Archive for passenger bill of rights

Ryanair: An Empty Head, Two Heads, and a Pay Head.

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airliner, airlines, airport, baggage fees, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, passenger bill of rights, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2010 by Chris Manno

Single-pilot airliners make financial sense, according to Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, and that point I can’t argue.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Lerary

But what I can and do argue is that any airline run by a CEO who makes operational decisions based primarily on cash value–and O’Leary is the airline guy who introduced the concept of the pay toilet to the airline world–is an airline I’d never fly on, much less let my family travel on.

It would be like consigning yourself to an operating room whose surgical procedures were based on cash value to the hospital. Under anesthesia, hope for the best and by the way, did you pre-pay the resuscitation and de-fibrillation fees?

More important though is how fundamentally ignorant O’Leary is regarding the very product he sells. Let’s start at the beginning.

There have been many high-tech single pilot aircraft flying successfully for years. But the difference is, there was only one life at stake and a guaranteed escape plan if the airplane became un-flyable:

That escape option doesn’t exist on an passenger jet. But that’s not the only reason why two pilots are necessary for safe airline flight.

The basic philosophy of the airline operation is that layers of redundancy safeguard the thousands of passengers who take flight each day. It’s not simply a case that two or three pilots can divide the workload, which is true.

What’s more important is that it takes more than one pilot to divide the task of safe flight into the components that require simultaneous undivided attention in the critical phases of flight during which the aircraft and everyone on board are most vulnerable.

And that’s just in normal operation. The division becomes even more critical during an abnormal or emergency situation. Here are two prime examples.

We routinely take off from airports with tiny runways designed for the smaller propeller aircraft of the fifties and sixties. Jets, particularly when they’re heavy, require miles of runway to accelerate to take-off speed. Even more critical than that is the additional runway required to achieve flying speed if an engine fails.

Which adds another constraint: stopping in case there’s not enough runway to continue to take-off speed after an engine failure. That, on a short runway like in LaGuardia, Washington National, Burbank, Chicago-Midway and San Diego to name but a few, makes an instantaneous decision to abort a life and death question: do you have enough speed and runway to continue into the air? Do you have enough runway and not too much speed to stop?

Add to the stopping situation the wild card: is whatever failure for which you’re aborting going to affect your ability to stop? That is, with an electrical, hydraulic, landing gear or a few other potential failures–you can’t and won’t stop on the runway.

How does one person sort all of the variables of speed, runway length remaining, malfunctions and stopping capability and make the correct split second decision to stop or go?

The answer is, one pilot doesn’t.

Despite O’Leary’s theory that one pilot does most of the flying–and maybe it’s true–two pilots are needed for the big decisions like the above and many other split second decisions that have to be made in the critical landing  phase, here’s the secret: divide.

The take-off situation I just described is what we call a balanced field. That is, there’s exactly enough runway to allow for an engine failure, then a continued take-off on one engine or a safe stop on the runway. This is not just a short runway contingency either–the miles long runways at both Denver and Mexico City are often barely long enough in the summer heat due to their mile-high altitude.

Either way, the safe stop depends upon all of the stopping systems–spoilers, brakes, hydraulics, electrics–all working. You have a split second to decide. And in all of the above locations, there is no overrun. You’re going off the airport at high speed, loaded with fuel.

When I take-off from a balanced field, I divide the focus and tasking this way: the first officer will make the take-off. He is the “go” guy, meaning if I don’t take over and abort, we’re flying. He has but one task, no matter what, one engine or two, malfunctions or not: fly.

I, on the other hand, am the “stop” guy. I’m only looking for the Big Four as we call them: engine failure, engine fire, windshear, structural failure. I’m looking for those and only those–not both malfunctions and take-off performance. Because my righthand man is zeroed in on that.

We both then have individual, singular focus on the critical items in two opposing but now separate dynamic realms. It’s simple. It’s smooth, it’s reliable.

And it’s not possible with a single pilot.

Same theory of separation is vital on low visibility, bad weather landings, only this time the roles are reversed: I’m flying and looking outside for critical landing references, the First Officer’s entire focus is inside on the instruments, looking for any anomaly that would require a discontinued approach.

The O’Leary method, apparently, is to simply roll it all into one and save a few bucks per plane on pilot salaries. Never mind split second decisions, separation of critical duties and focus and ultimately, your safety.

