to get consumers spending money again. 

“The concept (of BNPL) is to not only make transactions affordable, but seamless,” explained PYMTS.

“These arrangements can also allow customers to purchase more or costlier items than they could otherwise, thereby helping merchants. Shoppers can feel more at ease, too, replacing a broken refrigerator or washing machine that conked out right after a consumer lost a job.” 

Despite all the ups and downs the airline industry has faced recently, JetBlue has decided to offer consumers a little perk. The airline and Goldman Sachs...
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U.S. and China to increase flights between nations

Air carriers will be able to double the number of current flights occurring between the countries

Travel restrictions between China and the U.S. are being eased, according to an announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). 

On Tuesday, the agency announced that four Chinese airlines will be able to increase air traffic to the U.S. to a total of eight weekly round-trip flights. The decision matches allowances given to United Airlines and Delta Air Lines after each of the carriers qualified for additional U.S. flights going to China earlier this month. 

In its announcement, the DOT implied that it would continue to move in step with Chinese officials so that air carriers from each country have an equal number of flights going between the two nations.

“The Order...indicates our willingness to further revisit our action should the Chinese aviation authorities adjust their policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers in which both they and the Chinese carriers could fully exercise their bilateral rights,” the agency stated.

Delta increases prevention efforts

International flights have begun to slowly come back over the last couple of months as the world recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, travelers are still required to follow certain safety precautions depending on the airline they choose to use.

Delta Air Lines -- one of the carriers that has flights going to China -- recently intensified its requirements for both passengers and employees to mitigate COVID-19 infections. Fortunately, the company says its efforts have paid off.

“The infection rate among our customer-facing employees is below the national average and shows that our Delta CareStandard measures are working,” said Joanne Smith, Delta’s executive vice president and chief people officer. 

“While we're encouraged by our results, we know we can’t afford to let up now. Health experts agree that a multi-layered approach – one that includes testing, symptom-checking, mask-wearing, environmental cleaning and physical distancing – is the greatest inhibitor to spreading COVID-19 and will play a critical role in keeping our people safe in the weeks and months ahead.”

Travel restrictions between China and the U.S. are being eased, according to an announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). On Tuesday...
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Delta Air Lines takes on an employee-wide coronavirus testing program

Infected employees are being asked to quarantine while receiving full pay

While other airlines are canceling routes and pulling back on sanitization efforts, Delta Air Lines continues to trudge forward with anti-coronavirus moves to keep both employees and customers healthy and safe onboard. 

Adding to its enforcement of facial coverings for all passengers, requiring travelers to certify that their health is in tip-top shape, and mandating that if a passenger can’t wear mask that they take a COVID-19 test, the airline is now testing nearly 100 percent of the airline’s workforce for the coronavirus by the end of the August. About half of Delta’s active employees have been tested so far.

“Our customers want to know that the people caring for them while traveling are healthy,” said Joanne Smith, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer. “Providing COVID-19 testing for all of our people is an important action we can take to keep employees, their families and our customers safe, increasing confidence in travel while doing our part to slow and stop the spread of the virus.”

If a Delta employee tests positive

Delta argues that testing its entire 75,000-strong employee roster will reduce exposure to others and ensure that asymptomatic individuals have time to recover at home. To pull this off, Delta has brought in the Mayo Clinic to help develop a strategy based on tailored risk assessments. 

To help create a healthier workplace long-term and curb the rate of infection, the Mayo Clinic will also review and evaluate Delta’s health and safety practices on everything from infection prevention measures to workforce risk assessments. If one of Delta’s employees tests positive for COVID-19, they will be required to isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days while receiving full pay. 

For employees who have been exposed to others with COVID-19 but have not tested positive, they are required to remain out of the workplace for 14 days from the date of exposure. They will also receive full pay protection. 

Delta is also offering employees the option of being tested for COVID-19 antibodies at all of its major U.S. hubs and at more than 2,000 Quest Diagnostic locations nationwide – free of charge.

Delta’s efforts are paying off

While the rest of the world has been waiting for a vaccine or the launch of the newly approved quick-to-administer saliva test, Delta has been working hard to make sure anything a customer touches that’s related to the airline is as safe as possible. That effort seems to be paying off.

“The infection rate among our customer-facing employees is below the national average and shows that our Delta CareStandard measures are working,” Smith said. “While we're encouraged by our results, we know we can’t afford to let up now. Health experts agree that a multi-layered approach – one that includes testing, symptom-checking, mask-wearing, environmental cleaning and physical distancing – are the greatest inhibitors to spreading COVID-19 and will play a critical role in keeping our people safe in the weeks and months ahead.”

While other airlines are canceling routes and pulling back on sanitization efforts, Delta Air Lines continues to trudge forward with anti-coronavirus moves...
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U.S. airport traffic hits new high during pandemic

However, the numbers are still well below normal levels

The nation’s airports saw a surge in foot traffic over the weekend. 

Data published by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) shows that over 831,000 travelers were processed at security checkpoints on Sunday. That’s the highest number that the agency has tracked since March 17, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the bump in traffic is surely good news for airline companies, it’s important to note that these figures are still well below normal levels. On the same Sunday in 2019, the TSA estimates that over 2.6 million travelers went through security. 

Traffic numbers continue rising

Airport traffic numbers certainly aren’t anywhere close to approaching pre-pandemic levels, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for some optimism. After all, these numbers have been steadily climbing for several months. 

In a report released today, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) says that the number of U.S. airline passengers rose by 93 percent month-over-month in June. That means the number of passengers nearly doubled. 

“The large airlines carried 16.3 million passengers in June 2020 (preliminary), up from 8.4 million passengers on all U.S. airlines in May 2020 and up from 3 million in April 2020, which was the lowest monthly total in BTS records dating back to 1974,” the agency said. 

If the TSA security checkpoint numbers are any indication, those numbers will only improve for the month of July. While there were no days in June in which checkpoint visits exceeded 700,000, the agency’s report shows there were 16 of those days in the month that followed. So far in August, 7 out of 9 days for which the agency has data have surpassed the 700,000 mark. 

The nation’s airports saw a surge in foot traffic over the weekend. Data published by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) shows that over...
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Virgin Atlantic becomes the first major airline to file for bankruptcy due to COVID-19

Recovery is at least two or three years away, says an airline industry group

COVID-19 has brought the first airline to its knees. Virgin Atlantic has filed for bankruptcy in the United States as it does everything in its power to put the finishing touches on a $1.5 billion plan that it hopes will rescue it from the coronavirus calamity.

The UK-based company filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday. Chapter 15 allows cooperation between the U.S. and foreign courts, sheltering the U.S. assets of foreign companies that are undergoing restructuring proceedings in their home country. The airline also filed a similar claim in the UK and has penciled in August 15 for a meeting with creditors to vote on the restructuring plan.

Not exactly a surprise

In publicly discussing its post-COVID future in early May, Virgin was blunt about its situation, saying, “Our path forward must change. To emerge from this crisis, against an uncertain backdrop, the airline must radically adapt, so that it can continue to thrive, while always keeping its people and customers at the heart of everything it does.”

At the time, the airline said it would make shifts in aircraft, airports, the number of employees, and destinations so that once the crisis subsided it could regain its footing.

“We have weathered many storms since our first flight 36 years ago, but none has been as devastating as COVID-19 and the associated loss of life and livelihood for so many,” Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic commented. 

“However, to safeguard our future and emerge a sustainably profitable business, now is the time for further action to reduce our costs, preserve cash and to protect as many jobs as possible. It is crucial that we return to profitability in 2021.”

A full recovery won’t come any time soon

The numbers -- not just for Virgin Atlantic but for every airline -- are hard to fathom. The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) latest number crunching says its members are $419 billion in the hole, with 7.5 million flights cancelled, and consumer demand is down 54 percent.

IATA estimates that things might not return to normal until 2023, possibly as late as 2024. An IATA survey showed that 66 percent of travelers are likely to travel less in the post-pandemic world and 64 percent said they’re completely postponing travel until both travel and economic factors improve for -- not only for themselves, but for the economy at large.

COVID-19 has brought the first airline to its knees. Virgin Atlantic has filed for bankruptcy in the United States as it does everything in its power to pu...
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Southwest Airlines stops sanitizing armrests and seat belts between flights

The ‘optimization’ comes as flight schedules pick up and turnaround times get tighter

The whole airline industry’s response to the coronavirus pandemic continues to get more interesting. On Tuesday, Delta Air Lines announced tighter requirements for face coverings and now, Southwest Airlines seems to be leaning the other way. 

In a memo obtained by USA Today, Southwest said it will no longer be disinfecting armrests and seat belts between flights, opting to disinfect only high-touch areas like lavatories and tray tables.

The reasons

When ConsumerAffairs contacted Southwest for the reasons behind this move, its chief rationale was that optimizing staffing and cleaning processes is necessary because the available time between flights is getting tighter as its schedule reverts back to normal. 

“This approach is one more process evolution during the pandemic designed to support our multi-layered cleaning program that occurs throughout the day,” the airline said.

Southwest went on to say that bathrooms and tray tables are the primary focus because the airline is set “on cleaning as many high-touch areas as possible during the allotted turns … while shifting other areas to be disinfected during our overnight cleaning process, when Southwest Teams spend six to seven hours per aircraft cleaning all interior surfaces.”

However, in a bit of DIY sanitization for germ-conscious fliers, Southwest said that if customers want to wipe down armrests and seat belts, all they have to do is ask and they will be given sanitizing wipes to disinfect their space.

All other health safety precautions stay the same

Southwest will continue the majority of its COVID-related procedures for the near future, like employing face coverings, a reduction in the number of available seats, physical distancing, and boarding passengers in smaller groups. In particular, Southwest wants travelers to know that it’s still doing enhanced overnight cleaning, “when Southwest Teams spend six to seven hours per aircraft cleaning all interior surfaces.” Those precautions are reported to stay in place until October.

According to Travel + Leisure, the airline is also going high-tech to check the health readiness of passengers. It announced that it’s doing a beta test of thermal cameras at select airports to check passengers' temperatures.

“As always, Southwest will monitor Customer and Employee feedback as we adapt to the new normal in air travel, while ensuring we keep safety as our top priority,” is how Southwest wrapped up its response to ConsumerAffairs. 

The whole airline industry’s response to the coronavirus pandemic continues to get more interesting. On Tuesday, Delta Air Lines announced tighter requirem...
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Delta beefs up its face covering policy

No one is exempt, no matter what the local or state exceptions might be

In the most rigorous coronavirus-related move ConsumerAffairs has seen an airline make, Delta Air Lines is taking its face coverings mandate up a notch -- a very stringent notch at that. 

While the airline had mandated masks as a requisite to board its flights and wear one while in-flight, passengers are now required to wear a face covering during check-in, while walking through jet bridges, in the boarding gate area, and for any traveler who visits Delta’s Sky Clubs lounges.

However, there’s one wrinkle in Delta’s updated face covering policy that most travelers aren’t aware of -- the fact that not every mask meets the airline’s requirement.

“Any mask with an exhaust valve is not approved as an acceptable face mask for customers traveling on any Delta operated flight,” the airline stated.

And it’s not just Delta who thinks this way. Health care experts do, too. “A face mask with an exhalation valve doesn’t help protect others,” cautions Kentucky-based Norton Healthcare. “The valve makes it easier for you to exhale, but it also lets your germs out into the air. When it comes to protecting others, a mask with an exhalation valve is like not wearing one at all.”

Delta lays down the law

Delta is trying to be as flexible as possible and says that travelers with “unique mask requirements” are encouraged to bring the appropriate face covering that best meets their needs. 

Conversely, customers with underlying conditions that unequivocally prevent the wearing of a face covering or mask are “strongly encouraged” to rethink their travel plans or should arrive at least an hour earlier than usual and complete a ‘Clearance-to-Fly’ process prior to departure. 

Delta is telling travelers that its rules take precedence over other exemptions detailed by various city or state governments. It also adds that it will be cracking down on passengers who try to get around the rule by falsely claiming a disability or health condition that prevents the wearing of a mask.

“Mask exemptions ... do not exempt customers from any requirements that may be imposed by governments, including local, state or foreign countries, (at the origin or destination) or from requirements on other airlines,” Delta warned. “Any false claims of a disability or health condition to obtain an exemption from wearing a mask or face covering may result in the suspension of travel privileges on any Delta flight for the duration of the mask/face covering requirement.”

In the most rigorous coronavirus-related move ConsumerAffairs has seen an airline make, Delta Air Lines is taking its face coverings mandate up a notch --...
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FAA outlines proposed changes to Boeing jets

The agency is seeking to address issues that contributed to two crashes that led to the plane’s grounding

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released a report outlining the steps Boeing will need to take in order for the planes to be deemed airworthy. 

On Monday, the FAA released a “preliminary summary” of what it believes are the appropriate next steps to address lingering safety issues. The agency noted that the document is “subject to revision and updating as the FAA completes additional steps in the process of reviewing the Boeing 737 MAX for return to service.” 

Based on its 18-month review of the plane and the issues that contributed to two fatal crashes in 2019, the FAA is asking for revamped software for the aircraft’s flight control computer and displays. 

The agency is also asking for a revised manual for flight crew, new wiring for the plane's horizontal stabilizers, complete tests of each plane's angle-of-attack sensor system, and operational test flights to ensure the plane’s safety. 

Still months away from returning to the air

The FAA’s proposed changes were detailed in a 96-page summary, which the public will have 45 days to comment on before Boeing is officially directed to make the changes. The plane’s return to the skies likely wouldn’t come for a few months after the comment period. 

The FAA said its report was based on the input of “40 engineers, inspectors, pilots, and technical support staff,” more than 60,000 hours of “review, certification testing, and evaluation of pertinent documents,” and 50 hours of its own testing. More than 4,000 hours of Boeing’s flight and simulator tests were analyzed and three days of flight tests were recently completed in the Seattle, Washington area, according to the FAA. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released a report outlining the steps Boeing will need to take in order for the planes to be deemed airworthy...
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United Airlines says it might have to furlough more pilots

The big question is whether Congress will step in with more COVID-19 relief money for the airline industry

No more than two weeks after United Airlines reportedly had come to terms with a pilots union over early retirements and voluntary furloughs, it said that it may have spoken too soon. The company now says there may be more furloughs on the way given the bleak future of travelers returning to the not-so-friendly skies.

Earlier this month, United told a third of its staff -- about 36,000 employees -- that their job security was iffy at best. Earlier this week, the airline prodded its employees a little further toward considering either voluntary leave or a buyout, extending the deadline for those options into August. Originally, United had plans to furlough about a third of its pilots before 2021. However, that forecast has also changed. 

“We may need to furlough more pilots in 2020, and in 2021, than originally planned,” Bryan Quigley, United’s senior vice president of flight operations, said in a note to employees.

Will Congress step in again?

Congress has been working on another coronavirus relief package, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in that deal for the airlines. CNBC reports that more than 200 lawmakers and airline labor unions are pushing Congress to grant an extra $32 billion in payroll support so that the airline industry can protect jobs at least through the end of March 2021.

“It is clear that Congress must act to extend the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act which has helped to prevent widespread layoffs of aviation workers to date,” insisted Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA).

Airlines haven’t formally asked Congress for additional aid. CNBC reports that executives at both American and United are “walking a fine line on the issue,” but both airlines back the unions’ efforts. In United’s case, Quigley said additional aid or cost-cutting agreements with unions could mitigate furloughs.

No more than two weeks after United Airlines reportedly had come to terms with a pilots union over early retirements and voluntary furloughs, it said that...
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FAA orders emergency inspections of Boeing 737 planes over engine failure concerns

The agency says that corrosion during storage could make the planes unsafe

Boeing has gone through the wringer over safety issues related to its 737 MAX aircraft, but now some of its other 737 models have raised eyebrows at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

On Friday, FAA officials released an Airworthiness Directive for approximately 2,000 Boeing 737 aircraft that have been put in storage during the coronavirus pandemic. The reason? Officials say that the planes may have experienced corrosion while sitting idle and that they may be prone to engine failure. 

The directive covers certain older Boeing aircraft that have not been operated within the last seven days or more. Airlines that have these older 737 planes in their fleet are being asked to check for corrosion on engine valves.

Boeing admitted that the planes indicated by the FAA “can be more susceptible to corrosion” because they have been used infrequently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAA’s directive may have been prompted by an Alaska Airlines report about an engine shutdown that occurred on one of its Boeing aircraft earlier this month. CNBC reports that the airline told the FAA that it experienced the issue on one of its flights from Seattle to Austin on July 15. The engine shutdown led to a safe emergency landing.

Boeing has gone through the wringer over safety issues related to its 737 MAX aircraft, but now some of its other 737 models have raised eyebrows at the Fe...
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United Airlines reportedly comes to terms with pilots union over early retirements and voluntary furloughs

Airlines continue to juggle operations as the coronavirus pandemic rages on

As airlines try to gain a profitable footing in the middle of the COVID-19 conundrum, United Airlines is following in American, Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue’s footsteps by cutting a deal with its 13,000-strong pilots union on furloughs and early retirement packages.

Full details have yet to be published, but in a note sent to the pilots by the union and viewed by CNBC, the next step is the ratification of the plan, which could come as soon as next week.

The move is of particular value to United given its aggressive posture of tripling its daily departures. Having fewer paychecks to write can go a long way. The likely scenario is that United and the union will carbon copy much of what the airlines signed off on. As an example, Delta’s deal included partial pay for three years or age 65 (whichever comes first).

“Unfortunately, this may not be the full extent of the furloughs, and we must be prepared for more based on the Company’s plan to be 30 percent smaller next summer,” Capt. Todd Insler, chairman of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, wrote to members on Thursday.

A juggling act

Both airlines and airline employees are looking at a fish-or-cut-bait deadline of September 30 -- the date they agreed on to keep employees on the payroll, not furlough, or reduce the hourly pay scale. The agreement was the airline industry’s half of the bargain under the Payroll Support Program, which has helped keep them in business during the pandemic.

When the airlines signed off on that promise, the country’s way out of the coronavirus outbreak was starting to look promising, but that’s all changed.

CNBC reports that Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told his staff in a company memo that the July Fourth weekend was a paltry 20 percent of the passenger load it flew last year. While United is gung-ho about scheduling new flights, Bastian says he’s hesitant about Delta expanding its schedule.

“And while we’re adding back about 1,000 flights systemwide this month, we’re still operating just about 30 percent of our normal July schedule,” Bastian said. “The continued growth of the virus through the Sun Belt, coupled with quarantine restrictions being implemented in large markets in the northern part of the country, give us renewed caution about further schedule additions at this time.”

As airlines try to gain a profitable footing in the middle of the COVID-19 conundrum, United Airlines is following in American, Delta, Southwest, and JetBl...
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Treasury agrees on terms for coronavirus relief with five airlines

Carriers have until the end of September to decide whether to take the loan

On Thursday, the Treasury Department said it has agreed on terms for coronavirus loans with five major U.S. airlines. The loans were part of a $25 billion emergency loan program established by Congress in March. 

