The Dept of
Transportation's Revenge on the Airlines? Part 2 -
Airline Idiocy Exposed
Examples of the Airlines Ducking and
Diving to Avoid Becoming More Customer Focused
It is hard to believe some
of the claims the airlines made about why they should not
institute additional passenger rights.
Read the comments below and see what I mean.
of a series on being bumped from flights, see the other
articles in this series listed on the right.
Here are selected examples,
taken from 165 pages of commentary by the DoT, which in turn
contains only summaries of airline and other submissions for and
against the new DoT rules now promulgated.
Clearly the airlines need some
remedial lessons in what competition is and is not, because they
loved to complain that things which we might think are either
neutral or positive enhancers of competition are actually the
The airlines talk in public about
the commitments to excellence and customer service. Now see
how they act behind the scenes.
What the Airlines Say
The balance of this article
takes quotes and comments from the DoT's 213 page notice of
rulemaking, and adds a few thoughts of my own to put the airline
comments in perspective.
The DoT's proposal to make
international airlines also accountable for trapping passengers on
planes drew howls of protest.
Some foreign airlines
said there was no need for this regulation because the problem
never occurs (or occurs so extremely rarely as to be almost
But if that is the case, why
would the airlines object to a regulation covering an event that -
they tell us - never happens?
Some foreign airlines said
delays on their flights were not so important, because they can make up more time on
an international flight.
Maybe, in theory, they could
make up time, but
modern jet airplanes cruise at 95% or more of their maximum speed,
and may not have sufficient fuel to allow for flying appreciably
faster, and neither may the airline wish to spend more money on
extra jetfuel to fly faster (ie less economically).
they can speed up from say 95% of max speed to 98% of max speed,
this means a saving of 2 minutes per hour of flight. A ten
hour flight could therefore make up 20 minutes of delay - and that
is the best
Perhaps persuaded by this, the DoT has given airlines flying
internationally a full extra hour of permissible ground delay (ie
from three hours that applies for domestic flights up to four for
Airlines also claimed that international flights
and planes are
better equipped to care for passengers on an extended ground delay.
That is sadly seldom the case.
At the start of a flight, the flight attendants are reluctant to
break out food which is scheduled to be served in flight, and at
the end of a flight, the food has been eaten and most of the
drinks have been consumed too - particularly these days when
airlines are cutting back on the amount of extra/surplus supplies
Most of all, you're still
stuck in the same uncomfortable seat.
Advising Passengers About Delay
The DoT will require airlines
to advise their passengers every 30 minutes about the status of
The International Air Carrier
Association (IACA) said requiring this was unnecessary
Air France/KLM went as far as
to say that requiring an announcement every 30 minutes 'will have
unintended consequences' (whatever that means).
Qantas and Jetstar said 'we
know best' about what to tell us as passengers, or to be exact,
they said 'too much detail may lead to false expectations on the
part of passengers'.
The National Airlines Council
of Canada (NACC) worried that having to give updates every 30
minutes might cause incomplete or inaccurate information to be
given to passengers. Apparently they consider a total
silence to be more complete and more accurate than giving the best
partial information possible - a bit like the clock which has
stopped, but which still tells perfect time twice a day.
Customer Service Obligations
on International Flights
Most foreign airlines say there
is no need to obligate foreign carriers (ie themselves) to observe
any type of customer service plan, because they already do so as a
result of competitive market forces.
It is nice to see
airlines displaying such a sense of humor.
Code Share Flights
You may be aware that airlines
promote code-share flights as giving a seamless flying experience
to us as passengers, making it much easier for us than if we
actually knew which airlines were operating the flights we were
taking, and giving us the brand and quality assurance of our
airline of choice, even if we're actually flying an airline we
wouldn't otherwise want to fly (eg your Delta ticket has you
flying on an Aeroflot plane).
You may also be aware that the
reality is often different. You turn up at Airline 1's
checkin counter with their ticket for their flight, only to
discover that it is actually operated by Airline 2, and you have
to go to Airline 2's terminal even to checkin for the flight.
Upon getting there, you
discover that Airline 2 has different policies for checked bag
fees, and what you'd thought would be free or $25 is now going to
cost you $50 instead.
The DoT has been struggling in
this regulatory process to try and make the reality of code-share
flights match the promises. But when trying to get the
airlines to honor these surely key concepts of code-sharing, all
of a sudden the airlines protest it is impossible to do so.
The airlines are strongly opposed
to any sort of uniform application of one airline's policies onto
flights bearing their flight numbers but operated by a different
airlines said that guaranteeing good customer service from a code
share partner may be outside their control. Perhaps it is
time for the airlines to choose their code share partners more
wisely and write their code share agreements more carefully.