Which might result in a few bucks of savings on your Ryanair ticket. But be prepared to give it back to them in flight eventually anyway.

That is, if you can muster the courage to fly on an airline whose CEO sees everything in terms of dollars and cents–but has little common sense himself.

Airline Passengers: Are YOU “That Guy?”

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, hotels, layover, life, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Chris Manno

You know “that guy,” the one passenger, man or woman, who is annoying bordering on obnoxious–but is the only one who doesn’t recognize what a pain they are.

There’s always “that guy” at some point in the day’s thousand or so miles in the air. Typically, 350 to 450 passengers over the multiple flight legs board and deplane and in between, one or more reveal themselves as “that guy.”

Who’s he? Let me introduce you.

First, there’s the mangled lingo guy. Going to make conversation in the argot of the crew, right? What “runs” are you doing? That’s my favorite, although don’t forget the close cousin, what’s your route?

Both tired questions conjure the image of Ralph Kramden for me. Except that the average bus driver never aimed a 75 ton pile of pig iron ripping along at 200 miles per hour at a concrete slab he couldn’t see until a matter of second before the wheels finally touched the ground, nor navigated the same beast 7 miles up at 500 miles per hour.

There’s Ralphie’s “Main Street to 4th” run, and there’s my flight sequence, which is usually 3 legs somewhere to somewhere, then a hotel.

I don’t have a “run” or a “route,” because after 24 years, I really don’t care about most destinations anyway. Rather, like most flight crew members who’ve been around a while, I’m all about whatever flight sequence–2 or 3 days–requires the least amount of time away from home.

Destination? Who cares, although I do try to fly south in the winter, vice versa in the summer (all birds do that, right?) to lessen the weather hassles in and out of the airport. But as far as the “glam” spots? Puerto Vallarta, Cabo, Miami, New York? Who cares? I’d rather be at home with my family.

Part of that is the “been there, done that” effect of hundreds of “runs” (JUST KIDDING–it’s “trips”), part of it is the weariness of the suitcase life, being on the road and NOT having your place, your stuff and most importantly–your time. Because it’s not your time, it’s a work schedule.

Once in Puerto Vallarta, the hotel ran out of standard rooms and put me (“El Capitan,” they said) in the Presidential Suite. Two problems with that:

1. I spent the night sleeping with one eye open, just knowing a band of drug cartel banditos would eventually kick the door in, kidnap me mistakenly (“No, I’m just a lowly crewmember, not a gazillionaire who could afford this outrageous luxury and by the way–check out the grand piano in the living room!”) and then mail home my chopped-off ear with a ransom note, although Darling Bride would probably request a larger appendage as confirmation and the airline would deny even knowing me. Not good rest there.

2. The luxury suite just reminds me that I’m NOT on vacation, I’m not here with my family enjoying beach time or happy hour or the scarf-till-you-barf “Can I Get Immodium With That” buffet. I have to get up early and get my butt back into the polyester and get to work. Just stick me in a broom closet for my lavish nine and a half hours at sea level.

Besides that, I usually don’t even check where I’m going until the night prior and up until then, I’m probably trying to trade my trip for any open trip requiring a captain that has less time away and less work involved. So we really don’t have “runs” or “routes” anyway, and I’ll trade any trip for Tulsa-Omaha if it gets me home quicker and less painfully.

The next “that guy?” He’s “Mr. I Have Frequent Flyer Status.” He–or she, often–differs from the real frequent flyer who is characterized by the efficiency with which he boards, stows his things, sits down, says “please” and “thank you” and doesn’t make a nuisance of himself.

I'm a "Triple-Axel" elite!

By contrast, those who are impressed by their mileage category or the goofy distinctions airlines dreamed up to make them feel important (“I’m a premium/zirconium/gold circle/fat cat/lead pipe/triple Axel status holder . . .”) run headlong into those who are simply trying to do a good job for everyone, despite the marketing opiate of mileage status.

"Ain't I got status!"

This person is likely to remark to me at some point, “Bet I have more time in ‘these babies’ than you do.” Doubtful, unless you’re in the air more than 900 hours a year and even then, actually flying “these babies” requires more than napping in back in a filthy seat between snoring mothers with squalling lap kids–but better you than me.