The airlines that have signed letters of intent for the loan terms are American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Sky West Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. 

“We are pleased that major air carriers intend to use this important program and for Treasury to use its authority under the CARES Act to provide much-needed financial assistance, while ensuring appropriate taxpayer compensation,” Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. “Conversations with other airlines continue, and we look forward to finalizing agreements as soon as possible.”

Airlines that borrow money will have to maintain employment levels and limit employee compensation, dividends, and share repurchases to qualify for the CARES Act loans. Carriers will have until September 30 to decide whether to take the loan.

The airline industry was hit hard by the pandemic, and consumers still aren’t particularly confident about resuming air travel. Despite dampened demand for plane tickets, airlines are gradually increasing numbers of available seats and assuring customers that they have enhanced their health and safety procedures

On Thursday, the Treasury Department said it has agreed on terms for coronavirus loans with five major U.S. airlines. The loans were part of a $25 billion...
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United Airlines to triple its flight schedule despite COVID-19 concerns

The company is adding 25,000 flights in August, but safety is still a major focus

In spite of the upward trend of COVID-19 infections making the skies anything but friendly, United Airlines is going all-in by tripling the size of its August schedule compared to its daily departures in June, adding nearly 25,000 domestic and international flights compared to July. The company says it has plans to fly 40 percent of its overall schedule in August versus the previous year.

The airline thinks that travelers are regaining their confidence about traveling, at least enough to visit getaway destinations that embrace social distancing and friends and family who have been playing it safe and staying out of harm’s way. 

"We're taking the same data-driven, realistic approach to growing our schedule as we did in drawing it down at the start of the pandemic," said Ankit Gupta, United's vice president of Domestic Network Planning. 

"Demand is coming back slowly and we're building in enough capacity to stay ahead of the number of people traveling. And we're adding in flights to places we know customers want to travel to, like outdoor recreation destinations where social distancing is easier but doing so in a way that's flexible and allows us to adjust should that demand change."

The updated routes

Much of United’s 350 additional daily flights starting in August will pass through its hubs -- Chicago, Denver, and Houston -- but the airline will also put a spin on getting to the great outdoors where the coronavirus is less likely to lurk.

Mountain and national park destinations will be the main recipient of that spin. Aspen, Colorado; Bangor, Maine; Bozeman, Montana; and Jackson Hole, Wyoming will all be getting more inbound flights. Internationally, United's August schedule will include a return to Tahiti and additional flights to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Mexico. 

United says it’s adding more flights to Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Munich, Paris, and Zurich, but that wish may have already met its match with the European Union keeping its borders closed to U.S.-based travelers.

Here are the highlights of United’s reworked schedule, come August:

  • An additional 600 daily flights to more than 200 airports across the U.S.

  • Expanding flights at 147 U.S. airports

  • Increasing connectivity in United's mid-continental hubs, including Chicago, Denver, and Houston

  • Doubling the number of flights out of New York/Newark

  • Gassing up and putting about 90 aircraft back into service

  • Increasing service between Hawaii and all of its hubs

A complete list of United’s schedule changes is available here.

Safety is still a priority

Yes, passenger revenue is important to United, but it can ill afford to risk the health and safety of its passengers. Just like every other airline, United has had to make adjustments and keep improving on its promise to keep travelers safe. 

For the foreseeable future, United has a checklist that every passenger has to complete before they’ll be let on a flight. Chief among its requirements is that all passengers -- including crew members -- have to wear a face covering. If they don’t, then they may not be allowed to board.

In spite of the upward trend of COVID-19 infections making the skies anything but friendly, United Airlines is going all-in by tripling the size of its Aug...
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Boeing 737 MAX planes set to begin key certification tests

The tests will intentionally trigger the software that was found to be a factor in both fatal crashes

Boeing’s 737 MAX jets, which have been grounded for more than a year, are set to undergo three-days’ worth of key test flights starting June 29. 

Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that pilots and test crew members will run through a series of “methodically scripted” scenarios designed to intentionally push the reprogrammed MCAS stall-prevention software to its limits.

The MCAS software was found to be a factor in the two fatal 737 MAX crashes that occurred just five months apart. The tests will focus on ensuring that the changes have sufficiently increased the safety and reliability of the software. 

Federal Aviation Administration officials told Reuters that the tests “will include a wide array of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures to enable the agency to assess whether the changes meet FAA certification standards.”

If the initial round of testing doesn’t reveal any issues, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson will board the plane to personally verify its safety before issuing approval. The FAA would then need to approve new pilot training procedures and might not allow the 737 Max to resume passenger flights until September.

While it’s possible that the aircraft could be cleared to resume operations before the end of the year, the recertification process has historically been long and beset with delays.

“Based on how many problems have been uncovered, I would be stunned if the flight tests are ‘one and done,’” a source told the publication. 

Boeing’s 737 MAX jets, which have been grounded for more than a year, are set to undergo three-days’ worth of key test flights starting June 29. Source...
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American Airlines to begin fully booking flights starting July 1

The airline said it has increased health and safety measures

American Airlines announced Friday that it will sell tickets for every seat on its planes beginning July 1. Previously, the airline was filling its aircraft up to 85 percent capacity in an effort to promote social distancing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

"As more people continue to travel, customers may notice that flights are booked to capacity starting July 1," American Airlines said in a press release. 

The airline said it has enhanced its cleaning procedures and will require passengers to wear face coverings while on board. The company previously said it would deny boarding to customers who don’t comply with the rule. 

American will be asking travelers whether they have experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 in the past two weeks. Online and airport check-in kiosks will include a symptom checklist. The company said it will notify customers if their flight will be full and allow them to switch to less crowded flights at no extra cost through September 30. 

“Our customers trust us to make every aspect of their journey safe. We won’t let them down,” said Alison Taylor, American’s chief customer officer, in a statement. “We will continue to refine and update our practices based on the latest information from health authorities and our own Travel Health Advisory Panel.”

Other airlines are taking a more cautious approach to resuming normal operations. Southwest, Alaska, Delta, and JetBlue still have restrictions on passenger capacity. Many airlines are also suspending alcoholic beverage service in response to the pandemic. 

American Airlines announced Friday that it will sell tickets for every seat on its planes beginning July 1. Previously, the airline was filling its aircraf...
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Delta to restart flights between U.S. and China this week

The airline has increased its health and safety measures

On Monday, Delta Air Lines announced that it will resume flights between Seattle and Shanghai on June 25 following a suspension of nearly four months due to COVID-19 concerns. 

The airline said a flight between Seattle and Shanghai-Pudong, China (through Seoul-Incheon, South Korea) will operate twice a week. 

“With a mission to connect the world, Delta is committed to getting our customers to their destinations safely and confidently, especially at this critical time. We are implementing unprecedented health and safety measures and practices, so customers are assured of ease and safety at all points of their journey,” Wong Hong, Delta's president of Greater China and Singapore, said in a statement on Monday. 

New health measures

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Delta will require all passengers to wear face coverings both in the airport and while in the cabin. The airline said it will also be sanitizing all aircraft, changing its boarding process from back to front, and requesting that customers bring their own food and beverages to minimize contact with employees.

Additionally, Delta won’t be selling tickets for middle seats and will limit its passenger capacity to 60 percent capacity in the main cabin to promote social distancing. Delta added that it’s “constantly updating best practices and improving the new standard of care based on expert medical advice and the feedback of customers.”

The restarting of Delta’s service between the U.S. in China comes a week after the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that airlines could continue four flights per week between the two countries. 

The DOT said it will “continue to press for the full restoration of passenger air travel between the United States and China,” in part to allow Chinese students impacted by the flight shortage to fly home. 

“As the Chinese government allows more flights by U.S. carriers, we will reciprocate,” the agency added. 

Delta is the first airline to resume flights to China. United Airlines is expected to restart flights to the country soon.

On Monday, Delta Air Lines announced that it will resume flights between Seattle and Shanghai on June 25 following a suspension of nearly four months due t...
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Airline executives say major changes could be ahead as the industry recovers from the pandemic

A removal of change fees and low fares lead the list of predictions

As airlines find their way out of the pandemic-driven detour, industry executives are again calling for changes to help travelers feel good about flying.

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Washington Post, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes predicted that some of the old ways of doing things won’t work in the new normal.  

Hayes said airlines will find it difficult to resume their previous practices for change and cancellation fees when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Change fees may be going away

At the top of Hayes’ predictions is a rethinking of how airlines sell ticketed products.

“It’s not going to be acceptable, I don’t think, for somebody who is unwell to feel that they are being made to fly,” Hayes speculated. “And so, I think airlines are going to have to think about how they monetize their fare structure, how they create products that give people the ability to change flights more easily than in the past.” 

To Hayes’ point about fare structure, one thing he thinks should be tossed out is the as-much-as $200 change fees, much like they did during the COVID-19 outbreak and Hurricane Florence. That change would surely be a blow to airlines. In 2019, the major U.S. carriers took in nearly $3 billion in reservation and cancellation fees according to the Department of Transportation -- $195 million for the Hayes-run JetBlue alone.

Low fares could become the norm

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly predicts that at the end of the industry’s pandemic recovery, consumers will see low airfares as the norm. Speaking in his weekly video update to employees, Kelly laid out his vision in no uncertain terms.

“We’ll compete hard for customers, understanding it will be a brutal, low-fare environment as there are far more airline seats, and there will be for some time, than there are customers,” he said.

“Our low-cost philosophy, strategy and structure will serve us very well. We’ll continue to offer low fares with no change fees, no bag fees and a safe environment when our customers are ready to fly."

Consumers should expect a lot of variables

One aviation consultant agrees that getting to that win-win spot where both the airlines and the consumers are happy will be a rollercoaster ride.

In comments made to the Dallas Morning News, David Banmiller predicts two things: one, that airlines will be inclined to fill up seats to substantiate the monstrous overhead costs of getting a plane in the air and passengers from point-to-point. And, secondly, much of the rebound will be dependent on how aggressive airlines will get in fighting for routes they compete with others for.

“Fares will be all over the place,” Banmiller said. 

ConsumerAffairs is already seeing Banmiller’s predictions come true. In a sample Google Flights search for a roundtrip from Austin (AUS) to New York LaGuardia (LGA) leaving on June 18 and returning on June 22, we found airfares as low as $293 and as high as $697.

As airlines find their way out of the pandemic-driven detour, industry executives are again calling for changes to help travelers feel good about flying....
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American Airlines to cut 30 percent of its management and administrative staff

The airline industry faces the difficult task of downsizing in the COVID-19 era

Airline stocks have rallied on Wall Street this week on growing optimism that the country is beginning to reopen and travel is about to resume. But the rising stock prices don’t reveal the economic damage to commercial air travel that’s already been done.

American Airlines has announced it is cutting 30 percent of its management and administrative staff in an effort to stem the flow of red ink. A company memo obtained by CNBC said the airline will also begin offering buyouts to flight attendants and other frontline personnel in June.

“We must plan for operating a smaller airline for the foreseeable future,” Elise Eberwein, one of the airline’s executive vice presidents, wrote in a letter to employees Wednesday.

American has plenty of company in that situation because the entire industry has been turned upside down by the coronavirus (COVID-19). Consumers stopped flying well before the government issued travel restrictions. By late April, U.S. passenger traffic had fallen 90 percent.

In the last decade, the airline industry has clawed its way back to profitability by maximizing routes -- flying planes in which every seat was sold -- and charging fees for things that were once included in the price of a ticket. Those days seem to be over.

Half-empty planes

In the era of social distancing -- which no one expects to end anytime soon -- American and its competitors will likely fly half-empty planes, even when consumers begin traveling again. In an announcement made Wednesday, American said it would continue to limit the number of customers on each aircraft. 

“Additionally, American customer service agents also may reassign seats to create more space between customers or to accommodate families who need to be seated together,” the airline said in a release. “Once boarding is complete — taking into consideration any aircraft weight or balance restrictions — customers can move to another seat within their ticketed cabin subject to availability.”

The airline said it is deploying new tools that will allow customers to more easily change their tickets to less-crowded flights, again giving up the fees that most airlines once charged for that service.

Strings attached

The problem for the industry -- and American in particular -- is that at the same time it is struggling against mounting financial losses, it has received financial aid from Congress that has several strings attached.

A week ago, when Delta and JetBlue decided to reduce employee hours to cope with their loss of revenue, lawmakers were quick to say the action represented a violation of the goal of the Payroll Support Program established under the CARES Act. 

Delta received more than $5 billion in federal support through the program, and JetBlue received $935 million. When they cut employee hours more than a dozen U.S. senators sent letters to the CEO of each airline pushing for an immediate end to the “potentially illegal” action. 

In April, American announced that it was receiving $5.8 billion from the government to support payroll operations.

Airline stocks have rallied on Wall Street this week on growing optimism that the country is beginning to reopen and travel is about to resume. But the ris...
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U.S. airlines start to see a break in the clouds with reservations outpacing cancellations

It might be a year or more before full recovery is fully achieved, but it’s a step in the right direction

Now that the COVID-19 clouds are starting to part, it looks like airlines are beginning to gear up for their return to the skies. Delta Air Lines, Southwest, and United all reported on Tuesday that their bookings are running ahead of cancellations for the first time in a while.

It's no giant leap forward, but the airlines were in an insufferable position -- probably more than any sector. Their only way out was to pledge assets in return for millions in bailout money that Congress granted to keep them from going under. 

If the early news holds steady, the forecast that the airline industry won’t be back in full swing until 2023 might have to be shortened a bit. Here are what the four biggest airlines have to say.

American Airlines

In an American Airlines video conference viewed by ConsumerAffairs, company brass said they are "pretty well situated … to take advantage of a domestic rebound. And we do estimate it will be domestic-focused when it does come back (and) estimate that it will be more leisure than business."

American officials said they expect changes as a result of the pandemic, and "will be incredibly flexible in terms of our capacity." But they wanted it to be made known that a low-load factor is not the goal long-term.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest said in a filing that it is set to cut capacity by as much as 55 percent next month from a year ago. Like American, Southwest thinks that its flights will still be somewhat sparse -- a load factor in the neighborhood of 35 to 45 percent.

As far as Southwest's bottom line is concerned, the ink is still red. The company has experienced a modest improvement in passenger demand and bookings for June 2020. Still, the operating revenues are estimated to decrease somewhere in the range of 80 to 85 percent year-over-year. Nonetheless, the airline isn't making any steadfast commitments or promises. 

"The revenue environment remains uncertain and may require additional capacity reductions depending on passenger demand," the company noted in the filing.

Delta Air Lines

In an investor presentation reported on by CNN, Delta also said its bookings have shown marked improvement. While new reservations aren't yet outpacing passenger cancellations 24/7, they're moving in that direction. 

"We have seen a little bit of a bounce off the bottom," Delta CFO Paul Jacobson said. "My caution is not to draw too many conclusions. But there are reasons to be encouraged. Delta is being careful to make sure the improved bookings turn into actual tickets and that they are not canceled as passengers' dates of travel get closer."

Delta is adding close to 100 flights a day going through June, but it -- unlike Southwest and American -- is at half-capacity because of the empty middle seat promise it made to consumers last month.

United Airlines

United also had good news in the cancellation department, saying that cancellation rates have fallen. It anticipates ticket demand for both domestic flights and some international destinations to improve by the end of June. 

And its capacity situation? As far as that's concerned, United's crystal ball isn't as promising as its competitors. The company expects its scheduled capacity for July 2020 to be down close to 75 percent compared to a year ago. But at least it's going in the right direction, marking an improvement from the 90 percent cut it had to apply in resetting its May and June schedules.

Now that the COVID-19 clouds are starting to part, it looks like airlines are beginning to gear up for their return to the skies. Delta Air Lines, Southwes...
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DOT addresses airline refunds and carrier obligations in new guidance

Secretary Chao reminds the airline industry that it needs to follow the CARES Act as it was written

Early Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao delivered good news to consumers and a little of both good and bad news to the airline industry. 

For the consumers, the DOT stepped up its enforcement concerning ticket refunds brought on by the pandemic. And for the airlines? A little breather on their total service obligation.

For the consumers

Given the sloth-like pace the airlines were moving at to fulfill the DOT's mandate on refunds vs. vouchers, the Department felt it had no recourse but to tell the airlines that they needed to shape up. 

According to Chao's office, the DOT received more than 25,000 air travel service complaints and inquiries between March and April -- many of which concerned refunds. In a typical month, it might receive only about 1,500.

"The Department has received an unprecedented volume of complaints from passengers and is examining this issue closely to ensure that airlines' policies and practices conform to DOT's refund rules," said Secretary Chao. 

"The Department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time."

To help travelers holding tickets and wondering what the best steps to take are, the DOT has produced a guide covering questions such as:

  • What rights do passengers have if an airline cancels a flight or makes a significant schedule change? What is a "significant change" or "cancellation" requiring a refund?

  • What rights do passengers have if they choose not to travel due to safety or health concerns related to the COVID-19 public health emergency?

  • What rights do passengers have if they choose not to travel due to safety or health concerns related to the COVID-19 public health emergency?

  • May airlines and ticket agents retroactively apply new refund policies?

  • May airlines or ticket agents offer credits or vouchers to consumers instead of refunds?

  • How quickly must airlines and ticket agents process refunds?

The answers to those questions can be found here, but a fair warning -- the Department couched its notice purely as “guidance,” saying that “it does not have the force and effect of law and is not meant to bind the regulated entities in any way.” 

Consumers who have additional questions are encouraged to contact the DOT directly at this email address: C70Notice@dot.gov.

For the airlines

When it comes to airlines’ service obligations, the Department relaxed its position a bit. Rather than force airlines to serve the same number of markets they did before COVID-19, the DOT now gives airlines the green light to "reduce the number of points they must serve as a proportion of their total service obligation."

To that end, the Department simply asks the carriers to make sure that at least one airline continues to cover every community. That might require some arm wrestling, though. There are lots of markets where multiple airlines fly the same route. For example, between Cincinnati (CVG) and Atlanta (ATL), there are five different airlines that fly the same route; four airlines that fly Dallas (DFW) to Seattle (SEA); and five that fly Orlando (ORL) to New York's LaGuardia (LGA).

Remember who's in charge

Secretary Chao didn't pull any punches in reminding airlines who's in charge when it comes to the requirements they need to follow under the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

The legislation authorized the Secretary to require an airline carrier receiving financial assistance under the act to maintain scheduled air transportation service "to the extent reasonable and practicable" to any point served by that air carrier before March 1, 2020. 

And if the airlines don't like Chao's updated directives? They have until May 18 to respond to the service obligation adjustments notice. The trade association Airlines For America (A4A) said that airlines are doing everything they can to comply with the government’s request.

“U.S. carriers have worked since the early stages of this pandemic to respond to customers and update travel policies to offer increased flexibility,” the organization told ConsumerAffairs. “We understand that these are difficult times for our country, our passengers, and our employees. U.S. airlines remain committed to making accommodations that are responsive to travelers’ needs during this unprecedented time.”

