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Southwest ends its $5 happy hour deal

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

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

Airlines suing Washington state over new sick leave law

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

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

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

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

Inconsistencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Flights adds two new features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's included in an economy fare?

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

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

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

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

American Airlines warns of higher fares

Here's how travelers can help offset rising ticket prices

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

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

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

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

Advantages for retirees

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

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

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

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

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

A travel credit card helps

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

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

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

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

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

2017 was the safest year ever for air travel

Expert says safety has been improving for two decades

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

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

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

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

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

Changing aviation culture

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

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

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

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

Global airlines are catching up

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest offers cheap flights for the upcoming holiday season

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

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

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

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

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

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

How new airline boarding procedures could curb the spread of diseases

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

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

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

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

Reducing spread of infection

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

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

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

Worth the wait

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

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

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

The full study has been published in Physical Review.

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

Disaster barely averted at San Francisco International Airport

Landing jet nearly crashed into four other airliners last month

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

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

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

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

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

'Advanced the thrust levers'

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

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

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

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

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

American Airlines announces new baggage alert system

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

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

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

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

Customer alerts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complying with new security measures

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

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

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

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

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

Infant passenger briefly hospitalized after tarmac delay

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

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

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

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

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

United's response

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

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

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

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

Why so hot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing security protocols

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

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

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

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

More changes coming

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

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

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

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

Passenger group warns against privatizing air traffic control

But White House has cleared the overhaul for take-off

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

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

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

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

'Political handout'

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

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

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

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

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

'Least-capable industry'

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

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

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

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

Delta latest airline to face consumer lawsuit

Passenger claims he was assaulted aboard a flight in 2015

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

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

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

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

Alleges assault and battery

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

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

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

Forcibly restrained

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

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

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

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

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

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

United accused of flying plane 'not in airworthy condition'

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

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

The agency said the incident occurred three years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

Delta airlines testing facial recognition technology

Will be used at automated bag drop for international travelers

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

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

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

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

Increasingly automated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The decision bars pilots from participating in any slowdown efforts

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

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

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

Court order

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

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

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

Restoring normal operations

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

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

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

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

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

Family speaks out about being tossed from Delta flight

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

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

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

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

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

Overbooked

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

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

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

Received conflicting messages

Consumers rate Delta Air Lines

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

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

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

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

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

Congress hauls United CEO before committee

House comittee probing airline customer service policies

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

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

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

Much needed answers

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

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

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

Touched a nerve

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

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

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

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

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

United wants to prevent another passenger-dragging incident

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

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

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

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

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

What's changing

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

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

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

'Customer solutions team'

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

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

No arguments about lost luggage

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

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

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

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

Air travelers consumer rights microsite now available

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The complete report is available in the DOT website.

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

Airlines tweak policy manuals in wake of United incident

American reportedly ups the ante for bumped passengers

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

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

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

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

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

Big change at American

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

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

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

Incidents will still arise

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

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

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

United said the couple was booked on a later flight.

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

What to do if you are involuntarily bumped

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

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

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

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

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

Bumping will continue

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

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

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

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

Legal risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congress questions United's forcible removal of passenger

Roughed up passenger, meanwhile, gets a belated apology

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

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

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

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

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

Senate committee wades in

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

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

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

Belated apology

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

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

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

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

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

Ratings system shows airlines improving performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improved performance in all four categories

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

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

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

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

'Air travel great again'

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

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

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

Involuntary denied boardings

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

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

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

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

What are the world's best airlines?

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

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

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

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

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

Some airlines investing in improved service

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

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

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

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

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

Special category for U.S. carriers

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

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

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

Delta passengers voice frustration over flight cancellations

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

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

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

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

Passengers sound off

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ticket refunds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shazaming and such ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January -- a tough month for air travelers

A security incident in Florida caused massive tarmac delays

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

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

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

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

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

The ATCR, which is found on the DOT website, also includes data on chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays, and other problems with baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability, and discrimination. 

Getting off the ground was a major challenge in some areas if you were flying anywhere during January.According to the Transportation Department's (DOT...

Air travelers prepare for the latest winter storm to hit the Northeast

Airliners expect heavy delays and many cancellations over the next few days

For some parts of the country, the winter season has been fairly mild. However, it seems that Mother Nature has at least one more storm up her sleeve before we usher in the spring.

Winter storm Stella has already begun making its way through the Midwest, and it is projected to dump at least a foot of snow throughout the Northeast. The National Weather Service has stated that New York City could see as much as two feet of snow and has issued a blizzard warning for affected areas.

“Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely. This will lead to whiteout conditions. . . making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel. If you must travel. . . have a winter survival kit with you,” the organization warned.

Airline cancellations and delays

Airliners certainly seem to be taking the warnings to heart. Although the storm isn’t projected to really hit the Northeast until Monday night, FlightAware shows that nearly 1,700 U.S. flights have been delayed today, with another 1,400+ being canceled.

Tomorrow, the numbers turn even worse. Nearly 4,000 flights have been canceled thus far, with more expected to be announced in the coming hours. Many major airlines have already canceled hundreds of flights in preparation and are offering waivers and chances to rebook. Some of those options can be found below:

American Airlines – American is waiving the change fee for travelers who: bought a ticket by March 12, 2017, are scheduled to travel March 12-15, can travel March 12-17, don’t change their origin or destination city, or rebook in the same cabin or pay the difference. Customers may also be able to change their trip under certain circumstances. More information can be found here.