NACC said that a requirement
for code share partners to have comparable service was an
unwarranted interference in commercial relationships, and may
discourage such relationships in the future.
problem with fewer code share flights in the future would be
exactly what? Code shares give benefits to airlines much
more than to passengers - let's call NACC's bluff on this.
Discrepancy in Fees Charged
between an Airline Selling a Ticket and the Code-Share Airline Operating the
The ATA says that any attempt to
require a standardization of fees (eg so that the
marketing/ticketing airline's fees would apply on a flight bearing
its flight number, even if operated by a different carrier) would
be anti-competitive and counter to the goals of de-regulation.
It also says it would be impractical, because some airlines
operate flights with multiple code-share partners, and would be
US Airways worries that this
would create 'different classes of passengers on the same
aircraft'. Hello, US Airways - anyone home? Choose any
half dozen passengers on any flight, and the chances are that they
all paid different amounts for their tickets already. And
some passengers may get free or reduced baggage fees currently
too, based on what class of frequent flier they are.
Delta also sings the
'anti-competition' song, saying that requiring a uniform approach
to fees between an airline and its code share partners would
I wonder in what way DL thinks
that a group of airlines, that should be competing against each
other, instead clubbing together to operate a single flight which
they all share, currently promotes or enhances competition.
Code-shares are anti-competitive right from the get-go, and if DL
is concerned about stifling competition, perhaps it should
consider de-merging Northwest and cancelling all its current
Requiring Airlines to set
Minimum Standards for Customer Service
The Air Transport
Association (ATA) says that
requiring the airlines to observe minimum standards of customer
service and compensation would 'dampen innovation, harm
competition, and reduce the flying public's options'.
Alas, the only innovation and competition apparent at present is between
airlines vying to be first to create more and more draconian fees
Furthermore, these are
minimum standards. The airlines do not explain how setting a
minimum level of service would interfere with them providing
above-minimum service levels and competing in this positive
Offering the Lowest Fare
Oh my, the airlines hated the concept of being
obliged to offer passengers the lowest fare available. The
Arab Air Carrier Association (AACA)
and NACC said that doing this would interfere with airline
business practices - which is I guess an oblique way of saying
that airlines don't necessarily quote you the lowest fare at
The Latin American & Caribbean
Air Transport Assocation (ALTA) has obviously been getting lessons
from a former US President, because it asked for clarification on
what the definition of 'offering the lowest fare available' means,
and then added that
a 'one size fits all' fare (whatever that might be) will prejudice
passengers by increasing fares and limiting competition.
nice of ALTA to point out that by not offering the lowest fares,
they are doing this purely for our benefit.
Qantas says that offering the
lowest fare would be too hard, due to lots of different ways of
costing an international fare.
Holding a Booking for 24 Hours
The airlines didn't like this, either.
But they couldn't decide why - some said that if a booking was
held for 24 hours, it would deprive other people of being able to
get the fare, while others said that if the booking was then
cancelled without penalty, they might not be able to resell the
seat to anyone else.
Singapore Airlines had a really
convincing objection (not!) - their computer system is not set up for it.
BA makes the puzzling
statement that its current selling systems don't allow for 24 hour
holds, but if people book through their (800) call center, they
are given a 24 hr 'cooling off' period. So can they do this
Several airlines responded
with a modern day version of Marie Antoinette's famous retort,
'Let them eat cake'. In this case, the airlines suggested
that if people wish to be able to change their mind within 24
hours, they should be a refundable type fare (which may cost twice
as much money, of course).
Refunding Tickets on Canceled
Amazingly, the airlines don't want to be told they
must offer to refund tickets when they cancel a flight.
Among many reasons, the airlines plaintively say that they might
be forced to cancel a flight for reasons beyond their control.
That is true, but the cancellation is doubly beyond the control of
the person who bought a ticket and relied on the airline's promise
to fly them on the specified flight, date and time.
low-cost subsidiary Jetstar at least had the intellectual honesty
to directly say what other airlines hinted at - customers should
share in the risk, cost and consequences of cancelled flights,
along with the airlines.
As for refunds when a flight
is massively delayed, ATA opposed the introduction of a formal
definition of how delayed a flight should be before the ticket
becomes refundable. It objected to the creation of a single
uniform standard across the industry; something that we as
passengers might actually find rather helpful - and of course, any
DoT ruling could still be improved upon by individual carriers if
they so chose.
Refunding Fees Too.
you pay a checked bag fee, a priority seat fee, and an early
boarding fee. Then your flight is cancelled, you never get
to board or sit in your special seat, and your bag is returned to
you, having traveled nowhere.