Early Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao delivered good news to consumers and a little of both good and bad news to the airline indus...
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Airline lobbyist asks Congress to ease up on minimum flight requirements under the CARES Act

One congressman says taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick on the bailout

The flailing airline industry’s cause to come out of the COVID pandemic with its wings up got some much-needed championing on Wednesday.

The CEO and President of Airlines for America (A4A) -- a lobbying group which represents Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United -- appeared before a Senate hearing to speak about the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the commercial aviation industry. 

A4A’s Nicholas Calio wanted to make sure he got one important point across. He stated that federally-dictated minimums on the number of flights as part of the federal airline bailout are “unsustainable” for airlines while the pandemic is still in full swing and its passenger loads have taken a pounding.

“While carriers are certainly complying with the CARES Act requirement and (Department of Transportation) Show Cause Order requiring minimum service levels to U.S. communities, the cost associated with operating nearly empty flights to communities with little to no demand significantly exacerbates air carrier liquidity,” Calio said in a prepared statement. 

“We would ask both this Committee and the Administration to seek solutions to address the challenges posed by this unsustainable requirement. Make no mistake, as the duration of this pandemic lingers, the reasonability and practicality of this requirement significantly diminishes. Carriers and communities alike are going to have to come together and acknowledge the footprint and frequency of service in 2019 cannot convey to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic reality,” he said.

The bottom line for the airline industry

Airlines have greatly cut back on the number of flights since the virus became headline news -- even going to the extreme of canceling flights and sardining passengers on another flight to be more efficient. 

Still, the bottom line for the airline industry is, in fact, the bottom line. Until the industry can regroup from being 90 percent down thanks to COVID-19, Calio bluntly told the Committee that “the cost associated with operating nearly empty flights to communities with little to no demand significantly exacerbates air carrier liquidity.”

“Screwing the taxpayers”

Lawmakers and airline operators are anything but on the same page on this situation. Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said the people he represents have grumbled that airlines are handing out vouchers, not cash refunds like they’re supposed to when they up and cancel a flight. 

“In effect, you are -- forgive me -- screwing the very taxpayers whose money is going into your pockets” through the $50 billion in federal aid set aside for passenger airlines in the CARES Act, Blumenthal said.

The flailing airline industry’s cause to come out of the COVID pandemic with its wings up got some much-needed championing on Wednesday.The CEO and Pre...
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United Airlines executive suggests employees should voluntarily leave the company

Come October, the airline could be 7,000 employees lighter

In an interesting play, United Airlines COO Greg Hart is suggesting that the company’s 93,000 employees give some consideration to voluntarily leaving the company while it wrestles with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a leaked memo to United Airlines staffers obtained by CNN Business, Hart said the airline will need to "right size" its workforce.

"You may want to seriously consider if you're in a position to take a voluntary separation," he wrote. "You, alone, can decide if a [Voluntary Separation Program] works for you and your family."

Everyone’s affected

Apparently, no one at United is safe from some sort of salary consequence. In the memo, Hart shared that executive salaries have been cut and that the memo’s purpose was to simply allow the airline to be transparent with its staff, top to bottom.

Unfortunately for United, it doesn’t have as many options as it usually does when it comes to parting with its staff. The company currently can’t lay anyone off for the next six months due to the federal financial assistance package deal that gives United close to $5 billion in relief money. But as soon as the airline completes that guarantee, it appears that it will be ready to start slashing staff. 

According to a memo seen by Reuters, United has plans for at least 3,400 management and administrative positions to be cut come October, and it has told pilots to be prepared for a “displacement” that could impact approximately 30 percent of its 12,250 pilots. All told, that’s about 7,000 workers.

“We have to acknowledge that there will be serious consequences to our company if we don’t continue to take strong and decisive action, which includes making decisions that none of us ever wanted or expected to make,” Kate Gebo, United’s executive vice president of human resources and labor relations, was quoted in the memo.

In an interesting play, United Airlines COO Greg Hart is suggesting that the company’s 93,000 employees give some consideration to voluntarily leaving the...
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Spirit joins other airlines in announcing mandatory face mask requirement

Airlines say most customers have already begun wearing masks

To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Spirit Airlines has announced that it will require passengers to wear face masks starting May 11. The airline joins others that are implementing the policy. 

Passengers on United, Delta, and JetBlue will be required to wear them starting Monday, May 4, and Spirit’s new policy will take effect the same day as American, Southwest, and Alaska. Delta, United, and JetBlue flight attendants had already begun wearing face masks. 

In announcing the same policy last week, Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue's president and chief operating officer, said that wearing a mask was the “new flying etiquette.” 

Masks mandatory

Despite the impact of COVID-19, people are still flying, albeit not in numbers as high as a year ago. Roughly 134,000 travelers passed through airport security checkpoints on Saturday, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). A year ago, that figure was 1.9 million. 

Airlines including Southwest, United, American, and Allegiant Air are providing face masks for passengers that forget to bring their own. Spirit passengers will have to bring their own face masks and wear them at the airport and throughout the flight. The airline said young children who can't keep a mask on will be exempt from the new policy. 

Allegiant Airlines -- which is encouraging but not requiring passengers to wear a mask -- said most customers have already begun wearing a mask. 

"We find that most passengers have already adopted this as a practice," said Allegiant spokeswoman Hilarie Grey. 

To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Spirit Airlines has announced that it will require passengers to wear face masks starting May 11. The airline...
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Regulators raise concerns about safety issues in Boeing's 737 MAX assembly line

A federal investigation centers around ‘quality-control lapses’

The Boeing 737 MAX jet is currently in production in the wake of being grounded over safety issues, and now federal prosecutors are raising alarm about potential safety shortcomings on the assembly line. 

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration are both investigating safety problems on the assembly lines of the planes. 

Inspections found that rags and other debris was left in the fuel tanks or other interior spaces of roughly half of undelivered 737 MAX jets. Debris may be present as a result of “quality-control lapses,” according to the Journal.

The investigations being carried out are in addition to a grand jury probe of the MAX’s flight control systems, which were found to have been a key factor in two crashes that killed 346 people. 

Boeing didn’t comment on the investigations, but the company said it launched an internal investigation and took corrective actions after finding debris in undelivered 737 MAX planes.

“Safely returning the 737 MAX to service is our top priority,” Boeing said in a statement.

Boeing’s beleaguered 737 MAX jet is expected to remain grounded until at least August, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Earlier this month, the company said it needed to make two new software updates to the plane’s flight control computer.

The Boeing 737 MAX jet is currently in production in the wake of being grounded over safety issues, and now federal prosecutors are raising alarm about pot...
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U.S. Treasury releases $2.9 billion in airline support and puts final touches on payroll agreements

The payouts have safeguards built in to keep the airlines on the up and up

On Monday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury put the final touches on its Payroll Support Program deal with Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines. The agreement releases $2.9 billion in initial payments to support airline flight attendants, pilots, and other workers, but it also helps shield the aviation industry from collapsing.

Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and SkyWest Airlines weren’t part of Monday’s agreement, but all those companies have said that they plan to participate in the program. All told, the airlines represent close to 95 percent of the U.S. airline capacity. 

More if necessary

The Treasury said it’s open to supplementary payments to the airlines on a rolling basis, but only as long as the funds are used for the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits. 

United Airlines wasted no time, saying it was seeking $4.5 billion in loans from the program. Last week, American said it was asking for a $4.75 billion loan under that program, while both Alaska and Horizon said they, too, were getting things together to ask for $1.1 billion in loans.

“The Payroll Support Program is critical to supporting American workers and preserving our airline industry, which is a vital part of the U.S. economy,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “We continue to work quickly to deliver this needed relief.” 

The Treasury gets something out of this deal, too

Consumers shouldn’t worry about the U.S. government handing the airlines all this money free-and-clear. Under the CARES Act, the Treasury’s making sure that the airlines get the help they need, but the carriers are still on the hook for repaying 30 percent of it back and granting the Treasury warrants equivalent to 10 percent of the total amount borrowed. 

Smaller companies do have an extra benefit added into the deal. Airlines taking out loans for $100 million or less are not required to repay anything or issue any warrants to the government.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury put the final touches on its Payroll Support Program deal with Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air L...
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Delta Air Lines announces new round of changes on waivers, fares, and social distancing

The airline is also offering free travel to medical volunteers who are needed in hard-hit areas

There’s not a 12-Step program for airlines, but the largest carriers in the U.S. are starting to admit that they’re powerless when it comes to the devastation inflicted by COVID-19 and that doing business has become unmanageable. 

On Tuesday, several domestic airlines announced that they reached agreements with the Treasury Department for billions in government grant money to help offset the misfortune they’ve endured from the pandemic.

Then, on Wednesday, Delta Air Lines stepped up with yet another round of changes to both its system and passengers that will be extended through June 2020.

Policy changes

Waived changed fees: Delta is waiving change fees through May 31, 2022 to customers with canceled flights through June 2020.

There are two stipulations, however. Eligible customers include those who have:

  • Upcoming travel already booked in April, May or June 2020, as of April 14, 2020 

  • Existing eCredits or canceled travel from flights in March, April, May or June 2020

Capped fares: Delta has capped fares for travel throughout the U.S. and Canada through May 31 in all classes.

Social distancing during travel: Mirroring what the world is doing on the ground, Delta is making sure that when travelers are up in the air, they’ll encounter:

  • Fewer passengers per flight

  • Blocked middle seats

Modifying the boarding process where passengers will board by row from the rear of the plane forward

Free flights to medical volunteers traveling to hard-hit U.S. areas

As a compassionate gesture, Delta is also giving eligible medical volunteers free round-trip flights to Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, and New York through the end of June.

The details, eligibility requirements, and reservations are being left up to those states and are good through the end of April 2020.

There’s not a 12-Step program for airlines, but the largest carriers in the U.S. are starting to admit that they’re powerless when it comes to the devastat...
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FAA mounts investigation of Boeing 737 after 12-inch crack appears on the fuselage’s skin

The problem has happened before on older 737 aircraft

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has opened an investigation after an in-flight episode involving one of Southwest’s Boeing 737 jets.

As a result of a Las Vegas-Boise flight losing cabin pressure, the FAA’s inspection of the aircraft uncovered a 12-inch crack on the fuselage’s crown skin.

The area where the crack was located is subject to mandatory inspections every 1,500 flight cycles. A flight cycle is the operation of an engine from the time an aircraft leaves the ground until it touches the ground at the end of a flight. A report in the Wall Street Journal claims the FAA was investigating the likelihood of structural problems affecting other Boeing 737 jets. 

“The aircraft was taken out of service and is currently in maintenance receiving repairs,” Southwest said in a statement responding to the situation.

A repeat performance?

Boeing has been through an eerily similar situation before -- not only with its 737 but also with 757 model aircraft.

In 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that a factory error led to a crack in the fuselage skin of a Boeing 757, causing a sudden mid-flight decompression with 160 people aboard. 

In 2011, a similar situation on a Southwest flight involving a 737 led the NTSB to discover fatigue cracks “emanating from at least 42 of the 58 rivet holes connected by the fracture,” according to FlightSafety.org. That particular jet had close to 40,000 flight cycles at the time. After that incident, a Southwest Airlines investigation found that three other 737s also showed “crack indications.” 

As a result of those incidents, FlightSafety said Boeing called on the airlines to do a further inspection of fasteners in the crown skin area. The FAA followed that move by mandating an inspection.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has opened an investigation after an in-flight episode involving one of Southwest’s Boeing 737 jets.As a resu...
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Boeing 737 MAX faces another setback due to non-compliant wiring bundles

FAA officials say the jet won’t see the skies again until all potential safety problems are addressed

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) added another chapter to Boeing’s sleeplessness in Seattle on Monday, telling the aviation company that the wiring bundles in its 737 MAX jets are “not compliant.”

However, according to CNBC, people familiar with the decision say Boeing claims that the bundles don’t pose a potential safety threat.

“The FAA continues to engage with Boeing as the company works to address a recently discovered wiring issue with the 737 Max,” a spokesman for the agency told CNBC. “The manufacturer must demonstrate compliance with all certification standards.”

How big of a concern is this?

The jury is out on whether the wiring bundles are actually an issue. Boeing contends that after 200 million hours of flight, if something was wrong with the wiring bundles, it would’ve reared its ugly head by now. Nonetheless, the FAA is concerned that there’s a possibility that the wiring bundles could short-circuit. If that happens, pilots could lose control of the plane.

For everyone’s benefit -- most importantly, the safety of the traveler -- the FAA is holding steady on when Boeing’s beleaguered jet will fly again. 

“The aircraft will be cleared for return to passenger service only after the FAA is satisfied that all safety-related issues are addressed…Regardless of the final determination on this matter our estimate for a mid-year return to service of the MAX is unchanged,” the FAA spokesman said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) added another chapter to Boeing’s sleeplessness in Seattle on Monday, telling the aviation company that the wirin...
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Airlines called out for mediocre passenger experience at House committee hearing

Discrimination and a lack of assistance top the list of complaints

At a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s hearing about airline passenger experience on Tuesday -- the first hearing on consumer protections in nearly three years -- it became abundantly clear that airlines have their work cut out for them.

The hearing, entitled “The Airline Passenger Experience: What It Is and What It Could Be,” took its cues from the just-published Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that tracked complaints about airline companies and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Consumer complaints

In a nutshell, the airline industry took a pretty good shellacking. Here’s what the Committee handed them:

A lack of assistance

The most frequent passenger complaint was the perceived failure of airline staff to provide assistance, seating accommodation concerns, and problems related to service animals.

Discrimination

Next in line were passenger complaints related to discrimination -- most commonly about racial discrimination. These types of complaints were up 20 percent in 2019. Committee Chair Rick Larsen (D-WA) made a point of singling out Spirit Airlines which made the news when seven African-Americans were kicked off one of its flights

Most people would think that racial discrimination of airline passengers would have faded out of sight by 2020. However, in ConsumerAffairs research on discrimination as it relates to airlines and travelers, it was interesting to find that the DOT “requires” airlines to provide training on accessibility issues but only “encourages” non-discrimination training for its staff. 

Fees

Another concern was the number of airline fees that are assessed on almost everything. What really chapped the Committee was the continued audacity of the airlines to keep raising fees on an almost annual basis. 

“It strikes me as odd that as carriers continue to increase their bag fees, passenger demand continues to grow,” fumed Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “Yet, airlines change their views on the law of supply and demand when it comes to increasing the passenger facility charge (PFC) -- the most effective funding tool our nation’s airports have to build and maintain their infrastructure. They argue that even a dollar increase would cause demand to plummet.”

Packed planes 

The airlines are enjoying a 15-year high in load factor, with average flights being 84.5 percent full. On top of that, travelers have to deal with smaller seats and less legroom, neither of which make for an enjoyable flight.

Mishandled bags

Despite improvements in this metric, the Committee still thinks that nearly 3 million mishandled bag reports is too high. 

The industry is doing its best to reverse this. As ConsumerAffairs found at CES 2020, airline leaders like Delta’s Ed Bastian are investing heavily in artificial intelligence technology that can vastly improve things like tracking bags.

Inflexibility

U.S. carriers made $2.7 billion on reservation changes and cancellations alone in 2018. 

“I’ve seen these fees as high as $200 each way, plus the difference in cost for the new flight; and if flying internationally, a passenger needing to switch dates might pay $750 or more,” DeFazio complained.

DeFazio also made it known that the airline industry’s inflexibility leaves passengers little or no reasonable recourse. 

“Most of a passenger’s rights are buried in U.S. airlines’ contracts of carriage. These treatises -- 40 pages on average -- ‘require a reading level of someone with a college graduate degree,’ according to the GAO,” he said.

Looking forward

At the beginning of the 116th Congress, Larsen set a forward-looking agenda in the Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights which puts enhancing the air travel experience for U.S. passengers front and center.

That bill also has a dancing partner -- the FAA Reauthorization Act -- which includes several conditions designed to enhance the experience of airline passengers. Those include:

  • Establishing minimum seat pitch dimensions in commercial aircraft;

  • Establishing a DOT aviation consumer advocate, whose job would be helping resolve air travel complaints; and

  • Requiring carriers to improve transparency with the accommodations they offer passengers concerning the continuing issue of flight disruptions.

In summing up the day, Larsen noted that waiting three years between Congressional reviews and leaving the DOT and airlines to their own devices has to stop. 

“Congress, the DOT, and (the) industry must work to ensure transparency, prevent unfair and inequitable practices and promote reliable and accessible air service for all Americans,” he said.

At a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s hearing about airline passenger experience on Tuesday -- the first hearing on consumer protecti...
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United Airlines increases fee for checked baggage

Travelers can save money and avoid the price bump by paying in advance

Following similar moves from other major carriers, United Airlines announced on Friday that it will be increasing the fee it assesses for checked bags by $5 starting on March 6. 

The company said that it would be raising the fee from $30 to $35 for travelers’ first checked bag; the fee for the second checked bag will now be $45. Travelers who bought a ticket before the announcement will not have to pay the additional fee. 

The price increase will be effective for all flights within the United States and short-range flights to areas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Avoiding the price increase

While the price bump may catch the ire of travelers who have become frustrated with constantly increasing fees for airline services, there is a way to avoid price jump for now. 

Passengers who prepay for their bags online will not have to pay the extra $5. However, United notes on its websites that prepaying for checked baggage is non-refundable. Travelers will also need to make sure that their bags are not oversized, overweight, or categorized as a “special item” by the airline. 

For more information on United’s policy for checked bags, readers can visit the company’s website here.

Following similar moves from other major carriers, United Airlines announced on Friday that it will be increasing the fee it assesses for checked bags by $...
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Boeing discovers debris in 737 Max fuel tanks

The finding marks another setback for the beleaguered aircraft manufacturer

You can chalk up another delay for Boeing getting its 737 Max aircraft back in the air. The company has discovered debris in several of its 737 Max jets’ fuel tanks. 

The debris -- formally referred to as “foreign object debris” (FOD) -- was found in jets that were being held in storage. That represents a huge problem because FOD can cause a plane to short circuit or experience a fire while in operation.

Absolutely unacceptable

CNN reported that Boeing fired off a memo to its employees, saying that FOD was “absolutely unacceptable. One escape is one too many. With your help and focus, we will eliminate FOD from our production system." 

"During these challenging times, our customers and the flying public are counting on us to do our best work each and every day. That's why we're taking action.”

Boeing said it will tackle the problem head-on by updating the aircraft’s instructions and checklist it uses before a plane is cleared to go. It’s doubling-down by also adding affirmations for when the aircraft are being inspected or audited.

A never-ending story

Boeing can’t win for losing. Now into a second year of fatal crashes, groundings, production stoppages, and continued misgivings about the 737 Max, it was only a few weeks ago that Boeing uncovered a possible wiring issue that could compromise control of the tail of the aircraft. If that happens, it could cause a short-circuit and lead to a crash if pilots don’t respond to the problem correctly and in time. 

The FAA says no 737 Max is taking off until it sees firsthand proof that the jet is completely ready to take to the skies again.