Delta Air Lines – Travelers flying with Delta through any affected airports on March 14 or 15 will be able to rebook through March 17 without paying any additional fee.

JetBlue – JetBlue is offering a full refund to customers who experience a canceled flight. However, travelers also have the option to rebook flights from affected areas Monday through Thursday.

Southwest – Southwest is allowing travelers to rebook or fly standby within 14 days of their original flight date without paying any additional charges.

United –  United travelers flying through affected cities have the option of rebooking their flights through March 17 without incurring an additional fee.

Travelers flying with these or other airlines should be sure to check on their flight status and options before getting to the airport to see if policies or offerings have changed.

For some parts of the country, the winter season has been fairly mild. However, it seems that Mother Nature has at least one more storm up her sleeve befor...

2016 travelers' woes are lowest in decades

Flight cancellation, mishandled baggage, and bumping rates improved over 2015

The air traveling public had less to gripe about in 2016.

The Transportation Department's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report shows carriers canceled just 1.17% of their scheduled domestic flights last year -- compared with 1.5% in 2015 and the lowest in the 22 years with comparable numbers.

The previous low was 1.24% in 2002. Airlines canceled 1.6% of their scheduled domestic flights this past December, versus 1.7% a year earlier, but up from the 0.3% rate the month before.

In addition, the carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.70 per 1,000 passengers last year, compared with 2015’s rate of 3.13. That's the lowest annual rate since DOT started collecting mishandled baggage report data in September 1987. The previous low was 3.09 in 2012.

On a month-over-month basis, there was a mishandled baggage rate of 3.58 reports per 1,000 passengers in December, down from December 2015’s rate of 3.97, but up from November 2016’s rate of 2.02.

The 2016 bumping rate of 0.62 per 10,000 passengers was an improvement over the 0.73 rate posted in 2015 and the lowest annual rate based on historical data dating back to 1995. The previous low was 0.72 in 2002.

The report also includes on-time performance, tarmac delay, chronically delayed flight, and the causes of flight delay data.

In addition, there's a tally of aviation service complaints including flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability, and discrimination.

The complete report is available on the DOT website.

The air traveling public had less to gripe about in 2016.The Transportation Department's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report shows carriers canceled just...

Delta dishing up more meals on transcontinental flights

Changes will begin on March 1 and expand to other markets in late April

Back in December, Delta announced that it would be testing complimentary meals for coach passengers on its transcontinental flights. Travelers flying between New York-JFK and Los Angeles International Airport/San Francisco International Airport were being targeted to see if the program was feasible.

Now it seems that the company will be expanding on that effort. An announcement released by Delta states that it will begin offering complimentary meals on the aforementioned flights on March 1 and will expand it to 10 other cross-country flights by April 24.

Markets in Seattle, California, New York, Boston, and Washington D.C. will benefit from the upgrade, with customers getting a free meal if they fly BOS-SFO, BOS-LAX, BOS-SEA, DCA-LAX, FK-PDX, JFK-SAN, JFK-SEA, SEA-FLL, SEA-MCO, and SEA-RDU.

“The enhancement is part of Delta’s ongoing multi-million dollar investment in the on-board customer experience that includes upgraded Main Cabin snacks, enhanced blankets, refreshed Flight Fuel food-for-purchase options and free in-flight entertainment,” the company stated.

Meal options

Travelers will be able to choose from a few different meal options for their complimentary meal. For breakfast, fliers can choose between a Honey Maple Breakfast Sandwich, the Luvo Breakfast Medley, or a fruit and cheese plate. For lunch, Delta offers a choice between a Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Combo, the Luvo Mediterranean Whole Grain Veggie Wrap, or a fruit and cheese plate. Those flying overnight will be also be offered a breakfast bar during the pre-arrival beverage service.

Additionally, Delta Comfort+ members will be offered a pre-arrival snack basket and complimentary beer, wine, and spirits if over 21. For members flying from JFK to LAX or SFO, a mid-service Greek frozen yogurt bar will also be provided.

Delta stated that it expanded its offering to more flights after receiving positive feedback from its customers on tests conducted last year.

“We are all about making our Main Cabin experience the best it can be for our customers and offering free, high quality meals is a big part of that experience. When we tested this concept, our customers loved it and appreciated it so we are implementing in our most strategic markets,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s Senior Vice President of In-Flight Service.

Back in December, Delta announced that it would be testing complimentary meals for coach passengers on its transcontinental flights. Travelers flying betwe...

Delta still coping with weekend computer glitch

Airline says it might have to cancel more flights today

Another computer glitch hit Delta Airlines over the weekend, the second in five months. But after numerous cancellations and delays, Delta says it's getting back to normal. Still, travelers could continue to feel the effects.

At 7:00 a.m. today, Delta issued a statement reporting that it is operating most of its flight schedule as it continues to recover from the systems crash that threw its schedule into turmoil Sunday. Delta said it had to cancel about 170 flights Sunday and might have to cancel more than 110 today.

“I want to apologize to all of our customers who have been impacted by this frustrating situation,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian, in a statement. “This type of disruption is not acceptable to the Delta family, which prides itself on reliability and customer service. I also want to thank our employees who are working tirelessly to accommodate our customers.”

Not happy

Consumers who were inconvenienced were understandably irked. Bill, of Naples, Fla., posted a review to ConsumerAffairs as he sat aboard an aircraft, complaining that the airline was doing nothing to make a bad situation better.