Finally, the least obnoxious but often the most disturbing:

We know why you fly: it's cheaper than Greyhound and Amtrak has a dress code.

Unlike the “Status Dork,” these folks don’t mean to be annoying and often, don’t have the experience to not be that way. Never mind the little things like asking if there’s a toaster or microwave in the galley (“Sure–right by fridge and the sink”) or using the lav in only socks or less (“Ewww, but thanks for mopping the floor!”), it’s the stopping dead in the middle of a moving terminal throng, or never knowing their own travel details:

“Is this my gate?” “Give me a hint: where are you going? And god forbid, what’s your flight number?”

It’s just the unfamiliarity with the environment–like me in the dentist’s office or the American Girl Store–

That's NOT me--I took the picture.

it’s the circumstances that make normal people (the “beast” playing with dolls) do silly-looking things they wouldn’t otherwise do, especially if they knew how it made them look. Get the picture?

So if you don’t fly often, it’s not your fault, BUT GET A CLUE:

Dress appropriately. This ain’t a garage sale or a day at the beach. In my Air Force flying, we were told to–and I did–consider the effects of fire on your flying garb. And so we wore Nomex fire-retardent flight suits and even gloves though often it was pretty hot in the cockpit, with cotton underneath, mindful of the melting-onto-bare-flesh effect of artificial fibers when jet fuel burns.

Okay, you don’t need to be that paranoid, but is the T-shirt, cut-offs and flip flops thing going to work for you on your way home from O’Hare in January, never mind if you make an unexpected stop?

Besides, every type of clothing doesn’t look good on every type of body, so just because you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily look good in whatever they wear there.

When you get home with your Bolivian halter top or bead-laced hair, in the context of a normal day–you’re going to ask yourself “why the hell did anyone think this looked good?” Trust me: we’re asking that as you walk through the airport and onto the plane.

Nix the wife beater shirt, the ripped garage-cleaning wardrobe, the beach wear. Just dress decently and act that way, too. Know where you’re going and on which flight. Say please and thank you where appropriate, and try not to be too impressed with your mileage status or how many hours you have “in these babies.” Things will work out better that way.

And you won’t be “that guy.”

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Click here to listen to my interview along with the P.R. Director of Air Tran Airlines and the regular panel of Airplane Geeks discussing pending airline legislation, The Passenger Bill of Rights, the replacement of Air Force One, and many passenger-related airline issues.

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Congress vs. Commuter Pilot Experience: Wrong Answer

Posted in air travel, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2010 by Chris Manno

The image of Senator Chuck Schumer grinning over the signing of the senate bill that adds new restrictions on commuter pilots is as misguided as the the bill itself.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York

Here’s why. The crash of Continental Express flight 3407 last year–the driving force behind the bill–was only indirectly linked to co-pilot inexperience, which is the major focus of the bill.

In fact, the primary vulnerability of the flying public, which is ostensibly the reason for the new law, is written clearly on the burning wreckage of the plane:

It’s the airline logo that threatens the public’s safety: as with many commuter subsidiaries of major airlines, they’re marketed seamlessly as the same airline product–but they couldn’t be more different. The pilots of Continental Airlines, as with any major airline, have thousands of hours of experience over many years. The reason the commuter pilots are not flying for a major airline is largely because they don’t have that level of experience yet.

The place they get the experience? At the commuters–which are nonetheless branded and marketed, right down to the pilots’ uniforms–with the logos and schedules of a major airlines. As if it were the same product.

But contrary to the logo on the wreckage, this was not the crash of a Continental Airlines flight–rather, this was Colgan Airways flight 3407 painted as, marketed and booked as and flown by a commuter subsidiary with comparatively inexperienced pilots. It’s as disingenuous as the Los Angeles Dodgers selling you a ticket to a major league game–and then fielding their farm team, the Suns, for a few innings.

The ticketing process for air travel may involve connections with “partners” who are branded as the same product, with identical paint jobs, crew uniforms and zero distinction in the booking and scheduling. At least in baseball, you’d clearly know that the team was different because unlike the major airlines and their commuter affiliates–the baseball farm club doesn’t share the same uniforms, logos and branding of the major league team. Sure, many of the minor league players will eventually move up to the big leagues–when they’ve proven themselves. That’s the purpose of the farm system in both baseball and airline pilots: when they’re ready–if ever, and not everyone is–they may find a spot on a big league roster.