You can chalk up another delay for Boeing getting its 737 Max aircraft back in the air. The company has discovered debris in several of its 737 Max jets’ f...
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Delta Air Lines announces plans to go carbon neutral starting next month

The company is making a $1 billion commitment towards the sustainability goal

When March 2020 rolls around, Delta Air Lines will be depositing a big, fat $1 billion towards doing what it can to clean up the environment. 

In a 10-year commitment heralded by Delta CEO Ed Bastian, the airline will put an all-in effort towards mitigating emissions -- both in the air and on the ground -- anywhere it has a presence. As part of that 10-year investment, Bastian is pinning his hopes on innovation, clean air tech, and waste reduction to honor that commitment.

“There is no substitute for the power that travel has to connect people, which our world needs today more than ever before. As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment,” said Bastian. “The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver.”

With Delta becoming the first airline to go carbon neutral, it may force U.S. airports to follow Europe’s lead and also take the carbon neutral route. The number of Europe’s carbon neutral airports are growing expeditiously. Currently, Europe has 41 carbon neutral airports and is on track to hit 100 by 2030. 

Prepare for take-off

Bastian is a busy boy. When you take into account his earlier promise to build a technological conduit between Delta and its passengers, this latest initiative will put a lot on his plate.

With as much as 98 percent of all the company’s emissions coming from its aircraft, Bastian’s carbon neutral wish is an especially tall order, but he appears determined that Delta can -- and will -- make this move happen. To get there, however, it’s not only going to take everyone from the ground crew up. The airliner will need to build coalitions with outside brains and resources, as well. 

“There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution. We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation,” Bastian said

“We are on a journey, and though we don’t have all the answers today, we know that our scale, along with investments of time, talent and resources will bring meaningful impact to the planet and ensure the sustainability of our business for decades to come.”

How do travelers benefit?

A cleaner environment is one thing, but you may be asking yourself what’s in it for you the next time you climb aboard a Delta flight?

“When customers choose to fly Delta, they should feel they’re making a statement about taking care of our planet,” Bastian said. “Our commitment to carbon neutrality means flying with Delta represents far more than a great travel experience – it’s about joining arms to create a better world.

When March 2020 rolls around, Delta Air Lines will be depositing a big, fat $1 billion towards doing what it can to clean up the environment. In a 10-y...
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FAA’s chief upholds agency’s rationale for keeping 737 MAX grounded

There’s no estimated timeline for the plane’s reactivation, but Boeing and FAA appear to be working together

We’re nearing the first anniversary of the U.S. government’s decision to ground all 737 MAX flights, and the top dog at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, says his agency isn’t going to clear the aircraft for service until it sees firsthand proof that the jet is completely ready to take to the skies again.

At a news briefing in London last week, Dickson reconfirmed that regulatory alignment would’ve been the preferable way to go -- but the FAA is taking its time to make sure it gets it right.

“If you ground an airplane arbitrarily – if you’re making any kind of safety decision arbitrarily – you really don’t know when you’ve got to a point where the situation has been improved,” Dickson said.

Contradicting what Ethiopian Minister of Transport said after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed, Dickson claims that the two accidents (Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines) “had different factors associated with them – two airlines, two groups of pilots – so they weren’t the same scenario.” However, he agreed that there was a “common thread” of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)* in both situations, “but having the data from which to make those decisions certainly focuses your effort.” 

*The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law was designed and certified for the 737 MAX to enhance the pitch stability of the airplane so that it feels and flies like other 737s, according to Boeing, manufacturer of the 737 MAX.

Getting Boeing and the FAA on the same page

Getting to the point where the FAA completely trusts Boeing’s efforts to keep the MAX safely up in the air is not an overnight thing, but both parties are trying to work together and progress is apparently being made.

“The FAA reviewed the most recent 737 MAX-related documents submitted by Boeing for the purpose of identifying any safety implications,” Dickson recently commented. “Our experts determined that nothing in the submission pointed to any safety risks that were not already identified as part of the ongoing review of proposed modifications to the aircraft.”

Nonetheless, both companies are dealing with flight simulators and not planes full of passengers flying in the skies, so both are being extra cautious.

“The FAA maintains a rigorous process for qualifying flight simulators. Upon reviewing the records for the specific simulator mentioned in the documents, the agency determined that piece of equipment has been evaluated and qualified three times in the last six months. Any potential safety deficiencies identified in the documents have been addressed,” is Dickson’s stance.

“While the tone and content of some of the language contained in the documents is disappointing, the FAA remains focused on following a thorough process for returning the Boeing 737 MAX to passenger service. We continue to work with other international aviation safety regulators to review the proposed changes to the aircraft. Our first priority is safety, and we have set no timeframe for when the work will be completed.”

We’re nearing the first anniversary of the U.S. government’s decision to ground all 737 MAX flights, and the top dog at the Federal Aviation Administration...
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Southwest to pay out $667 million in employee bonuses

The carrier is sticking to its profit-sharing system despite an up-and-down year

Many airline carriers faced an up-and-down year in 2019. Boeing’s 737 MAX debacle caused logistical problems, and the recent coronavirus outbreak that began in December has forced many companies to alter their schedules.

But despite those pitfalls, airline employees working for Southwest will happily receive a well-earned profit-sharing bonus. The company announced on Thursday that it would be doling out $667 million to 60,000 employees who are eligible under the program. 

“Our Employees delivered outstanding results despite a challenging year, and it’s a pleasure to reward our People for all they contribute to our continued success,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. “We recognize their resolve, persistence, resilience, and devotion to each other, our Customers, and our cause.”

In total, the bonus payments will reportedly equate to about 6 weeks of extra pay for employees who receive them. 

More headwinds in 2020

Despite the good news for employees, Southwest as a company is facing some more headwinds as we progress through 2020. 

A Department of Transportation report leaked at the end of January and expected to go public this month will allegedly hold the company accountable for unsafe practices. The Wall Street Journal claims that the report will also admonish the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for not holding Southwest accountable.

In one instance, a Southwest jet’s wing tips were reportedly smashed when trying to make a landing in gale force winds. 

Many airline carriers faced an up-and-down year in 2019. Boeing’s 737 MAX debacle caused logistical problems, and the recent coronavirus outbreak that bega...
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Southwest Airlines’ commitment to safety reportedly questioned in government audit

The FAA is also allegedly being criticized for its oversight of the airline

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with Southwest Airlines, is coming in for some Department of Transportation (DOT) criticism for how it handled safety, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal says it has reviewed a draft of the report scheduled to be released in early February. The draft report allegedly claims that the airline failed to prioritize safety and that the FAA failed to hold it accountable.

According to the draft, Southwest transported passengers on jets with unconfirmed maintenance records during a two year period. As an example, the report documents an incident in which a Southwest jet smashed the tips of both wings while repeatedly trying to land during gale force winds.

The Journal claims the report also calls the FAA’s oversight of the airline “lax, ineffective and inconsistent.” The report suggests Southwest was never subject to FAA enforcement actions in relation to safety issues, and it goes so far as to suggest the FAA’s stance toward Southwest served to “justify continued noncompliance with safety regulations.”

The Inspector General’s investigation reportedly found that the FAA allowed Southwest “to fly aircraft with unresolved safety concerns.” Further, the audit found that a majority of the FAA employees it interviewed about the matter “raised concerns about the culture at Southwest.”

Engine explosion

U.S.-based airlines have been remarkably safe during the last 20 years, largely due to better training, better equipment, and enhanced safety policies. 

Fatal accidents have been rare, but one of the most recent involved Southwest. The accident occurred when an engine exploded and pieces of metal broke a window. The passenger sitting next to the window was killed when the depressurization of the cabin sucked her halfway out of the aircraft.

The resulting investigation focused on the engine’s metal fatigue, and Southwest announced an acceleration of its program to inspect CFM56-7B engines used on its Boeing 737 aircraft.

The Journal report says that an 18-month government investigation concluded that the FAA management in the Dallas office, where Southwest is based, allowed the airline to fly planes “with unresolved safety concerns.”

Government officials have declined to comment, but Southwest, which has reportedly reviewed the draft, took issue with its findings. A spokeswoman told The Journal that the company strongly disagrees with “unsubstantiated references to Southwest’s safety culture.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with Southwest Airlines, is coming in for some Department of Transportation (DOT) criticism for how it han...
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Delta soars while American falls in another ranking of the best and worst airlines

The loser of the bunch isn’t crying foul, though. It owns up to its mistakes and says it won’t put passengers through it again

When ConsumerAffairs recently flew to Las Vegas for CES 2020, we were hopeful that the promises the airlines had been making were going to be in full view. Not so much…

The customer service on American Airlines (AA) was rather pedestrian, and the onboard snacks were less-than-snack’ish (but, thank you, AA, for the otherwise pricey sandwiches for free after we journeyed to what seemed like the last departure gate on earth). Yep, it’s winter, which caused delays and extended arrival times as much as six hours. But, it appears our experience isn’t a one-time thing.

From worst...

In the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) Best and Worst Airlines of 2019, Scott McCartney, WSJ’s Middle Seat columnist, puts American at the bottom of the rankings, which makes the airline a basement dweller going on three times in the last five years. 

But in all fairness, American probably has the right to cry foul since it went through not only the 737 MAX issue but a push-come-to-shove contract dispute with its mechanics. That six-month long dispute only made matters worse when the domino effect of an average of 50 planes out of service, cancellations and delays, and stranded travelers started tumbling.

“We would not take our passengers and team members through it again,” David Seymour, senior vice president of operations at American, said. Fingers crossed, David.

...to first

What airline did McCartney think deserved first place? He gives it to Delta, as he has now for three years running.

McCartney noted that despite the weather and congestion, Delta raised its on-time arrival rate to 83.4 percent, up from 82.9 percent in 2018. That put Delta ahead of oft-awarded Alaska Airlines in the on-time category and 10 points ahead of last place finisher Frontier, a carrier that ConsumerAffairs reviewers consider more average than bad. It’s encouraging to read that Delta doesn’t use weather as an excuse where its peers might. 

“While the weather itself is out of our control, how we react to that weather, plan for that weather and work through that weather is certainly within our control,” Dave Holtz, Delta’s senior vice president over the airline’s operations center, told the WSJ.

Delta showed improvement in other areas, too, like cancellation rate. According to McCartney’s stats, Delta canceled just 0.7 percent of its flights in 2019 versus the industry average of 1.85 percent, down from 0.9 percent the previous year. On the flipside, Southwest, American and United all had cancellation rates higher than the average.

The Atlanta-based airline appears to be committed to staying ahead of the pack. Its CEO reaffirmed that commitment only last week at CES 2020.

Where’s Hawaiian?

When ConsumerAffairs saw McCartney’s picks, the first thing that came to mind was where the heck was Hawaiian Airlines given all the high marks other rankers have given it in regards to flight delays, safety, and overall satisfaction.

“If included, Hawaiian would be No. 1,” McCartney said, “But Hawaiian has a big chunk of its business in short hops between islands where the weather is, well, paradise. Such limited exposure to the mainland distorts comparisons. Hawaiian argues it should be included because it faces maintenance issues, baggage handling, crew scheduling and other aspects just like any other airline.”

When ConsumerAffairs recently flew to Las Vegas for CES 2020, we were hopeful that the promises the airlines had been making were going to be in full view....
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FAA seeks to fine Southwest for improper weight and balance data

Bad data could lead to balance and stability issues while in the air

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines over what it says were incorrect calculations when it came to weight and balance sata. 

The agency alleges that Southwest used this incorrect data while operating flights between May 1, 2018 and August 9, 2018. The time period covered a total of 21,505 flights by 44 aircraft. 

Regulators note that weight-related data is often used by airlines to determine how many passengers and how much fuel can be safely carried. It also determines where cargo should be stored on airplanes. Having incorrect information could cause instability during flight, which increases risks for passengers.

The FAA says that Southwest has 30 days to respond to its enforcement letter. For more information on the airline, and to read consumer reviews, visit ConsumerAffairs’ site here.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $3.92 million fine against Southwest Airlines over what it says were incorrect calculations when i...
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Boeing employees believed early on that the 737 MAX was primed for disaster

Internal documents show that some thought the plane must have been ‘designed by clowns’

Since two fatal crashes involving its 737 MAX jets occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, things have been going downhill for Boeing. The company has had its planes grounded, and the timeline for getting them back in the air continues to stretch out. 

But as regulators continue to delve into the details of the planes and their shortcomings, a new set of internal documents sent to Congress by Boeing on Thursday show that many company employees had little faith in the 737 MAX’s ability to fly safely in the first place.

Many of the messages within the documents were sent between Boeing employees, and they show that there were lingering doubts about whether the planes deserved to be certified for commercial use. 

“Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to another in a 2018 exchange. “No,” the other employee replied.

Designed by clowns

Other messages contained in the documents are much more troubling. In many instances, sentiments shared between employees were much more harsh than a simple rhetorical question. 

One employee described the 737 MAX as being “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” Perhaps even more worrying were messages sent by other company officials about making sure that simulator training for the aircraft was not required. 

“I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition. Boeing will not allow that to happen. We’ll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement,” the company official said.

Currently, Boeing has stopped production of the 737 MAX until regulators at the FAA deem that it is safe to return to the air. Regarding the internal documents, Boeing stated that the exchanges between its employees are not reflective of the company’s stance as a whole.

“We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the FAA, Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them. We have made significant changes as a company to enhance our safety processes, organizations, and culture,” the company said. 

Since two fatal crashes involving its 737 MAX jets occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, things have been going downhill for Boeing. The company has had it...
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Delta Airlines chief makes a new, tech-oriented commitment to its customers

His appearance at CES is the first keynote by any airline executive

Delta Airlines Chief Executive Ed Bastian took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Tuesday to reaffirm that Delta senses technology is an extremely important conduit between consumers and the airline.

In the new world where more and more companies are keeping in touch with consumers via tech, Delta became the first airline to keynote CES. Airlines don’t typically show up at confabs like an electronics show because they might still be thinking that a free beverage, a baby-sized snack, a skimpy blanket, and a less-than-comfy pillow is all the traveler really needs to be happy. Au contraire, mon frère.

Walk the walk, talk the talk

Bastian’s blueprint for the future of travel as it relates to tech pretty much falls in line with what ConsumerAffairs uncovered in the CES session on Smart Tourism -- that, done correctly, technology can redefine consumer expectations.

“We see technology as a tool to further our mission of connecting people and creating opportunities,” he said. “We’re not chasing shiny objects or tech for the sake of being cool. We are dedicated to solving your travel problems and making your voyages – and your lives – easier.”

Seamless integration

It’s not likely that Bastian wrote the talking points for all the industry pundits in CES’ Smart Tourism, but they’re definitely on the same page when it comes to making travel more relaxing and less stressful. By anticipating a traveler’s needs and offering services that can take the stress out of travel, Bastian hopes that amenities like a ride to the airport and app-based support can help customers move forward on their trip seamlessly. 

The specifics of Bastian’s game plan is pretty progressive compared to the dated and pay-for-everything attitude we’ve seen from much of the airline industry. He went on record as saying that he wants to digitize the flying experience with everything from machine learning and robotics in improving employee production to free Wi-Fi. He also mentioned a single-button approach that could allow travelers to binge watch TV shows so they can feel more like they’re at home. 

A likely story

Yes, you’ve heard airline brass make the oath of making the flying experience better before. Only last year, Oscar Munoz, the former CEO at United Airlines, said his airline was turning a leaf and taking a pro-consumer stance. With the recent reviews United has been given by ConsumerAffairs readers, Munoz’ promise may have come to fruition. But, overall, U.S.-based carriers simply don’t fare as well in the satisfaction department as their international counterparts

As an example, some international carriers -- like Virgin Atlantic -- have gone the extra mile to make flights comfortable. One consumer --  “C.” of Laguna Woods, California, who has celiac disease -- wrote in a review of their Virgin Atlantic experience that they were “thrilled by the way my needs were accommodated. I also liked the areas where one could stand during a long flight.” 

Delta appears committed

If Bastian has his wish, Delta will start showing up at the top of airline best-ofs just like Virgin. Still, at the end of the day, whatever an airline promises has to pay off on the bottom line. 

It’s anyone’s guess as to how long Delta’s “technology is there to serve our customers” refrain will last internally and externally or grow its bottom line. Until one of those benchmarks happens, Bastian says the company is committed to the “Delta Difference” and focused on building whatever tools it takes and whatever consumer trust is needed to take the airline to new heights.

“The opportunities to better connect people across the world are truly endless,” he said. “Technology will help us do it even better.”

Delta Airlines Chief Executive Ed Bastian took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Tuesday to reaffirm that Delta senses technology is an e...
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Boeing hit with another concern on its 737 Max aircraft

At the end of the day, pilots, Boeing builders, and consumers still need to feel safe

We’re only days into the new year, but Boeing’s already wishing 2020 would go away.

While the aircraft manufacturer thought it was finally out of the woods with all the problems it’s faced with its 737 Max, new issues with the jet have been raised.

Before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would allow Boeing to put the Max back in the air, it asked the company to conduct a tooth-and-comb audit to make sure that it had sufficiently gone over the finer details of how long it could take a pilot behind the wheel of a Max to respond to emergencies, according to a senior engineer at Boeing as well as other people familiar with the situation.

Uncovered in Boeing’s latest inspection was a possible issue with the wiring that helps control the tail of the aircraft -- one that could cause a short-circuit and lead to a crash if pilots didn’t respond to the problem correctly and in time. 

The determining factor here is whether the scenario is likely and, if it is, what Boeing would have to do to keep it from happening in real life. If all it has to do is separate the wires, Boeing says that’s a relatively easy task, and it appeared ready to do that on all the hundreds of 737 Max already built.

Boeing can’t afford to get it wrong… again

Since 346 people died in 737 Max crashes, Boeing has bled money profusely -- to the tune of billions per day. Any further detours would certainly add more financial misery, not to mention loss of consumer trust and raised eyebrows at the FAA.

“There are the human elements,” Peter Morris, chief economist at aviation consultancy Ascend/FlightGlobal, told the BBC. “The pilots and crew understand far more of the deep technical issues and will be understandably vociferous about the absolute integrity of the revised hardware, software and procedures. In the light of the evidence to date, they are likely to be very critical and need significant reassurance and explanation.”

“While many passengers probably do not recognise their aircraft type, events like this inevitably get people talking. Any further incidents, even if slightly related to these issues, would be utterly disastrous for public opinion and really shake trust in aviation safety.”

We’re only days into the new year, but Boeing’s already wishing 2020 would go away.While the aircraft manufacturer thought it was finally out of the wo...
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American Airlines will share Boeing 737 MAX compensation with employees

The move follows a similar action by Southwest Airlines

American Airlines is one of three domestic carriers adversely affected by the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. It will likely be compensated by Boeing, and the airline this week served notice that it would share that compensation with its employees.