"We have been sitting in a line of 60 grounded planes on the runway at ATL for nearly 2 hours (so far) and in addition to receiving no information, the flight attendants are RESTING," Bill wrote in a post. "The other First Class passengers are a bit confused by this non-customer service behavior of the flight attendant staff. It is bad enough that Delta have an obviously unstable and/insecure computer system; but, the service is becoming terrible."

The airline said its major IT systems went down at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. By midnight, Delta said things were returning to normal.

Check the schedule

Customers flying Delta today should check the airline's website or the Fly Delta app. Delta said it has waived the change fee for customers who were scheduled to fly yesterday and today.

For air travelers, coping with airline computer glitches has become an almost regular occurrence. Just days ago, a computer glitch hit the United Airlines system. The impact was shorter-lived. The system was restored in about an hour.

In August, both Delta and Southwest suffered technical breakdowns within days of one another. In the Southwest outage, the airline was forced to cancel 2,300 flights, stranding passengers all over the country.

Delta's August outage forced it to cancel more than 1,250 flights.

Another computer glitch hit Delta Airlines over the weekend, the second in five months. But after numerous cancellations and delays, Delta says it's gettin...

United Airlines flights grounded by computer glitch

Stranded travelers took to the internet to complain during the one-hour delay

Airline companies have come to rely on computer systems in order to keep things running smoothly, but a lot can go wrong when those systems break down. Consumers may remember the technical glitches that affected Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines last year, which led to thousands of canceled flights and millions in lost revenue.

Now, another airline company has been plagued by its own technical problem. According to a Reuters report, United Airlines was forced to ground all of its domestic flights for around an hour last night due to an “IT issue.” The company announced the ground halt in a tweet at 9:06 EST and apologized for the inconvenience.

However, stranded fliers lashed out at the company both online and in person. “This has been the worst customer service experience and worst flying service ever experienced in 30+ years,” one traveler said. The airliner offered to waive change fees and provide travel waivers to affected passengers, but the damage had been done. After about an hour, the company announced that it had lifted the ground stop and resumed flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that no international flights were stopped by the computer glitch but was unsure of how many domestic flights had been affected.

What’s also uncertain is how much the ground halt will end up costing United. The reparations paid to travelers, the loss of business, and the potential drop in unit prices could certainly add up. Experts estimated that Southwest lost between $54 million and $82 million as a result of its computer glitch in July, so the losses might not necessarily be chump change.

Airline companies have come to rely on computer systems in order to keep things running smoothly, but a lot can go wrong when those systems break down. Con...

Flight cancellations and mishandled baggage rates hit record lows in November

On-time arrival rates improved as well

November was a good month for airlines and -- as a result -- the flying public.

Airlines report they canceled just 0.29% of their scheduled domestic flights in November -- the lowest for any of the 263 months with comparable records beginning in January 1995, and below the previous low of 0.33% in September 2016

In addition, according to the latest Air Travel Consumer Report, the U.S. carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 2.02 reports per 1,000 passengers in November. That's the lowest rate since mishandled baggage reporting started in 1987. The previous low was 2.06 a month earlier.

If that isn't enough good news, the airlines -- and their passengers -- enjoyed an on-time arrival rate of 86.5% in November, an improvement over both the 83.7% from a year earlier and the 85.5% recorded a month earlier.

The report also includes data on tarmac delays, chronically delayed flights, the causes of flight delays, flight problems, and baggage, reservation, and ticketing issues.

The complete report may be found on the Transportation Department website.

November was a good month for airlines and -- as a result -- the flying public.Airlines report they canceled just 0.29% of their scheduled domestic fli...

Those suffering from food allergies should get pre-boarding privileges, suit argues

An advocacy group says travelers with severe nut and other food allergies should be able to board early

Boarding a flight can be an arduous and time-consuming process for air travelers. After waiting in long security lines and finding their gate, the last thing consumers want to do is wait even longer to take their seat.

However, being able to board first can make a lot of difference for some people. Those with disabilities often need the extra space and time to make sure that their flight is safe and comfortable. But one advocacy group says that one type of impairment is being ignored.

The nonprofit advocacy group Food Allergy Research and Education has filed a complaint against American Airlines for denying pre-boarding privileges to fliers with food allergies, according to The Dallas Morning News. The group says that it is important that these travelers board early to ensure that their seating area is clean and free of allergens.

“The Air Carrier [Access] Act says anyone with any type of disability can preboard to stabilize themselves on the aircraft before general boarding starts,” said Dr. James Baker, CEO and chief medical officer of Food Allergy Research and Education,. “We aren’t asking them not to serve nuts or restrict people from serving any type of food. All we want them to do is simply to remove the pre-boarding restriction for people with food allergies.”

Ensuring a safe flight

The group points out that under The Air Carrier Access Act, airliners “must offer preboarding to passengers with a disability who self-identify at the gate as needing additional time or assistance to board, stow accessibility equipment, or be seated.” Extending the pre-boarding privilege to travelers with food allergies would allow them to board before premium class passengers, elite status fliers, or people who upgraded to early-boarding priority.

While the act doesn’t specifically mention people with food allergies, the group says that the Americans With Disabilities Act does set a precedent for covering individuals with severe allergies. Further, the group highlights how American’s policy for cleaning its aircraft makes it necessary for some fliers to ensure that their seat is sterilized.