Can passengers determine whether or not their flight is operated by a commuter airline or a major carrier? Sure. In fact, a few clicks on this site (and it’s just one of many similar sites) will reveal what type of aircraft a booking is putting you on and as importantly, who’s flying the airplane. But will consumers check?

And do they really care?

After the Valujet crash in the Florida Everglades, airline experts warned that consumers would shun the airline. But economists predicted otherwise, and they were correct: $50 ticket discounts brought passenger level back to normal in a remarkably short time.

Meanwhile, cereal makers are required to disclose nutritional information on the box. Grocery stores can’t sell you powdered Tang and label it as Minute Made orange juice, and would consumers allow a rental car company to slap a Caddy logo on a KIA and rent it as a luxury sedan?

Last year, congress debated the “Truth in Labeling Act” which was designed to protect animals by making consumers aware of the actual contents of their food. Labels were required to be specific about nutritional value and specific food content.

Why in the world is there no truth in labeling act for the airline product? While higher standards for regional level co-pilots is a symbolic move toward greater competence, the point is until they have that experience, they’ll stay in the minor leagues which has always been the farm team system of the major airlines. Consumers should be aware of this fact, as well as the fact that although the uniform may be identical, the players are not.

Maybe as in the case of ValuJet, passengers don’t really care about experience or safety margins as much as price. But I suspect that many do and as importantly, it is the government’s responsibility to regulate exactly what product is being sold, and clearly specify what it is–or is not.

Because while minor league ball can be fun to watch, if your life depended on it, don’t you think you’ve paid for and should expect the first string?

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The other side of the story?

Here’s a firsthand account of commuter pilot life from an ex-Air Force colleague and one of the most respected pilots to ever wear USAF wings. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

“This Is Captain Minimum Speaking . . .”

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, Uncategorized, vmi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2010 by Chris Manno

I made it through college by adhering to the premise that if the minimum wasn’t good enough, it would be the minimum, would it?

That at least let me survive four years of fascism and “military rigor” as it’s more pleasantly termed, in “college.”

Actually, the “minimum” theory conspired to keep me there: my GPA was just high enough to stay enrolled (I was on the Dean’s “other” list) but too low to transfer. So as my fellow bottom dwellers termed it over 150 years of minimal academic performance, I was “flunked in.” Nonetheless, the college degree and class ring were of the same material as everyone else’s. I think.

Beyond that, I believe the minimalist approach actually worked in my favor when it came to the intense competition for Air Force flight training. We had hundreds of cadets who wanted to go, but only four of us were selected. I have a feeling that the hard academic work by my peers at the premier engineering school that VMI is forced the Air Force’s hand: they knew what to do with engineers and needed them badly. So they snapped them up and put them to work in serious stuff like aerospace and civil engineering. Boring.

Me, on the other hand, and one of my best friends who was also selected, both of us having a degree in English therefore had no real potential in the serious stuff of the Air Force. I envision the Air Force personnel managers throwing up there hands and saying, “What the heck–they have no useful skills; send them to Flight Training.”

Good deal. In flight school, I once again employed the “minimum” principle with just a slight modification: probably we could say I established an economy of effort just short of being killed in the process. There was little danger of death in the study of English lit, but starting that year there has been a regular litany of flying colleagues who don’t live through the day’s work.  But even with that additional caveat, I still managed with minimal effort to be in the exclusive flight trio known as The Shit Brothers for the next year.

The Wolfpack’s “Shit Bros.:” Animal (now an AA 777 Captain), me (Landshark), Father-O (Fedex A-300 Captain)

We didn’t overdo the whole “studying” thing to the detriment of our health or recreation, certainly. In fact, in retrospect I would have to say that we emulated the finest trio in the history of teamwork: lots of laughs, some of them painful, but still.

So of course there were those who were amazed not only at our successful completion of the program, but also that we didn’t kill ourselves in the process (some did, every year).

Fresh breath in the afterlife.We stayed minimally clear of that razor’s edge–especially flying in formation–and defied the odds which were clearly against us. Nonetheless, our wings were the same material as everyone else’s. I think.