American, along with Southwest and United, have lost money because they had to cancel and consolidate flights that used the 737 MAX. The aircraft has been grounded since March after a second fatal crash in five months.

While the grounding has been costly for the airlines, employees have also suffered financial loss. As the airlines have canceled flights, it has meant less overtime for employees and less opportunity for growth.

American hasn’t yet specified how it will share its expected compensation from Boeing with its employees because it doesn’t yet know how much it will receive. Southwest, Turkish Airlines, and Icelandic Airlines have reached agreements with Boeing, but negotiations with American are ongoing.

“As we’ve said before, we expect American will be compensated for the lost earnings that the Max grounding has caused,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told CNBC. “We anticipate that part of any compensation American receives will be eligible for profit sharing for our team.”

737 MAX remains grounded

In late 2019, American estimated the grounding of the aircraft would result in losses of $540 million in pretax income for the year. The losses could go much higher since there is no clear indication of when the planes will return to service. American and Southwest have removed the 737 MAX from all schedules through April, and United has canceled MAX flights through June.

American is following the example of Southwest Airlines, which reached an agreement on compensation with Boeing last month and announced it would share $125 million of that with its employees.

Meanwhile, there is no concrete timetable for returning the 737 MAX to the air. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has pointedly said that it will determine that date with little to no input from Boeing. The agency is requiring the manufacturer to complete an audit of the software updates it has made and test the revised system in flight simulators with a number of different pilots.

After that, pilots for airlines flying the Boeing 737 MAX must undergo a new round of flight training. 

American Airlines is one of three domestic carriers adversely affected by the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. It will likely be compensated by Bo...
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Qantas takes home the trophy as 2020’s safest airline

Safety is important, but there are fliers who aren’t all that happy with Qantas’ customer service

What’s the safest airline to fly? Once again, it’s Qantas, according to AirlineRatings.com, an airline safety and product rating website.

In its Top Twenty Safest Airlines 2020, AirlineRatings used data from more than 400 different airlines it monitors and focused entirely on the operational aspects of each one, not how comfortable its seats are or what kind of snacks it hands out.

In framing how the list was determined, AirlineRatings.com Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas emphasized that each airline was a “standout” when it comes to safety, innovation, and launching of new aircraft. 

“For instance, Australia’s Qantas has been recognized by the British Advertising Standards Association in a test case as the world’s most experienced airline,” Thomas said.

The Top 20 Safest Airlines 2020

In pecking order, here’s how AirlineRatings Top 20 shakes out:

  1. Qantas

  2. Air New Zealand

  3. EVA Air

  4. Etihad

  5. Qatar Airways

  6. Singapore Airlines

  7. Emirates

  8. Alaska Airlines

  9. Cathay Pacific Airways

  10. Virgin Australia

  11. Hawaiian Airlines

  12. Virgin Atlantic Airlines

  13. TAP Portugal

  14. SAS

  15. Royal Jordanian

  16. Swiss

  17. Finnair

  18. Lufthansa

  19. Aer Lingus

  20. KLM

Cheers and jeers both for Qantas

If you’re in charge of managing the safety of passengers on long routes like Qantas flies, you’d better have your act together.

“Qantas has been the lead airline in virtually every major operational safety advancement over the past 60 years and has not had a fatality in the jet era,” Thomas added. “But Qantas is not alone. Long established airlines such as Hawaiian and Finnair have perfect records in the jet era.”

While Qantas takes home the trophy for safety, there are some travelers who just aren’t fans of how they’re treated on the service end.

In reviews on ConsumerAffairs, the complaints range from delays to rudeness and even response time. One consumer complained about an issue they perceived with Qantas’ follow-through on reserve seating.

“Do Not Fly Qantas Airlines. They are a scam promising to reserve preferred seating,” David of Maple Ridge, British Columbia complained. “I paid a lot of money 11 months ahead of time for preferred seating and day of flight. They assigned me to worst seats on plane. Said sorry it happens, and refunded me the difference. No amicable agreed solution.”

What’s the safest airline to fly? Once again, it’s Qantas, according to AirlineRatings.com, an airline safety and product rating website.In its Top Twe...
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Boeing halts 737 MAX production until grounding is lifted

The company will focus on the 400 jets currently in storage

Boeing has announced it will stop work on 737 MAX aircraft currently in production while it awaits action by regulators who will decide when the grounded plane can fly again.

While sources reported over the weekend that the company might have to adjust production schedules, the announcement appeared to come as a surprise to the financial markets, with CNBC terming it “drastic.”

“Throughout the grounding of the 737 MAX, Boeing has continued to build new airplanes and there are now approximately 400 airplanes in storage,” the company said in a late Monday statement. “We have previously stated that we would continually evaluate our production plans should the MAX grounding continue longer than we expected. As a result of this ongoing evaluation, we have decided to prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft and temporarily suspend production on the 737 program beginning next month.”

The three U.S. airlines that fly the 737 MAX -- Southwest, American, and United -- have consolidated flights and employed other aircraft to make up for the loss of 737 MAX equipment.

The 737 MAX had been one of the aircraft company’s most successful planes, valued for its fuel efficiency and state-of-the-art engineering. But a crash of a Ryan Air 737 MAX in October 2018 and the loss of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX five months later resulted in the worldwide grounding of the jet.

What began as a reconfiguration of software turned into a major reexamination of the plane’s overall safety. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), under fire for the process of certifying the plane in the first place, appears to be in no hurry to return it to the air.

No layoffs

In announcing the temporary shutdown of the 737 MAX production line, Boeing officials stressed that no employees would be laid off or furloughed. The company said they would either continue 737-related work or would be reassigned to other teams.

“We believe this decision is least disruptive to maintaining long-term production system and supply chain health,” the company said.

Boeing said the decision was influenced by several factors, including the reality that recertification of the aircraft will extend into 2020. 

Boeing has announced it will stop work on 737 MAX aircraft currently in production while it awaits action by regulators who will decide when the grounded p...
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Boeing may cut production of 737 Max aircraft as ban drags on

The company said it will continue to work with regulators to resolve the matter

Things don’t appear to be getting any better for Boeing and its beleaguered 737 Max aircraft. Following an extended grounding period and an FAA report which indicated that these jets were more prone to crashes, the company may have to cut back on production.

CNN cites sources familiar with the matter as saying that a decision to curb or suspend production could come as soon as Monday after U.S. markets close. In a statement to the news outlet, company officials said that they will continue to work with regulators in the U.S. and around the world to bring the 737 Max back into service. 

“We will continue to assess production decisions based on the timing and conditions of return to service, which will be based on regulatory approvals and may vary by jurisdiction,” the company noted.

Planes to remain grounded

While regulatory approval would certainly be a step in the right direction for Boeing, it might be some time before consumers see 737 Max planes back in the air. 

Even if the company were to get the regulatory green light from the FAA by early 2020, professional pilots would still need to be retrained on the aircraft’s new systems -- a process that could take months to complete. Airline companies would also need to be content with activating the jets within their fleets, which may be a daunting process if consumers don’t want to purchase a ticket with an airliner that uses the planes.

The 737 Max was originally grounded around the world due to two fatal accidents that occurred in March. The crashes claimed a total of 346 lives, and affected families are eligible to receive up to $144,500 in compensation from a fund of $50 million that Boeing established in July.

Things don’t appear to be getting any better for Boeing and its beleaguered 737 Max aircraft. Following an extended grounding period and an FAA report whic...
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FAA says Boeing 737 MAX was more prone to crashes than indicated

The agency’s analysis raises questions about why the plane was allowed to keep flying after the first fatal crash

An internal review carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the wake of the fatal Lion Air crash last October found that Boeing 737 MAX jets were far more likely to be involved in future crashes than Boeing regulators stated publicly, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The FAA concluded last fall that additional crashes of the jets could have averaged one every two or three years, or 15 similar incidents globally in the next 30 to 45 years, if the plane didn’t undergo certain design changes. 

The prediction was included in a document released Wednesday at a House Transportation Committee hearing, which is investigating the FAA’s oversight of Boeing and the Max. 

Safety issues 

Despite knowing about the presence of an unsafe condition in a critical automated flight-control system, regulators declined to ground the aircraft after the first deadly crash. 

It wasn’t until a crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet occurred in March that regulators decided to ground the aircraft worldwide. All told, the crashes claimed 346 lives.

“The FAA rolled the dice on the safety of the traveling public and let the Max continue to fly until Boeing could overhaul its MCAS software,” said Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chairman of the committee. The agency “failed to do its job,” he added. “It failed to provide the regulatory oversight necessary to ensure the safety of the flying public.”

The planes remain grounded today, with no timeline for a return to service. Regulators must still complete several additional steps before the plane is deemed safe to be reintroduced to flight schedules. The grounding is expected to continue into next year.

An internal review carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the wake of the fatal Lion Air crash last October found that Boeing 737 MAX...
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United passengers will soon fly Airbus jets instead of Boeing aircraft

The airline has turned to the European company to replace aging Boeing 757s

United Airlines passengers will soon be flying on Airbus jets instead of older Boeing 757 jetliners. The airline this week put in an order for 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft.

Whether the airline would have considered the Boeing 737 MAX had it not been grounded was left unsaid, but it can’t be denied that Boeing’s problems have been good for its competitor’s business.

JetBlue and American have recently turned to Airbus when it was time to order new intermediate to long-range jets. The single-aisle jet is similar to the MAX and has an extended range, making it a versatile aircraft.

United plans to fly the new Airbus jets from its East Coast Hubs to Europe. They will replace its fleet of aging Boeing 757-200 jets that were produced between 1981 and 2004. At the time, it was the largest single-aisle passenger aircraft produced by any manufacturer.

Entering service in 2024

The new aircraft from Airbus are expected to enter service by 2024 for United’s transAtlantic routes from Newark and Washington.

"The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network," said Andrew Nocella, United's executive vice president and chief commercial officer. "In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR's range capabilities open potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe."

The newly-designed A321XLR offers modern amenities that include LED lighting, larger overhead bin space, and Wi-Fi connectivity. An added bonus, says United, is that the new aircraft will be much more fuel-efficient.

Related to 737 MAX problems?

While Boeing’s loss to Airbus can’t be directly traced to its problems with the 737 MAX aircraft, it certainly can’t be ruled out. As the company struggles to get the aircraft recertified after two crashes in five months, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has suggested that it won’t be rushed into giving Boeing a green light.

Boeing’s chief engineer, John Hamilton, who led Boeing’s efforts to investigate the two fatal 737 MAX crashes, announced his retirement Wednesday. Hamilton, along with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, testified before Congress at two hearings last month, defending the company’s actions in seeking certification of the jetliner.

United Airlines passengers will soon be flying on Airbus jets instead of older Boeing 757 jetliners. The airline this week put in an order for 50 Airbus A3...
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NTSB urges Boeing to redesign engines on 7,000 aircraft

The recommendations follow the investigation of a 2018 fatal accident

Boeing is dealing with a safety issue that has nothing to do with the grounded 737 MAX aircraft.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that the aircraft manufacturer redesign the engines on 7,000 planes to prevent a repeat of a 2018 fatal accident.

In April 2018, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 on a flight from New York to Dallas had to make an emergency landing after one of the engines exploded and metal shrapnel broke one of the windows over the wing of the aircraft.

The passenger sitting next to the window, 43-year old Jennifer Riordan, was nearly sucked from the depressurized cabin and died from her injuries. As a result of its investigation of the accident, the NTSB has issued seven safety recommendations.

Conclusions

The NTSB concluded that a fractured fan blade from a CFM International CFM-56-7B engine, powering a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700, led to the engine inlet and fan cowl separating and subsequently damaging the fuselage, resulting in a rapid cabin depressurization.

“This accident demonstrates that a fan blade can fail and release differently than that observed during engine certification testing and accounted for in airframe structural analyses,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “It is important to go beyond routine examination of fan blades; the structural integrity of the engine nacelle components for various airframe and engine combinations needs to be ensured.”

Of the seven NTSB recommendations, five were issued to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), one was issued to the European Aviation Safety Agency, and one was issued to Southwest Airlines.

Structural integrity of the fan cowl

The recommendations stress the need to ensure the structural integrity of the fan cowl on the Boeing 737 next-generation aircraft. They also call for an assessment of whether other airframe and engine combinations have critical fan blade impact locations.

Of material concern to Boeing, the agency also recommended that Boeing redesign part of the outer covering of the aircraft’s engines to prevent it from striking the fuselage if a fan blade breaks free in the future.

The NTSB said all of next-generation Boeing 737 aircraft should be retrofitted with a suitable fix.

The issue has no bearing on the 737 MAX, which remains grounded following two crashes in five months. The 737 NG jets are much more numerous in airline fleets than the 737 MAX. They have also faced other issues, including the formation of cracks on some of the older aircraft.

Boeing is dealing with a safety issue that has nothing to do with the grounded 737 MAX aircraft.The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has rec...
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Boeing optimistic 737 MAX will return to service in January

The company says the grounded aircraft type may gain recertification in December

Boeing says it expects the grounded 737 MAX aircraft to be recertified to return to commercial service next month.

The aircraft type has been grounded globally since March after two fatal accidents in five months that had similar characteristics.

In a statement on Monday, the aircraft manufacturer said it expects the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to give the green light in December and for commercial aircraft to resume service in January. Southwest, American, and United are the three domestic carriers that fly the 737 MAX.

Once the aircraft is recertified, pilots will need to undergo retraining because of changes made to the automated flight control system. The system was a suspect in both recent crashes of the 737 MAX and the software has been updated.

Flights may not resume until March

American and Southwest have announced they don’t expect to begin flying the grounded jet until March at the earliest. The airlines say they need at least a month to train flight crews and install the new system. Boeing, however, is more optimistic.

“We expect the Max to be certified, airworthiness directive issued, ungrounded in mid-December. We expect pilot training requirements to be approved in January,” Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe told Reuters.

In its statement, Boeing said there are five milestones that must be met before the 737 MAX can return to the sky:

  1. Multi-day flight simulator evaluations must be carried out with the FAA to ensure the software is performing as it should.

  2. A separate session between pilots and the FAA to make sure the software system performs its intended function.

  3. FAA pilots will conduct certification flights using the final updated software.

  4. After completion of the FAA certification flight, Boeing will submit the final certification deliverables and artifacts to the FAA to support software certification.

  5. The Joint Operational Evaluation Board (JOEB), a multi-regulatory body, will conduct a multi-day simulator session with global regulatory pilots to validate training requirements. Following the simulator session, the Flight Standardization Board will release a report for a public comment period, followed by final approval of the training.

Boeing says it worked with the FAA last week to complete the first step on the list. The company says it is now working toward the FAA line pilots evaluation and the FAA certification flight test. 

Boeing says it expects the grounded 737 MAX aircraft to be recertified to return to commercial service next month.The aircraft type has been grounded g...
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More issues with Boeing 737 aircraft emerge

Affected airlines have been quick to take the planes out of service, but one engineering union says the carriers aren’t going far enough

No sooner had Boeing conceded that there were imperfections in its safety audit of the 737 MAX, than the company is facing yet another 737-related issue -- hairline cracks in Boeing’s 737NG aircraft. 

As ConsumerAffairs reported in early October, Boeing’s latest round of headaches began with Brazilian carrier Gol Transportes Aéreos grounded all 11 of its 737NG planes. Stateside, Southwest Airlines reported it grounded two of the planes, noting that it didn’t find any issues in the “vast majority” of planes.

Now there’s news that Australian carrier Qantas has discovered the same cracks in three of the 33 aircraft it inspected. Those planes were immediately pulled from service and sent out for repairs.

“We would never fly an aircraft that wasn’t safe,” said Andrew David, Qantas Domestic’s CEO. “Even where these hairline cracks are present they’re not an immediate risk, which is clear from the fact [that] the checks were not required for at least seven months.”

Not everyone is in agreement

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) took exception with David’s position. It urged Qantas to ground its entire 737 fleet until checks were complete.

"These aircraft should be kept safe on the ground until urgent inspections are completed," the ALAEA’s Steve Purvinas said in a statement. Purvinas primary reason behind his call for a total grounding started with Boeing’s original thinking that the cracks were occurring on aircraft with over 35,000 landings. However, in Qantas’ situation, the cracks were found on aircraft with under 27,000 landings -- a serious enough distinction that, in Purvinas’ estimation, warrants a system-wide grounding. However, Qantas’ David thinks Purvinas is off-base.

“Unfortunately, there were some irresponsible comments from one engineering union yesterday, which completely misrepresented the facts. Those comments were especially disappointing given the fantastic job our engineers have done to inspect these aircraft well ahead of schedule, and the priority they give to safety every day of the week,” David said.

What does Boeing have to say?

In comments to CBSNews, a Boeing spokesperson said the company "regrets the impact" the issue was having on its customers and was "working around the clock" to fix the problem.

"Boeing is actively working with customers that have airplanes in their fleets with inspection findings to develop a repair plan, and to provide parts and technical support as necessary.”

Are you booked on a 737NG?

The “NG” in Boeing’s 737NG name stands for “Next Generation,” and as of May 31, 2019, more than 7,000 aircraft of that model have been delivered to airlines around the world. Primary users of the 737NG include Qantas, Gol Transportes Aéreos, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Ryan Air, and United Airlines. 

If a traveler is concerned about whether they’ll be on one of the potentially affected aircraft, they can always go to FlightAware, type in the flight number, and the “aircraft type” will be listed under “flight information.” The airline’s help desk can also provide pertinent information.

No sooner had Boeing conceded that there were imperfections in its safety audit of the 737 MAX, than the company is facing yet another 737-related issue --...
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Boeing CEO admits mistakes were made in 737 Max’s development

The executive is answering lawmakers’ questions about the crashes during a two-day hearing on Capitol Hill

In a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Boeing officials admitted that there were insufficiencies in the company’s safety assessments of the 737 Max. 

The testimony came a year after the first of two Boeing 737 Max jets crashed within a five-month time frame. The two crashes killed 346 people and prompted aviation officials to ground the planes until safety improvements were made.

The hearing on Tuesday was attended by more than a dozen relatives of people who were killed in the Boeing 737 Max crashes, and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg opened with an apology to those families. 

“On behalf of myself and the Boeing company, we are sorry, we are deeply and truly sorry,” Muilenburg said. “We’ve made mistakes and we got some things wrong.”

Preventable accidents

Boeing has admitted that issues with the plane’s MCAS flight-control software were a factor in the crashes. The MCAS “responded to erroneous signals from a sensor that measures the airplane’s angle of attack,” the company said.

“Both of these accidents were entirely preventable,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair of the Commerce Committee, said to Muilenburg during the hearing. 

Members of the Committee criticized Boeing for failing to properly inform pilots about modifications that were made to the new model of the plane. 

“You set those pilots up for failure,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)

Proposed fixes on the way

The testimony will continue on Wednesday before a House committee. Prepared remarks indicate that Muilenburg will say that his company is making changes to prevent similar disasters from taking place in the future. 