“Our planes are cleaned regularly, but these cleanings are not designed to ensure the removal of nut allergens, nor are our air filtration systems designed to remove nut allergens. We are unable to guarantee that customers will not be exposed to peanuts or other tree nuts during flight, and we strongly encourage customers to take all necessary medical precautions to prepare for the possibility of exposure," the airliner’s policy states.

The Dallas Morning News points out that other airliners have similar policies, though American is currently the only one being singled out by the advocacy group. Delta Air Lines serves peanuts on its flights but allows passengers to make arrangements so that they can pre-board or request that they not be served. Southwest Airlines also offers to not serve peanuts on flights but excludes any pre-boarding privilege from its policy. United Airlines doesn’t serve peanuts on its flights but also does not include a pre-boarding stipulation in its policy.

Boarding a flight can be an arduous and time-consuming process for air travelers. After waiting in long security lines and finding their gate, the last thi...

Delta and Alaska Airlines to terminate partnership

Consumers will no longer be able to earn miles for one company by flying with the other

Alaska Airlines’ merger with Virgin America has done a fair job of shaking up the airline industry. Not only is the combined company now the fifth-largest airliner in the United States, but consumers – especially those on the West Coast – have a new option when it comes to traveling anywhere in the world.

However, as one new deal begins another seems destined to fade away. Both Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines have announced that their longtime partnership is coming to an end this coming year. For years, fliers were able to accrue miles for one carrier while flying on the other, but that will all stop on April 30, 2017, according to announcements made by both companies (DELTA/ALASKA). Officials on both sides say that increased competition over the years and the growth of Alaska made the deal fizzle in the end.

“This should come as no surprise as our relationship has become increasingly competitive over the last few years. Given our growth and expansion, Alaska Airlines now can take people virtually anywhere they need to go,” said Charles Breer, Alaska Airlines’ Managing Director of Alliances.

“The decision is a positive milestone for both airlines as Alaska focuses on its merger integration with Virgin America and Delta focuses on creating more customer choice at its Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hub,” added Delta in its own announcement.

Ending the deal

The closing of the partnership signals the end of codesharing and frequent-flier programs that had benefitted both companies for years. Previously, the companies had installed a two-letter code that allowed both to sell seats on the other airliner’s flights. Travelers who flew with either were also able to earn and redeem frequent-flier miles on either company’s flights.

It was a mutually beneficial deal; since Alaska was a smaller company with strong ties to the West Coast, it was able to pick up the travelers that Delta brought in internationally. Likewise, Delta was able to take advantage of Alaska Airline customers who were looking to travel abroad. However, Delta’s development of its own hub in Seattle put a strain on the deal and increased competition between the two companies.

New focus

In ending the deal, both companies have said they will be focusing on their own unique interests. Alaska has said that it will be working on its miles-based program. Consumers can expect the company to lower its lowest award tier so that consumers can book award travel using as few as 5,000 miles. Officials also stated that it will be easier to earn miles when flying with one of Alaska’s partners.

Delta has stated that it will be continuing to expand its offerings in the Pacific Northwest.

“We view Seattle and the Pacific Northwest as one of the most important markets in the country, with strong economic growth, cultural diversity and some of the world’s most innovative brands and minds,” said Mike Medeiros, Delta Vice President --Seattle. “As a result, we have invested heavily in our product, services, facilities and the community. Our focus now is earning the long-term trust of Pacific Northwest customers by demonstrating the value of partnering with a global airline and the benefits of being a Delta SkyMiles Member.” 

Alaska Airlines’ merger with Virgin America has done a fair job of shaking up the airline industry. Not only is the combined company now the fifth-largest...

Airline on-time performance in October equal to the month before

Domestic tarmac delays were kept to a minimum

October was a pretty good month for airlines in terms of the on-time arrival rate.

The carriers reported a rate of 85.5%, according the the Department of Transportation (DOT) -- the same as the month before, but down 1.5% from the rate achieved a year earlier.

Cancellations were a different story, with the reporting airlines scratching 1.0% of their scheduled domestic flights in October -- up 0.7% from September and 0.5% from October 2015.

Tarmac delays

In addition, there were just two tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and no tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights.

Both extended tarmac delays are being investigated by the DOT.

The DOT's consumer report also includes information on chronically delayed flights and the causes of flight delays, as well as a tally of aviation service complaints regarding issues including problems with baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, and disability.

The complete report may be found on the DOT website.

October was a pretty good month for airlines in terms of the on-time arrival rate.The carriers reported a rate of 85.5%, according the the Department o...

American Airlines fined $1.6 million for tarmac delays

Travelers were stranded on runways for hours and not allowed to leave

If you’ve ever been trapped on a plane waiting for take-off, then you know just how infuriating and helpless the situation can be. Your frustration may have been compounded by missing connecting flights in other cities, and more than a few invectives against the airline company may have crossed your mind.

While it may have felt grossly unfair at the time, the Department of Transportation (DOT) takes tarmac delays very seriously, and it recently punished American Airlines for keeping travelers on runways for too long. USA TODAY reports that the company has been fined $1.6 million by the DOT for tarmac delays that occurred between 2013 and 2015. The fine was announced on Wednesday.

“Our tarmac rule is meant to prevent passengers form being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end. We will continue to take enforcement action as necessary to ensure passengers are not kept delayed on the tarmac for lengthy periods of time,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Costly delays

The delays in question occurred over a three-year period at three different airports, including 20 flights in Charlotte on February 16, 2013, six flights in Dallas/Fort Worth on February 27, 2015, and one flight in Shreveport, Louisiana on October 22, 2015. The lion’s-share of the delays that occurred in Charlotte were due to a snowstorm and affected approximately 860 passengers.