So in gratitude for the trust plus the millions of dollars the Air Force spent on us, and for their letting us fly their multi-million dollar jets around solo and supersonic like we knew what we were doing even though we barely did, we swore we’d serve the United States Air Force to the death, or to retirement, whichever came first.

That lasted about five years. Then, the call of the airlines became too great to ignore: of the original 17 Wolfpack pilots, all but 3 ended up in airline cockpits. And it’s a different world.

Different, because now the minimum is you–the passenger. My world revolves around the minimum when it comes to you.

What’s the minimum visibility I can tolerate and still land you safely where you want to go? How much fuel must I hold in reserve to escape the holding pattern and even the weather at our destination, to keep you safe?

How much clearance can I get between us and the weather? What’s the minimum stopping distance on that rainslicked runway we’re heading towards at 200 miles per hour?

How quickly and safely can my crew get back out to the airport after a 14-hour day with minimum rest time (the industry standard: 8 hours behind the door of a hotel room) and more challenges ahead?

How long will this de-icing last for us, given my own judgment of the snowfall rate and quantity? Sure, someone else will give you an answer to all of these questions–but whose responsibility is it? Who really needs to know and better find out the correct answer without relying on anyone who isn’t also putting their ass on the line.

Yup, that’s the minimum these days: how do I keep you safe? Why shouldn’t we take off now? What do I need as a safety margin at our destination–or we don’t land and instead divert?

I know you have a schedule to meet, that you have a destination with appointments and people waiting. I really don’t care though, when it comes to the minimums of safety and common sense. That’s what you pay for and that’s what you’ll get: a safe trip. Maybe missed meetings or disappointed families or lost opportunities or vacations or whatever. But the important thing is you will arrive.

That’s the new minimum, because I will never accept anything other than that, and certainly nothing less. And when you’re on board and upset over delays and diversions, let me remind you: if the minimum wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum, would it?

Really, I’ll bet you wouldn’t have it any other way.

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High altitude oriental salad.

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The Big 5 Conspire To Ruin Your Air Travel

Posted in air travel, aircraft maintenance, airline delays, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, elderly traveller, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, passenger, passenger bill of rights, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2010 by Chris Manno

Want to know who to blame for your airline hassles? Here are “The Big 5” conspiring to ruin your air travel:

1. Congress. In an ill-conceived attempt to legislate a “one-size-fits-all” solution to largely anomalous and often anecdotal reports of airline tarmac delays, Congress enacted a law effective April 29th mandating multi-million dollar fines for airlines with aircraft delayed longer than a specified time, hoping to lessen passenger delays. But the law will have the opposite effect: instead of freeing passengers from tedious hours-long delays, this bill will create indefinite delays and cancellations of flights, stranding passengers enroute and at origination airports (for an in-depth analysis of the downside of this disastrous bill, click here).

Continental Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek said his airline will be forced to cancel flights rather than risk fines in the millions for an extended tarmac delay. The ultimate impact of this unavoidable cancellation for the traveler?

You will find yourself along with hundreds of other on the stand-by list for the handful of open seats going to your destination. And there can be only a handful of seats–and they’re not going to be cheap as a walk-up fare–because of number 2 below.

2. Alfred E. Kahn.

Known as “The Father of Airline De-Regulation,” economist Alfred E. Kahn was Jimmy Carter’s Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. His blueprint for airline de-regulation was based on a flawed economic model, and was as misguided as economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s assurance to Lyndon Johnson that the Viet Nam war would be short and wouldn’t affect inflation. Kahn proposed complete de-regulation of airline routes and fares, positing that the marketplace forces would drive down ticket prices and provide the American public with cheap and plentiful airline seats.

What he failed to consider in his economic model is the fact that not only is the product–an airline seat–not inexpensive to produce, it is also linked to energy costs which are both volatile and unpredictable. “Cheap airfares” for the public are incredibly expensive to produce, forcing in the progressive “unbundling” of the airline product: now passengers must pay for each component of the flight–a checked bag, food, beverage, amenities like a pillow or a hard-copy ticket–and the revenue still only marginally covers the price of the product, with the airline industry losing billions nonetheless. Consumers insisted on paying less for an airline ticket, so now

You wanted your ticket for $10 less, now you hand that over to McD's instead.

they can cough up for food and drink at airport prices between flights. Everything must yield revenue or there is no airline, and nothing with revenue potential on board can be simply given away.