ATA opposes refunding you
those fees, saying its members object to the concept that the
cancellation in itself should create a right to the refund of
Compensation for Late Delivery
Apparently, at least according to Air France/KLM,
we should be more forgiving of the airlines if bags are delayed
and delivered late from an international flight than from a
Are they suggesting the inconvenience to us is
less? The cost of buying emergency replacement clothes may
ATA says that refunding
baggage fees when bags are delivered late should not be made
mandatory, preferring instead to allow the free market and
competitive pressures influence how its member airlines handle the
Should I point out that all the major US carriers
that charge for baggage fees currently have an identical 'no
refund of our fee' policy? It is hard to see too much
competition at work at present.
Disclosing Past Flight Delays
Unsurprisingly, airlines don't want to
tell you if the flight you are booking is usually delayed in the
past or not, saying that past performance is not necessarily
indicative of future performance.
Swiss Intl adds that it
would be difficult to tell passengers the information due to using
international call centers (huh?).
Note to Swiss : If this
is too great a difficulty for you, maybe you should get out of the
airline business entirely. How do you handle vastly more
complicated issues such as 'How much will this flight cost' if you
can't even handle such a straightforward question as 'Does this
flight usually arrive on time?'.
Advising of Flight Detail Changes in
British Airways says it should only
have to do this if the passenger booked direct with them.
Anyone who books with any type of regular or online travel agency
should get such information from them rather than direct from the
Singapore Airlines say it
shouldn't have to provide information to people calling on the
phone about, for example, the type of plane operating a flight,
because people can find the information on their website.
And some of you used to think SQ was a customer friendly
Self Monitoring Compliance
with the DoT Regulations
This is already required of US
carriers, and now will be required of international carriers too.
The international carriers objected (unsuccessfully) saying it
would be too complicated and too costly to perform, while Swiss
and Air Tahiti said they didn't even know how to monitor such
My goodness me - we rely on
airlines to monitor their compliance with safety and maintenance
requirements which fill many huge thick manuals, full of elaborate
procedures, and these same airlines say they don't know how or
can't keep a check on whether they are complying with these
passenger protection requirements? What sort of selective
incompetence is this?
Requiring the Airlines'
Obligations to be Included in Their Formal Contracts of Carriage
Remarkably, ATA says it doesn't believe the DoT has the authority
to require this - apparently the DoT can require the airlines to
conform to its regulations, but - if the ATA is to be believed -
can't require the airlines to mention this in their public
contracts of carriage. Huh?
US Airways and other carriers
also worried that by formally recording their obligations in their
contract of carriage they might be increasing their liability to
lawsuits (assuming they fail to correctly honor their liability, I
Memo to worried airlines : Just do what you're
supposed to do, then you'll have no worries.
International airlines that do
business in the US, and who happily carry US passengers between
the US and other countries tried to hide behind their foreignness.
Oh no, we shouldn't have to follow US requirements, was their
objection. They want to do business in our country, but only
on their terms.
Advising passengers About How/Where to
Complain and Setting Turnaround Times
This requires airlines
to show information on where passengers can direct completes, both
on their website and on e-ticket confirmations
(including an email address for complaints to be sent to).
Needless to say, the airlines didn't like this idea, and claim
this unnecessarily and excessively intervenes in an airline's
operations. Foreign airlines also said this was an illegal
imposition of US law on their operations.
The DoT also proposed
requiring airlines to acknowledge customer complaints within 30
days and have a response to them within 60 days.
You can probably already guess what the airlines
this. Correct, it 'excessively intervenes into an airline's
business practices and disregards procedures carriers already have
in place to respond to consumer complaints'.
I guess the
'procedures already in place' include a flat out total ignoring of
complaints received, a procedure the airlines wish to be able to
More amusingly, however, they
also claim there is no need to set this requirement. On the
other hand, British Airways says 'the timeline is unnecessary and
overly burdensome and would force carriers to divert personnel to
unnecessary administrative and recordkeeping functions'.
Yes, from BA's perspective, responding to complaints is
unnecessary and overly burdensome.
Qantas tries to suggest the
fact that it already tries to respond to complaints
within 60 days means it shouldn't be mandated that it must.
And IATA said that if an
airline sent a 'provisional response' within 60 days the airline
should then be allowed an indefinite amount of additional time to
provide a final response.
Swiss Intl tried to make the
complaining process as unnecessarily difficult as possible by
requiring passengers to include a copy of their ticket or boarding
pass. Why? Is not a reference to the passenger's
booking record locator sufficient to find everything - what is
uniquely on a ticket or boarding pass that hasn't come out of the
booking record in the first place?
opposing an increase in denied boarding compensation, Spirit
Airlines said that if compensation amounts increased, many
consumers will be harmed by increased fares due to the windfall
the new DBC amounts will provide to a small number of passengers.