DOT charges that American Airlines failed to anticipate the problematic situations to prevent the long delays. It says that passengers were forced to wait for hours on planes and were not allowed to leave.

American Airlines responded to the fine by saying that it would fully cooperate with the agency and that it takes its responsibility to its customers seriously. It also explained its actions in Charlotte by saying that it was trying to get passengers to their destination on a day when many other flights were being canceled.

“It is the opinion of American that US Airways’ decision to bring aircraft into CLT was the best result possible in this unexpected and difficult situation, as evidenced by the fact that all affected passengers were en route to their final destinations before noon the next day,” the company said in a statement.

The DOT has divided the fine to ensure that American is more prepared at the airports where the delays occurred. Of the $1.6 million, $602,000 will be credited in compensation provided to passengers on the delayed flights and $303,000 will be credited for acquiring, operating, and maintaining equipment to monitor weather conditions in Charlotte and Dallas. The department said the airliner will have 30 days to pay the remaining $695,000.

If you’ve ever been trapped on a plane waiting for take-off, then you know just how infuriating and helpless the situation can be. Your frustration may hav...

Delta begins tests to provide complimentary meals to coach passengers

Travelers taking a transcontinental flight may be treated to a free meal on an upcoming trip

At the beginning of the month, we reported the results of a study by New York’s Hunter College that assessed which airlines had the best food. While Virgin America took top honors, Delta Airlines came in a close second for its low-calorie and vegan options.

While having high marks on food quality is nice, many fliers today must pay extra for an in-flight meal if they’re flying coach and going on a long flight. However, Delta has recently said that it will be testing complimentary meals for coach passengers on some transcontinental flights.

“Delta is currently testing complimentary meals in the Main Cabin on Transcon flights between New York-JFK and Los Angeles International Airport/San Francisco International Airport as part of the airline’s focus on continually looking at ways to enhance the on-board experience for customers,” the company said in an announcement.

Depending on what time travelers are flying, they could be treated to one of a few meal options. For those flying in the morning, the company says that participating flights will be offering a Maple Breakfast Sandwich or the Luvo Breakfast Medley. Those flying in the afternoon can choose from a Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Combo with chips and a brownie bite or the Luvo Mediterranean Whole Grain Veggie wrap, which comes with grapes and a cookie.

While many airlines have begun restricting certain free amenities on flights in order to charge a premium, Delta’s possible inclusion of a free meal could mark a reversal. Delta Senior Vice President of In-Flight Service Allison Ausband says that the company is trying to improve the flight experience to meet consumer demand.

“We are constantly actively listening to our customers and employees, gathering their feedback and testing new products on board to continuously improve the overall experience. Testing meals on Transcon flights is part of our commitment to be thoughtful about our offerings and make decisions based on customers’ needs,” she said.

At the beginning of the month, we reported the results of a study by New York’s Hunter College that assessed which airlines had the best food. While Virgin...

FAA proposes civil penalty against Resorts World companies

The firm is accused of running unauthorized flights

The next time you decide to fly to the islands for some sun and fun, you might want to take a close look at the airline you've chosen.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing a civil penalty of $218,700 civil against Resorts World Aviation and Resorts World Bimini.

The companies are accused of flying passengers without an FAA air carrier certificate or with pilots who had not been trained and checked for commercial operations.

The charges

According to the agency, Resorts World Aviation provided Resorts World Bimini casino players and other guests with nine for-hire flights between July 10 and July 19, 2015. The flights were between the Miami area and Bimini in the Bahamas.

The companies operated the flights when they did not hold the required FAA certificate to carry passengers for hire, according to the FAA, or the economic authorization from the Transportation Department to operate as an air carrier.

Additionally, the FAA claims pilots flying the planes did not have the required training and proficiency checks to conduct the operations involved. The agency also says the companies advertised to perform the operations despite not having FAA authorization.

The companies have asked to meet with the FAA to discuss the case.

The next time you decide to fly to the islands for some sun and fun, you might want to take a close look at the airline you've chosen.The Federal Aviat...

Sen. Chuck Schumer rails against United Airlines' baggage policy under new fare

Overhead storage should be free regardless of the ticket price, he says

Last month, United Airlines released information on its new Basic Economy fare. It immediately garnered attention from regulators and fliers due to a provision that limits the amount of carry-on baggage that can be brought on the plane.

Under the new fare, fliers would only be allowed to bring one small item with them into the cabin, measuring a maximum of 9 inches by 10 inches by 17 inches. The items would need to be stored under the seat, and if it didn’t fit, then the flier would have to pay to check it.

While the purpose of the new rule was to cut down on boarding time and clutter in the aisles, many have come out in opposition. One of them is New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who says that the measure is “one of the most restrictive polices” that travelers have faced for some time, according to the New York Post.

Nickel-and-dimed

“The overhead bin is one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel and the fact that United Airlines—and potentially others—plan to take that convenience away unless you pay up is really troubling. . . Air travelers are sick and tired of being nickel-and-dimed for every bag they carry and every morsel they eat by airlines that are already making sky-high profits,” he said.

Schumer says that the new policy would end up costing consumers quite a lot over the next four years, estimating that United stands to make an additional $1 billion from charges on the Basic Economy fare by 2020. In a release, he points out the unfairness of customers being locked out of lower prices unless they give up their rights to the overhead bin, calling the situation a “lose-lose.”