Last week, Boeing submitted its “final software load” containing proposed fixes for the 737 Max’s software. The Federal Aviation Administration is still reviewing the fixes. Before the planes can be cleared to return to service, the 737 Max will have to undergo a certification test flight. 

Muilenburg said over the summer that Boeing is aware that it will need to work “to earn and re-earn the trust of the flying public” in the wake of the two deadly crashes. 

“We are taking all actions necessary to make sure that accidents like those two ... never happened again,” he said. 

In a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Boeing officials admitted that there were insufficiencies in the co...
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Boeing pilot noticed 737 safety issues two years before first crash

A message exchange between Boeing pilots two years ago hinted at safety concerns regarding the plane’s flight control system

A Boeing pilot admitted to “unknowingly” lying to regulators in 2016 about the safety of 737 Max jets, which have been grounded since mid-March in the wake of two fatal crashes. 

In messages released Friday, Boeing’s former chief technical pilot for the 737 complained to a colleague about the safety system, which is believed to be at least partly to blame for the accidents. Pilot Mark Forkner said in the messages that the MCAS software was making the plane difficult to control in a flight simulation.

“Oh shocker alert! MCAS is now active down to M .2. It’s running rampant in the sim on me,” Forkner told a colleague referring to the simulator, according to a transcript reviewed by the New York Times. “Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious.”

Attorney says there was no “lie”

Forker then said he may have misled federal regulators when, months earlier, he had informed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the system was safe and didn’t need to be included in pilot manuals. Regulators declared the 737 safe to be used for the public in 2017.

“I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” he said, according to the Times. His colleague responded, “It wasn’t a lie, no one told us that was the case.”

Forkner’s attorney, David Gerger, told various news outlets that there was no “lie.” 

“If you read the whole chat, it is obvious that there was no ‘lie.’ The simulator was not reading right and had to be fixed to fly like the real plane,” Gerger said. “Mark’s career — at Air Force, at FAA, and at Boeing — was about safety. He would never put anyone in an unsafe plane. And based on everything he knew, he absolutely thought this plane was safe."

System implicated in crashes

Following the fatal crashes, investigators found that the MCAS repeatedly forced both planes into nosedives. The pilots attempted to regain control but ultimately couldn’t. 

“With the release of the preliminary report of the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 accident investigation it’s apparent that in both flights the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle-of-attack information,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in April. 

Airline pilots said after the crashes that they did not know about the MCAS system until after the first crash, according to NBC News. 

The FAA said in a statement that the message exchange turned over by Boeing Thursday night is “concerning.” The agency is now considering how to respond. Boeing is facing criticism over waiting several months to turn the messages over to regulators. 

“I expect your explanation immediately regarding the content of this document and Boeing’s delay in disclosing the document to its safety regulator,” wrote FAA chief Dickson in a letter to Muilenburg. 

A Boeing pilot admitted to “unknowingly” lying to regulators in 2016 about the safety of 737 Max jets, which have been grounded since mid-March in the wake...
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Inspectors find safety issue on another one of Boeing’s planes

Structural cracks were discovered on 38 of Boeing’s 737 NG jets

As the Boeing 737 Max remains grounded worldwide, safety issues have been discovered on a critical part of another one of the company’s jets. 

Boeing’s 737 NG airliner, a slightly older variant of the 737 Max, is undergoing additional scrutiny following the discovery of structural cracks in the “pickle forks” of about 5 percent of the 800 planes inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

Damaged “pickle forks,” which help keep the wings attached to the fuselage, could lead to a loss of control of the airplane, the FAA said. 

Last week, Boeing said it notified the FAA of the problem after discovering the cracks while “conducting modifications on a heavily used aircraft.” The FAA ordered the inspections after finding that “subsequent inspections uncovered similar cracks in a small number of additional planes.” 

Now, the agency says it’s working with international safety regulators to find out what caused the cracks. In the meantime, a “small number” of planes have been pulled from service. 

Planes with cracks to be grounded

Boeing hasn’t said which airlines operate planes that will have to be removed from service due to repairs. However, CNN notes that more than 100 airlines “own some version of the planes covered by the inspection order.” 

Brazilian carrier Gol said Wednesday that it grounded 11 planes in need of part replacement, and Southwest Airlines said it grounded two of the planes. Southwest noted that it didn’t find any issues in the “vast majority” of planes. 

In a statement, Boeing said it’s “working around the clock to provide the support needed to return all airplanes to service as soon as possible.” However, no time frame was provided for the completion of the repairs.

As the Boeing 737 Max remains grounded worldwide, safety issues have been discovered on a critical part of another one of the company’s jets. Boeing’s...
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Boeing 737 Max still undergoing safety reviews

Regulators say the jets likely won’t receive authorization to resume flights before November

Aviation officials said on Tuesday that Boeing 737 Max jets are still undergoing safety reviews, meaning the aircraft likely won’t return to service before November. 

Since being pulled from service in mid-March following two fatal crashes, regulators have been carrying out various safety assessments with the aim of resuming flights as soon as possible. 

Boeing said earlier this year that it’s taking a “comprehensive, disciplined approach” to resolving the safety issues, but it repeatedly stated that it hoped the aircraft would be cleared for reintroduction to flight schedules in the fourth quarter. However, U.S. and European Union regulators said this week that they’re still in the process of reviewing the revisions made to the aircraft. 

No firm return-to-service date

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it doesn’t have a firm date for completing its review. The agency said it’s working closely with other aviation authorities during the safety review process and European Union regulators said they are in “continuous contact” with Boeing and the FAA regarding the matter, according to Reuters

“We do not at this stage have any specific concerns resulting from that assessment that would mean that we could not agree to a coordinated return to service. We are in continuous contact with both the FAA and Boeing,” a European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) spokeswoman told the publication. 

Implementing software revisions

The two crashes that took place within five months of each other were found to be linked to problems with the flight-control system. Boeing said it will be modifying the software in the aircraft’s flight-control system to allow it to receive input from both angle-of-attack sensors in the anti-stall system instead of just one.

The aircraft can’t be reintroduced to flight schedules until the FAA reviews a lengthy “final system description” document from Boeing, according to Reuters. Regulators will also need to conduct an “integrated system safety analysis,” as well as pilot workload management scenarios.

In May, Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told the Seattle Times that the process “takes as long as it takes” and that the aircraft “will fly again when we have gone through all of the necessary analysis to determine that it is safe to do so.”

Aviation officials said on Tuesday that Boeing 737 Max jets are still undergoing safety reviews, meaning the aircraft likely won’t return to service before...
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Southwest pilots sue Boeing claiming lost pay because of 737 MAX grounding

Pilots claim the company certified the plane as safe when it wasn’t

The union representing pilots for Southwest Airlines has filed suit against Boeing, claiming problems with the 737 MAX 8 aircraft have resulted in lost wages.

The MAX aircraft was grounded in March after the second fatal accident in five months. The aircraft has remained grounded while Boeing attempts to develop an acceptable modification of the plane’s flight control software.

Out of all U.S. airlines, Southwest -- which flies the Boeing 737 aircraft exclusively -- has been most affected by the grounding of 737 MAX aircraft. Because flights using the aircraft have been canceled, the pilots claim they have lost $100 million in wages.

But in a statement, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) said it is not trying to put pressure on Boeing to recertify the aircraft as safe.

“As pilots, there is nothing more important to us than the safety of our passengers,” said Captain Jonathan L. Weaks, President of SWAPA. “We have to be able to trust Boeing to truthfully disclose the information we need to safely operate our aircraft. In the case of the 737 MAX, that absolutely did not happen.”

Southwest is the most affected airline

Southwest operates 34 737 MAX 8 jets, more than any other U.S. airline. It also has even more on order. The lawsuit claims that Southwest pilots agreed to fly the aircraft type based on Boeing’s assertions that the aircraft is safe. The union says those representations were false.

“Boeing’s errors cost the lives of 346 people, damaged the critical bond between pilots and passengers, and reduced opportunities for air travel across the United States and around the world,” the union said in a statement.

‘Meritless’

A Boeing spokesman called the lawsuit “meritless” and said the company will vigorously defend against it in court.

Boeing has come under increased pressure because of the two crashes and the resulting grounding of the 737 MAX aircraft type. But recent reports -- including one from the New York Times Magazine -- have suggested the two crashes were more likely the result of poor training of the flight crew. 

A recent Associated Press report cites a whistleblower who accuses Ethiopian Airlines, one of the carriers that lost a Boeing 737 MAX 8, of “a pattern of corruption that included fabricating documents, signing off on shoddy repairs and even beating those who got out of line.”

The union representing pilots for Southwest Airlines has filed suit against Boeing, claiming problems with the 737 MAX 8 aircraft have resulted in lost wag...
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FAA to test the safety of airplane seat sizes against the growing girth of fliers

Regulators say seat sizes may need to change to accommodate larger travelers

If you’ve flown anywhere in the last few years, you’ve no doubt felt the pinch that today’s shrinking airline seats are causing. A congressional subcommittee has apparently felt the same pinch and is trying to things moving in the right direction once and for all.

In 2018, a bill -- Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) -- was passed, giving the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the power to establish minimums on airplane seat width and pitch (the space between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it). The objective of the bill was to ensure that airplanes can be safely evacuated in the statutorily mandated 90 seconds. 

To the dismay of traveling consumers, the FAA must’ve been stuck in its own seat and never moved forward with its newfound power. So, late last week, a frustrated House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation called in FAA Deputy Administrator Daniel Elwell to ask why the SEAT Act has laid dormant. 

“I am concerned that the FAA has not fully complied with the provisions of my SEAT Act almost a year after it was signed into law,” complained Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the original author of the bill.

“Americans are getting bigger so seat size is important but it’s got to be looked at in the context of safety,” Elwell admitted at the hearing.

Elwell clearly did his homework. The average American has gained some 30-odd pounds since 1960. At the same time, airline seats have been shrinking -- as much as 3.5 inches over the last 30 years.

Putting it to the test

With people and seat dimension stats in hand, the FAA is finally putting the situation under a microscope with a 12-day battery of tests. 

Slated for November at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City, 720 demographically representative volunteers will be evaluated on critical and stressful moves they would likely encounter if an aircraft cabin had to be evacuated: flying with a lap child, being disabled, and situations where the lights are off and/or one or more of the exits is blocked.

Elwell’s preaching to the congressional choir was not only perfect timing but met warmly, by other regulators. 

“Beside whether I cram my backside into the seat, getting out would be a really useful thing,” said Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI).

“It is past time for the FAA to prioritize safe evacuation of airplanes in emergencies,” agreed Cohen. “I look forward to seeing the SEAT Act’s safety provisions implemented as soon as possible.”

If you’ve flown anywhere in the last few years, you’ve no doubt felt the pinch that today’s shrinking airline seats are causing. A congressional subcommitt...
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Airline to give passengers a heads-up on where babies and infants are sitting

The agony of flying is a long way from disappearing, but both airlines and airports are moving in that direction

There’s nothing to let travelers know where personal space perpetrators, seat kickers, or other etiquette offenders are sitting on a flight, but if you’re a flyer who agonizes about being seated close to a baby, one airline is rolling out the means to give you a heads-up.

Japan Airlines (JAL) has made the first move in letting passengers know what seats have been selected by other fliers traveling with children between 8 days and 2 years old. When a traveler goes to select their seats online, a child icon will appear on those seats. Whether those travelers want to seek out solace somewhere else on the flight is up to them.

It’s not a perfect system, though. JAL wants fliers to know that where those child icons show up might not be correct if the aircraft changes after booking. Seats booked as part of a tour, through the use of awards, or seats chosen through any other way than the JAL website aren’t part of the system either. 

Other airlines offer something similar, but not in the same technology-driven manner as JAL. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways offers free flying nannies on some long-haul flights; Scoot Airlines, Singapore Air's budget brand, has child-free seating zones; and AirAsia X has a "quiet zone" on its flights, albeit for a $15 upcharge.

Improving the industry

Some travelers may think that the federal government should regulate seating. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t hold that same view.

In spite of complaints about potential safety issues caused by the shrinking sizes of seats and legroom, the agency says it’s not in that business and it “has no evidence that there is an immediate safety issue necessitating rule-making at this time.”

Fliers have no “bill of rights,” per se. However, while flying continues to be low on the list of things consumers look forward to, airlines and airports are both doing what they can to turn that perception around. 

Airports are going as far as creating mazes, selling tacos, offering ice rinks, and even making 24/7 animal care and veterinary services available to travelers while they wait. And the airlines? There’s a lot of infrastructure that has to be modified, but airlines are trying to catch up to the digital age by offering charging outlets and free Wi-Fi.

There’s nothing to let travelers know where personal space perpetrators, seat kickers, or other etiquette offenders are sitting on a flight, but if you’re...
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Boeing will pay families of 737 MAX crash victims $144,500 each

The company is also creating a new committee tasked with oversight of all safety-related aspects

Boeing announced that it will compensate the families of the 346 victims of two fatal 737 MAX crashes, paying out approximately $144,500 each. That amount comes from a financial assistance fund of $50 million the company set up in July.

As reported by Reuters, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg called the endeavor “an important step in our efforts to help affected families.”

“The recent 737 MAX tragedies weigh heavily on all of us at Boeing, and we continue to extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of all those on board,” the executive said.

In addition to the $50 million in immediate assistance to the victims’ families, Boeing is also setting up a separate $50 million endowment to be used toward education and economic empowerment for communities and families impacted by the crashes.

Recommitment to safety

Boeing’s return to normalcy is far from complete. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says there’s still work the aircraft manufacturer needs to do regarding the software that was apparently at the heart of the crashes.

Nonetheless, Boeing publicly reaffirmed its “longstanding commitment to aerospace safety and the safety of its products and services” on Wednesday. In a news release, Muilenburg introduced the creation of a permanent Aerospace Safety Committee as part of Boeing’s Board of Directors. The committee will be tasked with guaranteeing design safety, as well as monitoring other production processes.

Adding to the company’s recommitment to safety, the board also established other measures to minimize the possibility of future mishaps. These include:

  • A change in Boeing’s governance principles that will require safety-related experience as one of the factors it will utilize in choosing future board members. Until this change, the company’s governing principles had no references to safety at all.

  • The creation of a Product and Services Safety organization that will oversee all aspects of product safety, “including investigating cases of undue pressure and anonymous product and service safety concerns raised by employees.”

  • Amplifying the role and extending the reach of the Safety Promotion Center to include all of the company’s employees, offices, and factories in an effort to “reinforce Boeing's … safety culture and remind employees and the flying public of the company's unyielding commitment to safety, quality and integrity.”

“The safety of the global aviation industry is rooted in its dedication to continuous improvement and learning," said Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, Jr., former chairman of the Committee of Airplane Policies and Processes and newly appointed chairman of the Aerospace Safety Committee. "The independent committee review was extensive, rigorous and focused on delivering specific recommendations to ensure the highest levels of safety in Boeing airplanes and aerospace products and services and for all who fly on Boeing airplanes.” 

"The committee and the board believe these recommendations, along with actions already taken by the board, will strengthen engineering at the company, bolster the safety policies and procedures for the design, development and production of Boeing products and services, and further improve board and management oversight and accountability for safety not only at Boeing, but throughout the global aerospace industry.”

Boeing announced that it will compensate the families of the 346 victims of two fatal 737 MAX crashes, paying out approximately $144,500 each. That amount...
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Boeing’s 737 MAX still on hold while FAA waits for software updates

If everything goes to plan, the aircraft might be back in the air by the holidays

What’s going on with Boeing’s beleaguered 737 MAX?

After two fatal crashes of the fastest-selling aircraft in Boeing’s history -- the 737 MAX 8 aircraft -- in October 2018 and March 2019, aviation regulators around the world grounded the 737 MAX until further notice. That put airlines using the aircraft -- Southwest, American, and others -- into a whirlwind of fits and starts.

Those fits and starts -- including thorough scrutiny by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) -- are still happening, but reports have surfaced that there’s some light starting to appear at the end of this saga’s tunnel.

In a report from Reuters, FAA chief Steve Dickson met with Boeing officials on Thursday and was on hand to witness a simulated test of the latest version of the plane’s revised software. Dickson’s timeline for a re-launch of the plane holds out the possibility that it could be back in the air in about a month. However, the regulator was adamant he would not “sign off on the plane until I am personally satisfied.”

“We’ve had conversations about the importance of making sure that we are looking at complete documentation and not piecemeal documentation,” Dickson said. “It’s really better to be very methodical and very detailed rather than try to rush a partially completed product and then say, ‘We’ll get back to you with the rest of it.’”

The new timeline

The key component on the FAA’s checklist is Boeing’s “final system description” - a “500-ish page document that has the architecture of the flight control system and the changes that they have made,” Dickson said. Dickson went on to explain that the software changes must be in a “pre-production” code as opposed to a “beta version.”

After that, the FAA will move on to testing pilot workload management situations. Once that’s given the necessary thumbs-up, the agency feels it will be better able to define a realistic timeline for the actual certification test flight. 

That pilot workload step is a crucial one. For the benefit of everyone involved -- the consumer, Boeing, and regulators -- the FAA is also asking for input from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), as well as Canadian and Brazilian regulators to make sure everything’s as it should be. 

“We’ve got U.S. and international pilots that have to be scheduled to come out and actually go through the scenarios” and nail down training requirements, Dickson said.

If Boeing gets its wish, the flying public will see the MAX back in the skies sometime in the fourth quarter. That would be perfect timing for the airlines that would like to have it available for the holiday travel surge. Nonetheless, Boeing has been smart enough not to put the cart before the horse, reiterating on Thursday that it’s “committed to working collaboratively” with the FAA and other federal regulators.

What’s going on with Boeing’s beleaguered 737 MAX?After two fatal crashes of the fastest-selling aircraft in Boeing’s history -- the 737 MAX 8 aircraft...
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Aviation panel will reportedly criticize 737 MAX certification process

Reports suggest that the panel believes Boeing had too much influence

An international panel of aviation authorities and experts is reportedly planning to criticize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the process it used to certify the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

The panel was formed after the aircraft was grounded in March following two fatal crashes within five months. In both accidents, investigations cited issues with the plane’s sophisticated flight control system.

The 737 MAX flew for the first time on January 29, 2016 and the FAA certified it in March 2017. The international task force formed to review the certification process is completing its work, and The Wall Street Journal reports that it plans to harshly criticize the FAA for giving Boeing too much input into the process.

In particular, The Journal reports the panel found fault with how the agency allowed the aircraft’s manufacturer to judge the safety of the plane’s flight control system.

Flight control system

After the March crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8, attention turned to the flight control system and how it takes over control of the aircraft when it perceives it is rising at too steep of an angle.

Investigators believe that it can be difficult for pilots to exert manual control if the sophisticated computer system receives faulty data from sensors located on the outside of the plane. In both the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the loss of a Ryan Air 737 MAX 8 five months earlier, the planes went into dives and lost altitude as they were in the process of taking off.

The Journal says the final report will also fault the FAA for a lack of transparency and not sharing enough information with other nations’ aviation authorities.

Changes suggested

In August, there were reports indicating that the international aviation panel would recommend changes in the way the FAA goes about certifying the safety of commercial aircraft. The Journal now reports the aviation experts will go beyond suggesting changes by assigning blame.

The FAA has a new administrator, Steve Dickson, who has been on the job for about a month. Dickson said this week that there is no firm timetable for returning the 737 MAX to the air. Dickson, a former pilot, also said he plans to personally test Boeing’s updated 737 MAX flight control software in a flight simulator.

An international panel of aviation authorities and experts is reportedly planning to criticize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the process it...
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Spirit Airlines lawsuit over baggage fees returns to appeals court

Plaintiffs say they weren’t notified of the fees when booking online

A lawsuit against budget carrier Spirit Airlines, accusing it of failing to notify customers about certain fees, has been revived by a federal appeals court, Reuters reports.

The case was brought by nearly two dozen passengers who claim the airline never notified them about carry-on bag fees when they booked their flight online on third-party websites such as Cheapoair, Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity.

The class action suit -- which was dismissed last November -- claims the low-cost carrier failed to disclose that consumers would be charged higher prices for baggage services than competing airlines charge, “thereby making any apparent savings illusory.”

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs could proceed with the suit because there was no evidence that Spirit notified them about the fees in question. The court also said there were “ambiguous” fees rolled into prices.

Hidden fees

The passengers allege that Spirit knew its online travel agents “hid the ‘gotcha’ bag fees they would have to pay at the airport,” Reuters said. “They said these fees often exceeded the cost of their tickets, and totaled millions of dollars a year.” 

Spirit attempted to counter the points raised in the suit by saying federal law precluded the lawsuit and that it’s “contract of carriage” provided that a passenger could take one carry-on bag into the cabin, for a fee.

The case has now been returned to U.S. District Judge William Kuntz in Brooklyn.

“This is a great victory for air travelers nationwide,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer John Hermina told Reuters, adding that his clients intend to pursue their case in the court.

A lawsuit against budget carrier Spirit Airlines, accusing it of failing to notify customers about certain fees, has been revived by a federal appeals cour...
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British Airways cancels nearly all flights today and tomorrow

The airline is facing a limited strike by its pilots

British Airways (BA), which is facing a strike by its pilots, has taken the unusual step of canceling nearly all of its flights today and Tuesday.

In an update to its customers, the airline said the union had not provided any details about which pilots would strike and therefore it had no way of knowing which flights would be grounded. Without that knowledge, it said it had to assume all would be grounded.

“Our customer teams – supported by additional colleagues - have been working tirelessly to help as many of you as possible and to provide options, including a full refund or re-booking to a different date of travel or alternative airline,” the airline said. “We are offering all affected customers full refunds or the option to re-book to another date of travel or alternative airline.”

BA-owned airlines BA CityFlyer, SUN-AIR and Comair are not affected by the pilots’ walkout. The airline is advising that its customers "not go to the airport."

The union has been in prolonged negotiations with the airline and has planned a 48-hour walkout to leverage its position. The union is seeking an increase in pay and benefits for its members.

Limited strike

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has given notice that its members will walk out on Sept, 9, 10, and 27 -- a limited and not ongoing strike. 

“Over several days of talks BALPA put forward a number of packages that we believe would have resolved this dispute without a strike, and which we could have recommended to our members for acceptance prior to strike action,” the union said in a statement.

The union says the airline did not accept any of its proposals, and it believes that ongoing talks would not achieve progress. The organization also points out that this is the first time that its pilots have voted to go on strike in the 100 years of British Airways’ operation.

British Airways (BA), which is facing a strike by its pilots, has taken the unusual step of canceling nearly all of its flights today and Tuesday.In an...
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United passengers booked aboard a 737 MAX jet may switch with no penalty

The airline is preparing for the possibility that people will be wary of the currently grounded jet

The Boeing 737 MAX, grounded since March, may be back in the air by the end of the year. When it is, United Airlines says you don’t have to fly it if you don’t want to.

Andrew Nocella, chief commercial officer at United, told an investor conference this week that passengers booked aboard flights scheduled to fly the grounded aircraft can change flights without paying a fee.

The 737 MAX was grounded in March after the second fatal crash in five months, believed to be for the same or similar reasons. At the time it was believed the grounding would be for a short time while a software change was made. However, it has extended month after month, forcing the airlines to cancel flights scheduled to use the jet.

"We need to get through the recertification process, return the aircraft to service and see how things go," Nocera said at the conference. "If somebody is uncomfortable getting on the aircraft, we want to make sure we can put them on a different aircraft."

United has little exposure

Of all the domestic airlines, United has the least exposure to the 737 MAX. It was operating only 14 of the jets at the time of the grounding. American and Southwest fly more. Still, the airline is addressing an issue that may prove to be a problem for the aircraft and the airlines that fly it.

Once the world’s aviation authorities declare that the 737 MAX is safe to fly, will passengers still prefer to fly on another aircraft type? And if so, what will it take to calm fears?

The 737 MAX is a variation of the venerable Boeing 737, used by airlines around the world for short hops. Southwest Airline flies the Boeing 737 exclusively and added the 737 MAX 8 to its fleet to accommodate more passengers.

The aircraft type flew for the first time in early 2016 and achieved certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a year later. In October 2018 a Ryan Air 737 MAX 8 crashed on takeoff in Indonesia. In March of this year, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 also crashed on takeoff under similar circumstances.

Similarities

While investigations into the two crashes were completely independent, the similarities of their findings have strongly suggested a common cause. An angle-of-attack sensor, located on the plane’s fuselage, sends a signal to the flight control system if it determines the plane is climbing at too steep an angle, which could lead to a stall.

In both instances, investigators believe the sensor may have transmitted faulty information to the flight control system during takeoff, triggering an automated response that pointed the nose of the plane down when it should have been climbing.

The big question at this point is just exactly when the 737 MAX aircraft will return to service. Boeing officials have said they are hopeful the plan can return to the skies as early as next month.

The Boeing 737 MAX, grounded since March, may be back in the air by the end of the year. When it is, United Airlines says you don’t have to fly it if you d...
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Hurricane Dorian creates big impact on air travel

Airlines are offering waivers, but some restrictions may apply

As people get ready to protect themselves against Hurricane Dorian on the ground, people taking to the air over the next few days should do the same.

During natural disasters such as Dorian, it’s a common occurrence for airports to close and flight paths to be re-routed, and there’s always a domino effect that comes from those actions.

Some airports have resumed service in locations where Dorian has passed -- such as American Airlines service out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Nassau, Bahamas. Whether service is active or suspended is locale-dependent, as is the case in the Bahamas where Nassau was unscathed by Dorian while some of the islands’ other 50-some airport locations weren’t so lucky.

If you’re booked on a flight along Dorian’s path

Storms the size and strength of Dorian may require travelers to change travel plans, but at no extra cost. In ConsumerAffairs research, we found that airlines are showing great flexibility in capping fares and waiving baggage fees. United and American are going as far as waiving change fees for future travel if a customer chooses not to fly to or from another airport.

However, those waivers do have some minor restrictions --mostly related to dates -- so if you have a flight booked anywhere along Dorian’s path, it’s important to review what all the available options are.

Airline-specific information can be found at the following links:

The FAA’s new hurricane season efforts

Realizing that the stakes are high as a result of natural disasters, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a campaign earlier this year to function more effectively during hurricane season.

“The main issue with hurricanes is the unknown,” said the FAA’s Ginny Boyle in a video detailing the FAA’s efforts. “We never know how long it will linger. Just the torrential downpours -- that they kind of stall. And then how fast our response can be to come back in. In order to kind of assess the damage and see what we can do to help the people that are on the ground.”

To that end, the FAA makes available both a detailed list of temporary flight restrictions and information about flight delay information from its Air Traffic Control System Command Center.

The FAA cautions travelers that because one of its traffic management programs is creating delays for some arriving flights, departing flight schedules may also be affected. The agency suggests travelers check with their airlines directly to see if a flight they’re scheduled on is affected.

As people get ready to protect themselves against Hurricane Dorian on the ground, people taking to the air over the next few days should do the same.Du...
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United Airlines removes mileage expiration for loyalty members

Members of the carrier’s MileagePlus program can now use their miles indefinitely

United Airlines has announced that it will no longer bar members of its MileagePlus program from using their frequent flyer miles after 18 months of account inactivity. 

In an announcement, the carrier said it’s done away with mileage expiration in an effort to show its “long-haul” commitment to customers. The change is taking place effective immediately. 

"We want to demonstrate to our members that we are committing to them for the long-haul and giving customers a lifetime to use miles is an exceptionally meaningful benefit," said United's vice president of loyalty, Luc Bondar. 

"Our MileagePlus program provides customers more ways to earn and use miles than any other US airline. More customers used miles to book award trips in 2018 than in any year before, and we expect with today's announcement that even more will use miles to travel the world in the years to come."

Delta put an end to its policy of letting miles expire after 18 months back in 2011. JetBlue has also chosen not to place an expiration date on its members’ frequent flyer miles.

American Airlines’ AAdvantage members must still redeem their miles before 18 months of account inactivity have been detected. Southwest Airlines’ frequent flyer points expire after two years of account inactivity. 

United Airlines has announced that it will no longer bar members of its MileagePlus program from using their frequent flyer miles after 18 months of accoun...
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Boeing 737 MAX panel will reportedly call for changes in FAA plane certification process

The panel will likely recommend ways to ‘address deficiencies’ in the process

A panel created in the wake of the two deadly Boeing 737 MAX crashes is expected to recommend that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) change the way it certifies new planes, CNN reports. 

The international panel, called the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), is in the "final stages of completing their work,” sources tell CNN. The team, which consists of both U.S. officials and representatives from aviation agencies from nine other countries, is expected to issue its report on the matter as early as next week. 

Preventing future problems

Since the crashes, officials have been examining the FAA's processes with the goal of ensuring that problems similar to the one that caused two Boeing 737 aircraft to crash within a five month period don’t happen again. 

All Boeing 737 MAX aircraft were grounded in March following the crashes, which were later linked to a flaw in the MCAS automated stabilization system

Prior to being cleared to fly, the jets hadn’t undergone the full certification process for a new plane because Boeing had argued that the plane was simply an updated version of an existing aircraft. 

Now, the JATR team is preparing to make “several recommendations that will be presented to the FAA,” CNN reported. “It is not clear if the agency plans to accept or publicly release the recommendations.” 

In a statement, the FAA said reviews of its processes are still taking place. 

"The FAA's certification of the Boeing 737 MAX is the subject of several independent reviews and investigations that will examine all aspects of the five-year effort. While the agency's certification processes are well-established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs, we welcome the scrutiny from these experts and look forward to their findings. We will carefully review all recommendations and will incorporate any changes that would improve our certification activities."

A panel created in the wake of the two deadly Boeing 737 MAX crashes is expected to recommend that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) change the way...
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FAA hopes civil aviation authorities simultaneously approve Boeing 737 MAX fix when it’s ready

The agency says the grounding order will be lifted ‘only when it is safe to do so’

Boeing 737 MAX jets have yet to be reintroduced to airlines’ daily flight schedules, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is hoping civil aviation regulators across the globe approve Boeing’s fixes for the aircraft at about the same time. 

In a letter to Congress seen by Reuters, the FAA’s acting administrator said the agency “hopes to achieve near simultaneous approval from the major civil aviation authorities around the world” 

The planes were grounded worldwide in mid-March in the wake of two fatal crashes that occurred just five months apart. The crashes were determined to be caused by a software error. 

Planes still grounded

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said recently that he was optimistic that the MAX would be cleared to return to the skies as early as October following a certification flight in “the September time frame.” Some have estimated that the planes may not resume service until next year.

Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told Congress that the agency “will lift the 737 MAX grounding order only when it is safe to do so.”

The agency’s words to Congress come a few weeks after FAA officials found another potential problem in the 737 MAX’s computer system. During simulator sessions, the flaw raised alarm for its potential to cause the aircraft to dive in instances where it should be climbing. 

“I’m sure this will cause us to have to take the MAX out of the schedule beyond Oct. 1,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told employees in early July, according to Reuters. Kelly added that the company would also see “what other modifications we might need to make our plans for this year because it’s obviously extending well beyond what I had hoped.”

Boeing 737 MAX jets have yet to be reintroduced to airlines’ daily flight schedules, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is hoping civil aviation...
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Boeing tells investors it may slow or stop production of 737 MAX jets

The planes have been grounded since March due to a software error that caused two fatal accidents

Back in March, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) grounded all of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft due to an error that had caused two fatal crashes. Now, executives are saying that they may need to slow or completely stop production of the planes altogether. 

In a conference call with investors on Wednesday, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that Boeing may make the move if the shutdown of its planes continues much longer. The company is currently trying to fix a software issue affecting the planes, and it may not meet with aviation officials until September. That could result in the 737 MAX planes not returning to service until October, according to CNN. Other estimates posit that the planes may not return until next year.

“Should our estimate of the anticipated return to service change, we might need to consider possible further rate reductions or other options, including a temporary shutdown of the Max production,” Muilenburg said. 

Boeing takes a financial a reputational hit

The grounding of its most popular line of jets hit Boeing hard during the second quarter. In addition to revealing its potential plans for the 737 MAX, the company revealed that it had its worst financial decline ever during the second quarter -- accounting for $3.38 billion in losses on $15.7 billion in revenue, according to the Washington Post.

On top of its financial losses, Muilenburg has previously stated that Boeing will need to also work hard to win back airline companies and travelers alike. 

“We know...that the public’s confidence has been hurt by these accidents and that we have work to do to earn and re-earn the trust of the flying public, and we will do that,” he said. “We are taking all actions necessary to make sure that accidents like those two...never happen again.”

Back in March, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) grounded all of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft due to an error that had caused two fatal crashes. Now...
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Airlines could soon offer faster satellite-based Wi-Fi service at no charge

Free Wi-Fi would undoubtedly lead to wider usage and greater customer satisfaction

Airlines currently partner with services like Gogo to offer Wi-Fi connectivity to passengers who are willing to pay a fee. However, airlines could soon start offering Wi-Fi for free. 

Carriers who make in-flight Wi-Fi possible say the service will likely become free on most flights in about two years, according to a Wall Street Journal report

If in-flight internet connectivity were to become free, the Journal notes that the current percentage of passengers who choose to purchase access would rise significantly, from 6-7 percent to about 40-60 percent. 

High demand for Wi-Fi on planes

Airlines are increasingly looking to use satellite systems, which offer a larger coverage area and more consistent connectivity, to provide internet access to passengers. 

Just last month, American Airlines finished equipping its fleet of more than 700 narrowbody aircraft with faster and more consistent satellite-based internet access  The faster service will either be provided by Gogo 2Ku or ViaSat Ka depending on where passengers are traveling. 

“Satellite-based Wi-Fi allows customers to stream video without buffering or interruptions; upload and download les with ease; and stay connected from gate to gate,” the airline said in a statement. “Upgraded bandwidth capacity ensures customers won’t compromise on connection quality or speed, even if every customer chooses to access inflight internet at the same time.” 

Many passengers surveyed have said having a reliable internet connection while flying is more important to them than food or even comfort. For this reason, airlines making it a priority to deploy faster satellite-based Wi-Fi.

“We did a good job of training people that the Internet was slow and expensive on a plane,” says John Wade, president of commercial aviation at Gogo, told the Washington Post. “We now need them to realize that they’re in a different world today.”

Airlines currently partner with services like Gogo to offer Wi-Fi connectivity to passengers who are willing to pay a fee. However, airlines could soon sta...
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Southwest Airlines cancels its 737 MAX flights through November 2

Boeing is taking a financial hit, but reaffirms its commitment to a ‘safe return’ for the MAX

The 737 MAX suffered another setback Thursday, as Southwest Airlines announced it’s delaying the return of Boeing’s beleaguered aircraft to its schedule to November 2 at the earliest.

“Southwest Airlines continues to monitor information from Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the impending 737 MAX software enhancements and training requirements,” the company said in an announcement. “We remain confident that, once certified by the FAA, the enhancements will support the safe operation of the MAX.”

Southwest -- which has 31 737 MAX planes currently in its fleet and a total order of 280 -- had already revised its flight schedule twice. Like its 737 MAX peers, United and American, Southwest is at Boeing’s mercy while it continues its quest to make sure every single flaw is found and corrected.  

“By proactively removing the MAX from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our Customers' travel plans,” Southwest wrote.

“The limited number of Customers who have already booked their travel and will be affected by our amended schedule are being notified of their re-accommodated travel according to our flexible accommodation procedures. The revision will proactively remove roughly 180 daily flights from our schedule out of our total peak-day schedule of more than 4,000 daily flights.”

“We offer our apologies to our Customers impacted by this change, and we thank them for their continued patience.”

Boeing weighs in 

Boeing is in a tough spot with consumer confidence, customer trust, governmental go-ahead, and investor faith all weighing in the balance.

As to the ledger side of the equation, Boeing announced that it “will recognize an impact to earnings” in anticipation of its second-quarter 2019 results set for release on July 24. The company admits that the impact is related to “concessions and considerations” it’s taken regarding the 737 MAX grounding. Boeing reports that the charge will result in a $5.6 billion reduction of revenue and pre-tax earnings in the quarter.

As for the other components, Boeing says it’s continuing to work with civil aviation authorities to make sure the 737 MAX’s return to service is safe. 

"We remain focused on safely returning the 737 MAX to service," said Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg. "This is a defining moment for Boeing. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the flight crews and passengers who fly on our airplanes. The MAX grounding presents significant headwinds and the financial impact recognized this quarter reflects the current challenges and helps to address future financial risks."

The 737 MAX suffered another setback Thursday, as Southwest Airlines announced it’s delaying the return of Boeing’s beleaguered aircraft to its schedule to...
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United Airlines makes arrangements to replace grounded 737 MAX jets

The airline plans to purchase 19 used Boeing 737-700s

United Airlines, of all the U.S. carriers, has the least exposure to the grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. But that doesn’t mean the plane’s problems haven’t become the airline’s problems.

United only owns 14 of the planes, but it has been forced to cancel flights using the aircraft through November 2 because of uncertainty over the plane’s status. It’s been grounded worldwide since March after two of the planes crashed within five months -- most likely for the same reason.

United appears to be hedging its bets, announcing that it plans to purchase 19 used Boeing 737-700 aircraft, expected to take the place of the newer grounded aircraft. The used jets are similar to the MAX 9 aircraft but are slightly smaller. 

Used mostly for short hops and regional flights, the 737 aircraft are expected to fill the void that has been left by the absence of the MAX jets. The 737-700 can seat 126 passengers, slightly less than the 179 that can be fitted aboard the MAX 9.

Insurance policy

In a way, the purchase of the used aircraft amounts to an insurance policy. The MAX 9 may be cleared to fly again by December when United is scheduled to take delivery. Then again, it might not.

The grounding was expected to be for a relatively short time, centered on a software fix in the plane’s flight control system. But other problems arose, keeping the plane on the ground.