Further, Kahn didn’t foresee that many airlines would use bankruptcy as an operating shield for years (thank #1 above for not amending bankruptcy laws) to gain an unfair advantage over the few airlines that didn’t. This abuse of bankruptcy law dealt a financial beating to carriers that paid their bills but still had to compete head-to-head with many who simply walked away from their debt.

3. Airline Capacity. Every airline that intends to survive the high production cost and low revenue stream has cut capacity to the bone. This is common sense: empty seats are an unrecoverable loss and waste, and airline planners have analyzed traffic and passengers in order to minimize such waste and loss. For the traveler, this means less empty seats–seats which are vital when a flight is cancelled due to #1 above, or for the more common cancellations due to weather or equipment. Used to be that the percentage of empty seats was higher, allowing the system to absorb passengers from a cancellation or delay. Such margins are a luxury of the past with airlines having to deal with out-of-control fuel prices with an ever-shrinking revenue stream.

True, Kahn’s brainchild did spawn new entrant airlines–but they don’t have a seat surplus either, or they simply go out of business.

4. Airway Infrastructure. There are only so many take-offs that are physically possible at 5pm at LaGuardia. Although Alfred Kahn’s model says the marketplace will regulate itself, if everyone wants to sell a competitive 5pm departure, it is clearly predictable that there will be massive delays, which are the rule at airports like LaGuardia and many in the northeast, as well as from airports inbound to those airports. Kahn’s leverage, unfortunately, is you, the passenger, and the delays and misconnects you will suffer as a result. But in a free market, what business can afford to not compete in the market that customers demand? And when they do, how do they deal with number 1 above? As Continental CEO Jeff Smisek promised, there will be rampant cancellations and stranded travelers as a result.

LaGuardia’s delays are emblematic of the entire national air route system: despite Kahn’s academic model, the airways are saturated at all of the commercially viable times when passenger demand dictates the competitive environment. Which leads to more delays–and in the face of congress’s newly enacted financial penalties, cancellations and misconnects for you, the passenger.

5. The Big Box Store.

The heyday of the discount “big box store” gave rise to a consumer expectation of all products and services for steep discounts. Everything from home electronics to auto parts to furniture is now sold in bulk at drastically reduced prices by wholesalers with only minimal investment in buildings and equipment.

A new aircraft, by contrast, costs upwards of $50-$100 million per aircraft, and hundreds of such aircraft are required to produce a fleet with a competitive route structure. Further, each aircraft has to earn revenue daily despite upturns and downturns in the travel market, as well as drastic fluctuations in fuel costs which follow oil prices. Face it: the cost of an airline round trip is not the same as a set of tires or a Cowboy’s football game–but the public paradoxically expects to pay less anyway (more details–click here).

Still not convinced that cheap airline travel is an absurd expectation? Ask yourself why “cheap surgical hospitals” aren’t also a consumer demand.

Does anyone really think flight at 7 miles up and the speed of a 22 caliber bullet is any less risky than surgery? Does anyone demand the cheapest bare bones surgical “product?” Is airline pricing too high? Read this and decide.

Regardless, there remains an unrealistic expectation among consumers that somehow ticket prices should fit their budget rather than the actual cost of the product. Part of that stems from the low-overhead “big box” pricing that is the norm on other big ticket items, part from Alfred Kahn’s unrealistic promise to consumers of cheap pricing on an expensive product, and part due to congressional unwillingness to address the disparity between the two.

You tell me. These “Big 5” items have changed air travel from a Nieman-Marcus experience to a K-Mart Death March. Further, the airport and airway infrastructure are badly in need of technological upgrade.

The traveling public can make changes in #1 and #5; it’s time to junk #2, and it’s time to force #1 to make the needed upgrades to #4. The airlines themselves will take care of #3 when that happens.

Until the public and congress fix this, at least now you know whom to blame for your airline woes this travel season.

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Passenger Bill of Rights: Be careful what you wish for.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, lavatory, passenger bill of rights with tags on February 4, 2010 by Chris Manno

It’s time to let the sun go down on this very bad idea.