“No matter the ticket price, the overhead bin should be free. Period,” he said. “It seems like each year, airlines devise a new, ill-conceived plan to hit consumers and it has simply got to stop. Already, airlines charge extra for checked luggage, pillows, peanuts, and headphones and now you’ll have nowhere to store them. United Airlines should reverse this plan and allow the free use of the overhead bin for all.”

Last month, United Airlines released information on its new Basic Economy fare. It immediately garnered attention from regulators and fliers due to a provi...

Strikes at O'Hare and other airports postponed until after the holidays

Workers didn't want to complicate fliers' travel plans

Last week, we reported that hundreds of low-wage workers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago were poised to go on strike this week. Nearly 2,000 employees – ranging from baggage handlers to security guards and cleaning staff – had voted on a walk-out over low wages, unpaid overtime, and retaliation against union organizers.

Many worried that the strike would affect consumers looking to fly for Thanksgiving, but now it seems that holiday air travelers won’t have to worry. ABC7 in Chicago reports that workers have decided to begin their protest the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, November 29.

Workers stated that they didn’t want to complicate plans for the nearly 22 million fliers looking to travel for the holidays. However, when the strike does finally start, they say that O’Hare won’t be the only airport affected. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has now said that almost 20 other airports will be joining in the strike, including big hubs like Newark International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

“Workers will send a message to the major airlines that it’s time they take responsibility for their standards of service and care for the nearly two million passengers who travel through those major airports each day and for the workers whose dedication and hard work help to generate $36 billion in profits for the aviation industry,” SEIU officials said. 

Last week, we reported that hundreds of low-wage workers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago were poised to go on strike this week. Nearly 2,000 emp...

Hundreds of workers at O'Hare International Airport ready to strike next week

While officials don't expect a shutdown, delays may be prominent for holiday travel

It might be a tumultuous Thanksgiving week for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Yesterday, labor leaders at the airport said that “hundreds” of low-wage workers voted to strike and may not show up this coming week, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Around 2,000 non-unionized workers – including baggage handlers, security officers, caterers, and cleaners -- voted on the course of action in protest of unsafe working conditions, unpaid overtime, and retaliation against union organizers. Workers are also looking for an increase in pay to a minimum of $15 per hour, according to reports.

While this could be concerning to air travelers who will be going through the airport over the holidays, the Chicago Department of Aviation says it is working with the protestors and does not foresee any future delays.

“[The department] expects every contractor to follow the law, and will aid the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Illinois Department of Labor to take whatever action is necessary. . . We do not anticipate any disruption in service at Chicago’s airports during the holiday season and encourage passengers to contact individual airlines for information regarding their specific flight,” said spokesperson Owen Kilmer.

While officials don’t think that the workers’ actions could lead to a shut down, refusal to show up and work could potentially lead to major delays of service for certain departments. Fliers may remember with horror how long security lines were this past summer.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 President Tom Balanoff stated that workers won’t be trying to shut down the airport. However, he does admit that what “they’re trying to do is get the powers that be to hear their voice.” 

It might be a tumultuous Thanksgiving week for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Yesterday, labor leaders at the airport said that “hundreds” of low...

New United fare limits carry-on bags

Passengers flying Basic Economy won't have access to the overhead bins

Since airlines began tacking on fees for checked bags, airline passengers have tried to carry as much of their luggage as possible into the cabin of the aircraft, cramming it into the overhead bins.

A new fare from United Airlines aims to free up some space in the overhead compartments.

United has introduced what it calls its Basic Economy fare, which has a number of features. But the one getting the most attention is what passengers can and cannot carry on.

According to the airline, carry-on bags will be limited to one personal item, unless the customer is a MileagePlus Premier member, primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card, or Star Alliance Gold member.

And notably, that one carry-on item has to be small enough to fit under the seat. It's not going in the overhead bin. If the carry-on item doesn't fit under the seat, it will have to be checked and the passenger will be charged the applicable fee.

Other features

Other features of the Basic Economy fare include automatic seat assignments in which a party traveling together may not sit together and will be in the last boarding group. Basic Economy passengers will not be eligible for Economy Plus or premium cabin upgrades. There will also be no voluntary ticket changes except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.

United says Basic Economy fares won't be offered in all markets, and the selection of flights where they are available will be subject to change. Consumers will know when it is available as an option because it will be displayed along with the rest of the flight's seating options.

“You'll be able to book Basic Economy tickets the same ways that you book other United flights, including through united.com, the United app, the United Customer Contact Center, a travel agency or other online booking tools,” the airline said.

Despite all the limitations, United is quick to point out that consumers flying Basic Economy will get many of the other amenities other coach passengers enjoy, including food and beverage service, in-flight entertainment, and Wi-Fi.

Since airlines began tacking on fees for checked bags, airline passengers have tried to carry as much of their luggage as possible into the cabin of the ai...

Flight cancellations hit all-time low in September

No tarmac delays were reported during the month

Airlines canceled a miniscule 0.3% of their scheduled domestic flights in September.

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), that's the lowest level for any of the 261 months with comparable records since January 1995. The previous low point had been 0.4% a year earlier.

In more good news for the flying public, airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and no tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights.

Discrimination complaints

As it released its report, the government made information about discrimination complaints it's received public for the first time. The data covers the number of complaints received in each of the protected classes of race, ancestry, national origin, color, religion, and sex.