The addition to the fleet will enable United to increase its capacity, which it has pledged to do to the tune of as much as 4 percent per year. Without those seats, growth could be a difficult task.

Even with the grounding of the 737 MAX aircraft United had a strong second quarter. This week the airline reported revenue rose to $11.4 billion, a 6 percent gain on the second quarter of last year.

Return could be pushed to 2020

The purchase of the used 737 aircraft may turn out to be a prudent move. The return-to-service date of Boeing 737 MAX jets could be pushed into 2020 amid safety concerns from regulators and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials. 

Last month, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg expressed optimism that the 737 MAX would be back in service by the end of the year. He said Boeing was conducting simulated flights with air-safety regulators and would soon operate test flights with the FAA. However, airlines have been more cautious with their predictions on when the aircraft will be deemed safe to return to daily flight schedules. 

United Airlines, of all the U.S. carriers, has the least exposure to the grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. But that doesn’t mean the plane’s problems haven...
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Boeing 737 MAX may not return to service until early next year

Safety concerns are still being addressed

The return-to-service date of Boeing 737 MAX jets could be pushed into 2020 amid safety concerns from regulators and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials. 

On Friday, United Airlines canceled flights through November 2. Just a few days later, American Airlines followed suit and canceled flights through the same date. American Airlines cited the need for a fix to be developed for an issue discovered last month. 

"American Airlines remains confident that impending software updates to the Boeing 737 MAX, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing in coordination with our union partners, will lead to recertification of the aircraft this year," the airline said in a statement on Sunday.

Could extend into next year

But some airline industry officials believe January 2020 is more likely to be the month the jets are cleared to return to the skies, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Last month, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg expressed optimism that the 737 MAX would be back in service by the end of the year. He said Boeing was conducting simulated flights with air-safety regulators and would soon operate test flights with the FAA. However, airlines have been more cautious with their predictions on when the aircraft will be deemed safe to return to daily flight schedules. 

“By proactively removing the MAX from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our customers' travel plans,” Southwest Airlines said in a recent statement.

All Boeing 737 MAX jets have been grounded since mid-March following two fatal crashes which killed a total of 356 people. In recent months, Boeing has said it’s aware that it will have to work to regain customers’ trust even after it retrains pilots and upgrades its software. 

The return-to-service date of Boeing 737 MAX jets could be pushed into 2020 amid safety concerns from regulators and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)...
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Delta flight makes emergency landing after engine breaks up

No injuries were reported on the Atlanta to Baltimore flight

It was a scary moment for passengers aboard a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to Baltimore this week.

Delta’s flight 1425, utilizing a 32-year old MD-88 jet, made an emergency landing in North Carolina after passengers heard a loud boom and then saw smoke pouring into the cabin. A passenger seated by a window overlooking the wing shot this frightening video and posted it to Twitter.

The video appears to show a portion of the engine called a spinner that had become detached and was rattling around inside the engine, which also appeared to be on fire. Other passengers reported bits of metal flying off the engine, as though it were coming apart.

The plane landed safely in Raleigh, N.C. and passengers deplaned with no reports of injuries. One passenger told WMAR-TV that the plane slowed down after the incident and the temperature in the cabin began to rise.

"We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience this diversion may have caused,” Delta said in a statement. 

The airline said it gave the 148 passengers a $30 food voucher while they waited to be booked on another flight. Meanwhile, the engine has been replaced and the MD-88 is reportedly back in service.

Eerily similar

The incident is eerily similar to an April 2018 incident in which an engine on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 jet exploded mid-flight, with metal from the fragmenting engine breaking a window and killing a passenger.

The incident prompted Southwest to step up an inspection of CFM56 engines, the type that failed.

The MD-88 is part of the MD-80 series produced by McDonnell Douglas as an upgrade of the DC-9; it is used mostly for short-haul flights. The company was acquired by Boeing in 1997.

It was a scary moment for passengers aboard a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to Baltimore this week.Delta’s flight 1425, utilizing a 32-year old M...
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Southwest expects Boeing 737 MAX to remain grounded beyond October 1

Regulators have discovered a new safety issue

Due to the surfacing of a new safety concern, Boeing 737 MAX jets will likely be forced to remain grounded beyond the expected return-to-service date of October 1.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials recently found another potential problem in the 737 MAX’s computer system. During simulator sessions, the flaw raised alarm for its potential to cause the aircraft to dive in instances where it should be climbing. 

“I’m sure this will cause us to have to take the MAX out of the schedule beyond Oct. 1,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told employees on Monday, according to Reuters. Kelly added that the company would also see “what other modifications we might need to make our plans for this year because it’s obviously extending well beyond what I had hoped.”

Avoiding canceled flights

Upon being informed of the new safety issue, Southwest and United Airlines immediately announced extended cancellations for flights using the MAX. Southwest said this week that cancellations will now extend from September 2 through October 1.

“By proactively removing the MAX from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our customers' travel plans,” the airline said. “The limited number of customers who have already booked their travel and will be affected by our amended schedule are being notified of their re-accommodated travel according to our flexible accommodation procedures.” 

United and American Airlines have also canceled affected flights until early September. 

Boeing 737 MAX aircraft have been grounded worldwide since mid-March following two fatal crashes within five months.

Due to the surfacing of a new safety concern, Boeing 737 MAX jets will likely be forced to remain grounded beyond the expected return-to-service date of Oc...
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Boeing reveals new flaws in 737 MAX software

Airlines extend flight cancellations

The Boeing 737 Max jetliners may spend a few more months on the ground before being allowed to return to the air.

The aircraft, involved in two fatal crashes in a five-month period, has been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since March while engineers work to update flight control software implicated in both crashes. Initially it had been hoped the issue would be resolved by this month, but Boeing says it hasn’t been that simple.

“During the FAA’s review of the 737 MAX software update and recent simulator sessions, the FAA identified an additional requirement that it has asked the company to address through the software changes that the company has been developing for the past eight months,” the company said in a statement. 

Another potential problem

The FAA said this week it found another potential problem in the 737 MAX’s computer system. According to published reports, the flaw could cause the plane to dive when it should be climbing.

Boeing says the review and process for returning the 737 MAX to passenger service are designed to result in a “thorough and comprehensive” assessment. 

“Boeing agrees with the FAA's decision and request, and is working on the required software,” the company said. 

The company believes the additional effort will result in reducing pilot workload by accounting for a potential source of uncommanded stabilizer motion. 

“Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the MAX and its safe return to service,” the statement concluded.

Airlines respond

Southwest and United airlines immediately announced extended cancellations for flights using the grounded aircraft. Southwest extended the cancellations from September 2 through October 1.

“By proactively removing the MAX from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions to our customers' travel plans,” the airline said. The limited number of customers who have already booked their travel and will be affected by our amended schedule are being notified of their re-accommodated travel according to our flexible accommodation procedures.

Southwest says the changes will remove about 150 daily flights from its schedule. United, which flies the 737 MAX 9, has canceled affected flights through September 3. About 40 to 50 United flights per day are affected.

The Boeing 737 Max jetliners may spend a few more months on the ground before being allowed to return to the air.The aircraft, involved in two fatal cr...
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New airport rankings shine the light on consumer-side pluses

Mazes, tacos, live local music, and even ice rinks all await the traveler

If you travel out of Los Angeles, it looks like you’ve got a great airport to call your own. On the flip side, you’ve also got the worst of the bunch.

In Fodor’s new travel ranking of the best airports, Hollywood Burbank (BUR) was rated tops and Los Angeles International (LAX) was named the worst for airports on this side of the pond. For international travelers, Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) and Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN) took first- and second-place, respectively.

Versus other travel surveys, the single most relevant element for the consumer is that Fodor’s team focused solely on categories that matter to today’s traveler -- hassle-free, affordable parking, food options, and interesting things the entire family can take in pre-flight.

"Most travel awards programs take themselves very seriously. But there are so many fun quirks and nuances to travel, as well as needs and goals that vary from person to person," said Jeremy Tarr, editorial director of Fodor's Travel. "We designed the Fodor's Travel Awards to be more inclusive, more honest, and way more fun and relevant to everyday travelers and tourists."

Who won, who lost, and why

Best U.S. Airport: Hollywood Burbank (BUR). Fodor’s reasons: an agreeable airport in a perfect location; straightforward, shenanigan-free experience; plenty of affordable parking (as low as $10 per day!) with easy, quick shuttle access to the airport; Downtown L.A., Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Universal Studios, and other local attractions within easier reach than LAX; a short trip from security to the gate thanks to having only two terminals; and a Metrolink Station within walking distance of the terminals; great food options.

Next-Best U.S. Airport: Austin TX’s Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS). Fodor’s reasons: the inherent eclectic nature of Austin bleeds over to the airport (“Keep Austin Weird”); foodie heaven with local faves serving up pie, barbecue, and tacos; live music (in the afternoon); the airport's Changing Exhibits program which features a rotating schedule of art, history, and culture displays; and shops that a traveler hasn’t seen at every other airport.

Worst U.S. Airport: Los Angeles International (LAX). Fodor’s reasons: Old and rundown; nightmare traffic in, around, and out; never-ending construction which poses a particularly nasty problems for Delta fliers. “Because of the construction separating the two terminals, Delta passengers show up at terminal 3, Delta’s original terminal, only to be told to head to terminal 2 to check their bags, then rush back to terminal 3 to go through security. Confused? Join the club,” wrote Fodor.

Best International Airport: Singapore Changi Airport (SIN). Fodor’s reasons: an incredible array of amenities; a world-class shopping experience; a delectable selection of international cuisine (including an array of “lite” food options); walk-through gardens, interactive exhibits, sky nets, and cool mazes for the kiddos.

Next-Best International Airport: Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN). Fodor’s reasons: “If Changi didn’t exist, Incheon would probably be the most mind-blowing airport in the industry,” was the survey team’s consensus; great relaxation and time-killing options -- shops, cafes, seven relaxing indoor gardens, and a landslide ice-skating rink.

In all fairness…

Just like everything else in infrastructure land, airports are trying to stay on top of the customer-pleasing curve. For example, Fodor’s notes that while there may be traffic hassles at LAX for the time being, the city is trying to flip that narrative by putting in a new connector for the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines due in 2023.

"Airports are like living creatures – sprawling, complicated, chameleon-like things that are constantly expanding and renewing themselves," Tarr said. "What is today's best airport can quickly become next year's worst."

If you travel out of Los Angeles, it looks like you’ve got a great airport to call your own. On the flip side, you’ve also got the worst of the bunch.I...
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FAA says some Boeing 737s may have improperly manufactured wing parts

The defect is unrelated to the flight control system problem blamed for two recent crashes

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced over the weekend that more than 300 Boeing 737 planes may have faulty wing parts.

The agency’s investigation revealed that up to 148 parts manufactured by Boeing suppliers may be “susceptible to premature failure or cracks resulting from the improper manufacturing process.”

“Although a complete failure of a leading-edge slat track would not result in the loss of the aircraft, a risk remains that a failed part could lead to aircraft damage in flight,” the FAA continued.

Boeing said it has contacted airlines that own the 737 affected jets, and the FAA has advised them to immediately inspect the aircraft to ensure their airworthiness. Boeing and the FAA, who worked together on the investigation that led to the discovery, said the slats on certain jets could develop premature cracks as a result of being manufactured improperly by a Boeing supplier.

“One batch of slat tracks with specific lot numbers produced by a supplier was found to have a potential nonconformance,” Boeing said in a statement. “If operators find the parts in question, they are to replace them with new ones before returning the airplane to service.”

Boeing said it has not been informed of any “in-service issues related to this batch of slat tracks.”

Improperly manufactured parts

Boeing and the FAA are each dealing with the aftermath of two recent 737 Max crashes, which killed 346 people and prompted authorities to ground the jets in mid-March.

The recently discovered manufacturing defect isn’t related to a flight control system on the 737 Max that has been linked to two fatal crashes. Still, Boeing says it’s “committed to supporting our customers in every way possible as they identify and replace these potentially non-conforming tracks.”

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said last week that the company knows it will need to re-earn the public’s trust.

“We know ... that the public’s confidence has been hurt by these accidents and that we have work to do to earn and re-earn the trust of the flying public and we will do that,” Muilenburg said, according to CNBC. “We are taking all actions necessary to make sure that accidents like those two ... never happened again.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced over the weekend that more than 300 Boeing 737 planes may have faulty wing parts.The agency’s inves...
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The line between low-cost airlines and traditional carriers is getting blurry

A study shows airline satisfaction continues to rise for traditional airlines and fall for low-cost carriers

The best bang for the consumer’s buck has encountered a little fog. A new study by J.D. Power shows that traditional airlines’ (Delta, United, American, Alaska) investment in updated fleets, better airfare value, and an improved focus on customer satisfaction has paid off handsomely. Those carriers enjoyed an 11-point uptick in Power’s new 2019 North America Airline Satisfaction Study.

Finishing first among traditional carriers is Alaska Airlines with a score of 801. Delta Air Lines came in second with a score of 788, and American Airlines ranks third with a point total of 764.

“Airlines continue to deliver on the operational side of air travel,” said Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power. “New technology investments have dramatically improved the reservation and check-in process. Fleets are newer and travelers generally feel that they are getting great value for their money. These improvements have been most profound in the traditional carrier segment, where customer satisfaction has climbed considerably.”

Customer satisfaction with the low-cost carriers (e.g., Southwest, Allegiant, Frontier) took a 6-point dip, but the study still found higher overall satisfaction with these companies over traditional carriers.

“While low-cost carriers have historically had the highest levels of customer satisfaction in our study, due to a strong sense of value for money among customers, that line is starting to blur as traditional carriers improve their services and operations,” Taylor added.

JetBlue Airways’ and Southwest’s score of 817 put them in a tie for first place in the low-cost segment.

So, what is it -- better service or cheapest price?

Now that the world is in summer vacation mode, consumers have a big choice to make: pay a little more and disembark with a smile or pay a little less and walk off the plane possibly feeling a little dispirited.

In ConsumerAffairs’ ongoing reporting on the airline industry, our coverage mirrors some of what Power’s study found.

For example, in the Power survey, Alaska Airlines came in first for the 12th year in a row, adding another trophy to its list of first-place consumer ratings; on the other end, Frontier brought up the rear in customer satisfaction, which echoes another study that found the airline had nearly the same number of complaints as airlines that flew 10 times as many people.

If you’re in the midst of planning a trip, you might want to grab your pencil. Here are some of the key findings of Power’s study:

  • Tech investments in reservation and check-in systems pay off. The reservation and check-in experiences are the most satisfying portions of the airline experience, driven by investments in digital check-in technologies, self-service kiosks, and a concerted effort among airlines to improve the efficiency of the pre-flight process.

  • In-flight service remains a stumbling block. In-flight services, such as seatback entertainment, food service, and Wi-Fi continue to be the lowest-ranked part of the air traveler experience. Specific in-flight amenities that have the greatest positive effect on customer satisfaction are fresh food, seatback games, and seatback live television.

Overall, there is one area where both traditional and low-cost carriers still need a little improvement: in-flight services. “It continues to be the lowest-ranked factor in the study, as many airlines still struggle with in-flight entertainment, connectivity, in-seat power and food service,” according to Taylor.

The best bang for the consumer’s buck has encountered a little fog. A new study by J.D. Power shows that traditional airlines’ (Delta, United, American, Al...
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Boeing CEO discusses the company’s next steps

‘We have work to do to earn and re-earn’ the public’s trust, he said

​At an investor conference on Wednesday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company is aware that it will need to regain the public’s trust in the wake of two deadly crashes of 737 Max jets.

The crashes, which occurred just five months apart, prompted authorities to ground all the jets worldwide in March as a safety precaution. Since then, investigators have pointed to the possibility of faulty sensor data being a key factor in the crashes, which killed a total of 346 people.

“We know ... that the public’s confidence has been hurt by these accidents and that we have work to do to earn and re-earn the trust of the flying public and we will do that,” Muilenburg said, according to CNBC. “We are taking all actions necessary to make sure that accidents like those two ... never happened again.”

A 'defining moment' for Boeing

Describing the incidents as a “defining moment” for the company, Muilenburg said Boeing is exploring “a number of different ways we can address this issue.”

"In some cases cash may be part of the solution,” he said, referring to the possibility of compensating airlines for the ongoing grounding and the delay in new deliveries of its 737 planes.

Boeing recently submitted a software fix for the jets, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently reviewing. The change would, in part, give pilots greater control over the system believed to have contributed to the crashes.

In the meantime, the planes still haven’t been deemed safe to fly.

“We’re committed to providing the FAA and global regulators all the information they need, and to getting it right," Muilenburg said in a statement earlier this month. "We’re making clear and steady progress and are confident that the 737 Max with updated MCAS software will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly."

​At an investor conference on Wednesday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company is aware that it will need to regain the public’s trust in the wake...
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FAA head says no firm date for returning the 737 MAX to the air

International aviation officials are holding a meeting today on the next steps

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says there is no hard-and-fast date for the Boeing 737 MAX jetliners to return to the air.

The aircraft type, used by airlines around the world, has been grounded since March 13 following two similar crashes by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines, occurring five months apart.

“It takes as long as it takes,” Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told the Seattle Times. “The 737 MAX will fly again when we have gone through all of the necessary analysis to determine that it is safe to do so.”

Elwell, in Dallas to meet with international aviation officials to discuss the grounded jet, held out the possibility the airplane could remain grounded for as much as a year if that’s how long it takes to address safety issues.

“I’m not tied to a timeline,” he told the newspaper.

International meeting

The meeting today will allow aviation officials to discuss what is needed before the 737 MAX can fly again. U.S. officials say they would like a concerted effort so that the plane gets clearance from all nations simultaneously.

An FAA spokesman told the newspaper that the agency has a general understanding of how Boeing plans to address the issue, but it isn’t clear on how long it will take to implement and re-certify the aircraft.

While investigations into the two crashes remain ongoing, their similarities have strongly  suggested a common cause. An angle-of-attack sensor, located on the plane’s fuselage, sends a signal to the flight control system if it determines the plane is climbing at too steep an angle, which could lead to a stall.

In both instances, investigators believe the sensor may have transmitted faulty information to the flight control system during takeoff, triggering an automated response that pointed the nose of the plane down when it should have been climbing.

Complicating summer travel

The grounding of the 737 MAX jets most likely will affect U.S. travelers through the busy summer vacation season. Three U.S. carriers -- Southwest, American, and United -- use the aircraft type and have had to replace their planes or cancel flights.

Both American and Southwest initially canceled flights using the 737 MAX aircraft through June 5, but last month they pushed the deadline back to August. In light of the FAA’s current position, even that fall-back date is beginning to look doubtful.

The FAA says Boeing’s steps to address the safety issues are taking significantly longer than initial estimates. Elwell said the manufacturer had first committed to deliver the software fix before the end of March. It withdrew that commitment after a company review found other issues that needed to be fixed.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says there is no hard-and-fast date for the Boeing 737 MAX jetliners to return to the air.The air...
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