About 1.3 passengers out of
every 10,000 are bumped off flights. An increase from $400
to $650 in compensation for those 1.3 passengers means that the
other 9,998.7 passengers will have to pay 3c extra in their fares
to cover the extra compensation. Relax, Spirit - we can
Some international airlines
say that passengers who get bumped off their infrequently
scheduled flights, and who are forced to wait a day or more to
take a later flight, objected to such unfortunate people as
getting a 'a windfall for their mild inconvenience'. What
planet do these airline executives live on?
Increasing Denied Boarding
Compensation in line with Inflation
The DoT proposed
announcing adjustments to the compensation levels once every two
years, based on inflation.
Qantas - an airline that changes
its airfares seemingly every week or two, based on the profusion
of airfare 'specials' they keep sending me, said these adjustments
should only be made every five years, so as to avoid 'excessive
administrative costs to implement the changes'.
Note to Qantas : When
you start only changing your airfares once every five years, then
and only then can you ask for the denied boarding compensation to
be similarly frozen, five years at a time.
Other airlines said it would
be a security risk to keep large amounts of cash to compensate
passengers at their airport locations. The DoT pointed out,
very politely, that when they required 'cash' compensation, a
check would be perfectly acceptable, and indeed, the airline could
have up to 24 hrs to mail the check if needed.
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix
It (Showing the True Cost of Tickets)
That is what the ATA said to the DoT on the topic of if
the DoT should require airlines to show the true total price of an
airline ticket in their advertising. 'This is the way it has
been for 25 years' was the ATA's not entirely accurate response.
But if this standard is to
apply - ie, we freeze things in place, how to explain the ATA
member airlines' delight in changing their business costings and
practices, now charging us for things that have been free for many
more than 25 years such as baggage and food?
The ATA need to be consistent,
rather than seeking a 'heads we win, tails we don't lose' approach
to their business.
The ATA got really carried
away on the topic of requiring airlines to include all government
fees and taxes in their advertised fares, trotting out as many
politically correct but meaningless statements as it could.
Naturally, standard excuse number one was aired - requiring
airlines to truthfully show the total cost of buying an airline
ticket would, ahem, negatively impact on competition.
It could also negatively
impact service to smaller towns and cities, at least according to
the ATA. And - another standard excuse - would be difficult
and complicated to do.
But while ATA had some
howlers, IATA managed to come up with the golden line - showing
the true total cost of a ticket would confuse customers and
prevent a true comparison of airfares.
Strangely, some of IATA's own
member airlines actually filed comments supporting the suggestion
that advertised airfares should correctly show the total cost of
the ticket, and said they already advertise the true total cost.
In an amusing divergence of
opinion, ASTA, representing travel agents, says that showing the
true total cost is the best way to eliminate passenger confusion
and ensure that passengers understand the total cost of their air
travel. But USTOA, representing US tour operators,
disagrees, saying that showing the true cost of airline tickets
would do very little to solve the current confusion in people's
minds about how much airline tickets cost (huh?) while placing
costly burdens on travel agents (huh again?).
Automatic Extra 'Opt Out' Fees
On 'opt-out' fees - extra
charges that the airline will automatically add to your bill
unless you uncheck them on a web page somewhere in the process of
buying a ticket - although most airlines agreed that these should
be banned, requiring a person to instead do something only if they
wished to pay more for something else, American Airlines
disagreed, saying that having some fees pre-selected is in line
with what customers expect and will help customers customize their
And fellow Oneworld airline
Qantas joins AA in this untenable position, claiming that
customers appreciate having extra charges pre-selected
Advising Passengers of Baggage
Fee Charges and Changes
The DoT asked for comments about
requiring airlines to post a message for three months on their
website home pages whenever they increased their baggage fees.
Air France/KLM said that posting a link to this information on
their websites' homepages would be costly, and suggested instead
that they be allowed to place the information wherever on their
site they chose, and for only one or two months rather than three.
The DoT dryly observed that
'allowing carriers to decide where the notice should be given may
result in some carriers placing the information in an
inconspicuous location on the website'. Take that, AF/KL.
Virgin America worried that
requiring this would detract from competitive market forces on how
airlines design and set up their own websites.
Jetstar and its parent,
Qantas, worried there might not be enough space on their website
homepage to add a link to a page detailing baggage fees and
Disclosure of Extra Fees and
The ATA says that disclosing additional fees on
e-ticket confirmations would be 'burdensome'.
There are now over 100
different types of airline fees (as identified by ATPCO - the
Airline Tariff Publishing Co). Yes, this is indeed a
burdensome amount of fees, but I don't think the ATA would agree,
in a positive response to this burden, to simply discontinue all
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27 Apr 2011, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.