From January to September 2016, 67 complaints were filed by consumers claiming discrimination by airlines: 52 regarding race, eight regarding national origin, one regarding color, two regarding religion, and four regarding sex.

This is an increase from the 49 complaints alleging discrimination received during the first nine months of last year. In September 2016 alone, there were six complaints alleging discrimination -- three regarding race, two regarding national origin, and one regarding religion. This compared with the total of eight recorded in September 2015 and the 15 recorded in August 2016. All complaints alleging discrimination are investigated.

The consumer report also includes data related to on-time performance, chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays, along with a range of issues such as flight problems, baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, and disability.

The complete report is available on the DOT website.

Airlines canceled a miniscule 0.3% of their scheduled domestic flights in September.According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), that's the low...

Start of new TSA Pre-Check program hits a bump in the road

The agency will postpone hiring private vendors that perform background checks

Back in May, we reported how consumers were becoming increasingly frustrated with airport security delays. Lines in some of the nation’s prominent hubs seemed to be endless, but TSA stated that it was understaffed and unable to deal with the volume of travelers.

One solution that the agency suggested for passengers was enrolling in its PreCheck program, which makes the screening process much quicker. Officials hoped to enroll 25 million U.S. travelers in the program, but those numbers haven’t materialized – and now there appears to be another bump in the road.

According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, TSA has put the brakes on hiring private vendors that could help register fliers for TSA Pre-Check. The reason? The agency feels that using new vendors would be unwise “in light of the increased and evolving cybersecurity risks over the past year.”

Cybersecurity concerns

TSA officials say they are concerned that cyber criminals could target new vendors that perform background checks on passengers to steal private information.

While the move may be welcomed by privacy and consumer advocacy groups, it certainly won’t win many points with frustrated travelers who want to sign up for the program. Sources report that only 4 million people have been signed up for the TSA Pre-Check program thus far, well below their stated goal.

Critics say that the blame for future long lines may land squarely on TSA. For those who don’t remember how bad things got this past summer, here’s a video taken from a traveler at Chicago’s Midway airport. Please note that the footage does contain strong language.

Some hope

However, there is some hope that things will run more smoothly going forward. TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger has said that a plan approved by Congress – which created 13,068 new positions and converted 2,000 part-time screeners to full-time employees – could make a big difference in expediting the security check process.

Additionally, Neffenger stated that the agency has put together a “deployment force” made up of 1,000 screeners that can be sent to any airport that is expected to see an influx of air travelers. This mobile force could help alleviate the stress of many holiday travelers that are expected to surge in the coming months.

Back in May, we reported how consumers were becoming increasingly frustrated with airport security delays. Lines in some of the nation’s prominent hubs see...

Rankings for the best and worst U.S. airports

Phoenix ranks as the best, while La Guardia comes in last

Experienced air travelers know which airports they like and which ones to stay away from. Unfortunately, for those of us who don’t fly as much, bad service and amenities can often catch us by surprise.

To address this issue, the folks over at ThePointsGuy.com – a travel and lifestyle media platform -- took a look at the 30 busiest airports in the U.S. and ranked them from best to worst.

Each was judged on a variety of factors, including flight delays, cancellations, average security wait times, distance from the city center, public transit options, bars and restaurants, lounges, Wi-Fi costs, and parking rates.

Best and worst

The study found that Phoenix Sky Harbor International was the best airport in the U.S. It is the closest airport to its city’s center, has the second-best public transit time, third-cheapest parking, third-most restaurants and bars per capita, and the fifth-fewest flight cancellations.

Rounding out the top five were Portland International Airport in Oregon; San Diego International Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, and Honolulu International Airport.

On the other hand, frequent fliers in New York will dismayed -- thought not surprised -- that two of their most well-known airports make the bottom of the list. La Guardia Airport, located in Queens, came in dead last due to having the most flight delays, most cancellations, and most expensive parking of all the airports surveyed.

John F. Kennedy Airport, also in Queens, occupies the second-to-last spot for having the longest security wait times and longest driving time from the city center.

The other three contenders at the bottom of the list included Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport.

To see the complete list, visit the researchers' site here

Experienced air travelers know which airports they like and which ones to stay away from. Unfortunately, for those of us who don’t fly as much, bad service...

Thanksgiving air travel projected to rise 2.5%

But airlines are confident they can handle the extra passengers

If you are traveling by air this Thanksgiving weekend, hopefully you have booked your flight by now.

If not, you may not only have a hard time making connections, but you'll pay the premium rate.

For those of you who have your tickets and made your plans, you might want to get to the airport a little early. Estimates suggest there will be crowded terminals.

Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade group, projects 27.3 million consumers will travel by air during the Thanksgiving travel period, a rise of 2.5% over last Thanksgiving. The group says that amounts to an extra 55,000 passengers a day.

74,000 extra seats

For their part, the airlines say they can handle the extra load. Domestic airlines have added 74,000 seats per day by adding flights and replacing smaller planes with larger ones.

The reason more consumers are flocking to the nation's airports is no mystery. The airlines have lowered fares, passing on some of their fuel savings to consumers.

“Airlines are adding capacity to accommodate the increased demand, and travelers should rest assured that while more people will be flying, there will be more than an adequate number of seats available,” said A4A Vice President and Chief Economist John Heimlich.

Airlines may have increased their capacity to handle the expected increase in passengers, but what about the boarding process? Should travelers expect bottlenecks at airport security checkpoints?

Bottlenecks?