Barbara Boxer in the Senate and Mike Thomspon in the House introduced separate bills intended to require air carriers to provide where “the departure of a flight is delayed or disembarkation of passengers on an arriving flight that has landed is substantially delayed,” the provision of (i) “adequate food and potable water,” (ii) “adequate restroom facilities,” (iii) “cabin ventilation and comfortable cabin temperatures,” and (iv) “access to necessary medical treatment.”

Congress to the rescue!

That doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it? It’s basically The Geneva Convention for prisoners, which you might feel like when your plane is number 45 for take-off at Laguardia, a not-so-rare occurrence.

But here’s the part that as a  passenger, will ruin your life:

The airlines would also be required to “provide passengers with the option of deplaning and returning to the terminal, or deplaning at the terminal” if “3 hours have elapsed after passengers have boarded the aircraft, the aircraft doors are closed, and the aircraft has not departed,” or “3 hours have elapsed after the aircraft has landed and the passengers on the aircraft have been unable to deplane.”

That means your fate as well as your travel plans and those of a couple hundred others rest in this man’s hands:

Why? Because back in seat 27-F, he looked at his watch and demanded, after three hours of waiting, his “right to deplane.” But what about your right, and everyone else’s, to make it to their destination, albeit three hours and one minute late? And if you have bought a downline connection on a restricted, non-refundable ticket

you’re really out of luck: no refund, no further travel–and no redress from the airline you’re vegging on the tarmac with for the past three hours. You’d better have trip insurance, because whatever you’ve spent on tickets and accommodations is now swirling around here:

And if you’re in the terminal, ready to board your flight, don’t act smug–he’s also in charge of your fate, too. Because if his plane is required to return to the terminal, guess whose gate it’s going to take? And guess whose outbound flight will be cancelled as a result, flushing hundreds more people’s travel plans? You will get to thank him when you’re both standing in the long, snaky line at the ticket counter waiting to get rebooked and ultimately, travel stand-by, competing with a couple hundred others for the dozen seats available that day.

That’s right, you are screwed too, and you haven’t even had a chance to sit on the tarmac for your three hours. But each airport and each airline has scheduled their gates as tight as possible to minimize costs. There likely is no gate for you to return to–unless some other aircraft is booted off to make room. Meanwhile, your downline connection is leaving for your destination without you.

Bub-BYE, downline connection!

That’s a shame. Being as completely self-centered as I am, I wonder what this means for me, the captain on your flight? What am I supposed to do, take a vote of passengers, asking who wants to join Mr. Snappy Dresser and return to the gate? Who, like this guy,

might have different priorities and travel standards than you? And who’s taking the vote–my over worked and underpaid cabin crew? Who counts the vote? Or can you even take a vote–the bill says “passengers” have the right to deplane. Not a majority, not any specific number, really. Nice.

What's a captain to do?

Actually, my part’s the easy part. Forget about a “vote,” because democracy ends at the jetbridge. I’ll do what I always do: apply common sense to the situation. Congress gave me an out anyway, proposing that passengers would not have the option to deplane if the pilot “reasonably determines that the aircraft will depart or be unloaded at the terminal not later than 30 minutes after the 3 hour delay” or “that permitting a passenger to deplane would jeopardize passenger safety or security.”

Typical: they give you a firm policy, then offer you a way out. Because the bottom line is, well, the bottom line: the airlines don’t want to spend a dime more than is absolutely required, and congress is reluctant to force any well-funded and lobbied businesses to spend anything. Besides, most airlines are bleeding red ink: there is no money for extra gates.

More gates and more staffing both on the ramp and in the terminal costs dollars the airlines won’t spend or simply don’t have, and congress isn’t willing to fund it through appropriations.

Doesn’t really matter, though, because there really is no silver-bullet, one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of delays or deplaning during delays. If you support the congressional efforts to impose a simplistic solution to a complex problem such as this, you better be ready for the consequences.

The anecdotal stories of eight hours on the tarmac with overflowing toilets and women giving birth standing up and claustrophobic insanity are appalling. But if you realistically consider side effects of  the “Passenger Bill of Rights” as a one size-fits-all solution, you may find your travel situation to be even more tenuous than it was before congress “fixed” the problem.

Passenger Bill of Rights? Be careful what you wish for.

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