The airlines say these checkpoints should be manageable because of the increased number of consumers who have registered for programs like PreCheck, that moves passengers through the screening process faster.

The Transportation Security Administration says that consumers who purchase a five-year membership for $85 will be able to get through the security checkpoint and board the aircraft without having to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets.

TSA says it's still a good idea to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight, especially during the Thanksgiving travel period. You'll find TSA's additional tips for reducing your waiting time in line here.

If you are traveling by air this Thanksgiving weekend, hopefully you have booked your flight by now.If not, you may not only have a hard time making co...

Southwest reaffirms its stance on not charging baggage fees

CEO Gary Kelly spares 'no thought whatsoever on charging bags'

The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in revenue from every available source is practically unheard of.

However, “practically” may be the operative word. Southwest Airlines has been under pressure to generate more revenue. The company is the only one of the largest commercial airliners in the U.S. that doesn’t charge a baggage fee, so the money is there for the taking. But, according to a Los Angeles Times report, CEO Gary Kelly has stated that the company won’t be doing that, at least for now.

“We have a unique and beloved position in the industry with this approach and we would be foolish to squander it, so no thought whatsoever on charging bags,” Kelly said in a recent quarterly earnings call.

Southwest woes

The decision to let bags fly for free is great for consumers, but it potentially costs Southwest millions every year. Last year, the top 13 airline companies raked in $3.8 billion in bag fees, along with another $3 billion in charges that consumers paid for changing or canceling flight reservations – another service that Southwest doesn’t charge for.

As a result, investors have cranked up the heat on the company to start tapping these revenue streams. Recent earnings reports haven’t been very favorable; last quarter’s earnings were down by nearly $200 million year-over-year, and the recent technology outage in July cost the company dearly. Kelly also cites increased competition as a major factor in the company’s bad fortunes.

“The fare environment is very competitive and we have seen an increase in competitor seats in our markets that is fairly significant year-over-year,” he said.

The CEO says that he has plans to bring in more revenue soon, though he remained tight-lipped about what those plans actually involved. “Well, it’s just not ready for prime time. And I’d rather not share with our competitors where we see opportunities for a variety of reasons,” Kelly explained.

The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in reve...

Airline ticket costs decline

But the add-ons keep mounting

Consumers traveling by air this past spring saw the amount they paid for a ticket go down.

The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reports the average domestic air fare dropped to $353 in the second quarter down 9.6% from $390 at the same time a year ago, adjusted for inflation.

The second-quarter 2016 fare was down 26.2% from the average fare of $478 in 1999 -- the highest inflation-adjusted second quarter average fare in 21 years since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995.

Nickle-and diming you

In recent years, the amount of additional revenue obtained from fees charged to passengers as well as from other sources has increased. U.S. passenger airlines collected just 74.3% of their total revenue from passenger fares during the second quarter of 2016, compared with 87.6% in 1995.

Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include fees for optional services, such as baggage fees, and do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares.”

BTS reports average fares based on domestic itinerary fares. Itinerary fares consist of round-trip fares, unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included.

The complete report is available on the BTS website.

 

 

Consumers traveling by air this past spring saw the amount they paid for a ticket go down.The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Stat...

Airline runway delays abound in August

On-time arrival and cancellation rates were mixed

Getting off the ground in August was something of challenge if you were traveling by commercial airline.

According to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report, there were 15 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and five delays of more than four hours on international flights.

DOT is investigating the delays.

The carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 77.6% during the month, an improvement from the rate of 75.2% a month earlier, but worse than the year-ago rate of 80.3%.

Airlines report that they canceled 1.4% of their scheduled domestic flights in August, compared with 1.0% the year before and 1.9% in July.

Other areas covered by the report include chronically delayed flights and the causes of delays, and other flight problems including baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability and discrimination.

The complete report is available on the DOT website.

Getting off the ground in August was something of challenge if you were traveling by commercial airline.According to the Department of Transportation's...

Consumers to get refunds for delayed airline baggage under new federal rules

Airlines must also more accurately report on-time arrival rates and other measures

A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessive fees.

Announced on Wednesday, the new consumer protection rules will guarantee refunds on baggage fees if an airline delays returning luggage after a flight.

Additionally, airliners will be charged with more accurately reporting on-time arrival rates, the number of bungled wheelchair requests, and the rate of lost or mishandled baggage. The new regulations are meant to fulfill the administration’s promise of imposing tougher consumer protections on the airline industry.

“The travel community is grateful that the administration continue to shine a light on many of the more frustrating issues that ail the air travel experience in the U.S.” said Roger Dow, chief executive of travel industry trade group U.S. Travel Assn.

Airline industry pushes back

The changes are meant to provide travelers with a better sense of how well an airliner operates when it comes to factors like handling baggage and being on time, but the industry says that too many regulations may hurt performance.

“Efforts designed to re-regulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy,” stated Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America.

Industry officials point out that airlines are already required by the Department of Transportation to reimburse customers if their bag is lost. Under the new regulations, they would also have to pay customers if luggage is “substantially delayed,” but what the threshold for this term is hasn’t been defined, they say.

Airlines aren’t the only ones subject to the new rules, though. The regulations also provide provisions for online travel agents, who must disclose to fliers if they have a bias based on financial arrangements for offering flights tied to a certain airline.

The new reporting provisions of the regulations are meant to take effect on January 1, 2018, with the rest of the rules slated to be enacted 30 days after changes are published in the Federal Register.

A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessiv...