Saturday, August 11, 2007

And They Call Them The Friendly Skies. Most People Call Them A Living Hell!

Tomorrow I head to Denver for some work related meetings. I just can't wait to get on that United Flight. Thank God that whenever I get on a plane, I get into my seat and within minutes, I fall asleep. That may help me if my flight gets delayed like many have been lately. US Airways said 530 flights were cancelled across the country on Thursday. One-hundred-thirty of those were out of Philadelphia. That left hundreds stranded and fed up with what they say is becoming the norm.

Burt Cole spent six hours on a plane on the tarmac to find out hours after that his flight was canceled. "On the runway for six hours, with only one engine going, so the air conditioner was only half working," said Burt. "The toilet started overflowing. They were out of drinks on the airplane." As many have seen before at Philadelphia International, weather delays caused the backlog. A scheduled paint job for one runway around noon only made the problem worse. As one US Airways officials put it, the problems just continued to pile up. "This is getting to be the norm. When you schedule flights now, you better allow yourself extra time for travel. It happens every week," said Phil Goodson of Albany, New York.

And the irony of all this continues. Virgin America, the newest U.S. start-up airline, for its inaugural flight to San Francisco International Airport from JFK International Airport in New York on August 8th, found its first flight delayed by a midsummer New York storm. The low-cost airline partly backed and fully branded by British entrepreneur Branson, was to launch with a splash of publicity. Now it's a news story. What's that say for the problem?

And when you're stuck out there on the tarmac, the horror only gets worse! A woman on a flight recently had back/hip surgery. Upon taking her pain medication with no food she vomited. She asked the stewardess to take the bag and dispose of it and her reply was "we have no TRASH BAGS you'll have to hold on to it.” And this one sound terrific. A small lap dog who had DOGGIE POOP on the seat and the owner upon being given napkins for the passenger to clean up the mess she also was told to "hold on to the mess as there were no TRASH BAGS.” And finally, after thirteen continuous hours in the same aircraft, the only food available were a few small snacks and a couple of soda pops (per person). To quote a passenger, "the toilets overflowed, and the water in the bathroom ran dry, so I was not able to wash my hands after relieving myself. - It was disgusting.”

Part of the explanation for the worsening delays is that demand for air travel is rising, both on major airlines and on smaller regional carriers. In addition, the government said weather-related delays in June were up 7 percent from a year ago. Travelers on SkyWest, a regional carrier for Delta, had it worst in June, as about 56 percent of flights arrived on time, and five of that airline's flights were late 100 percent of the time. American Airlines was barely better, with an on-time arrival rate of about 58 percent. US Airways had an on-time rate of about 62 percent.

Now here's where we need to get involved. The Coalition for Airline Passengers Bill of Rights was formed by hundreds of passengers who were stranded on several American Airlines planes for up to 9 hours at Austin International Airport, December 2006. They are proposing legislation to congress which needs our help. You can Sign Their Petition online and show support for what should be standard practice among the airline industry. Here are the proposals...

  • Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.

  • Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.

  • Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.
  • Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.

  • Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.
  • Publish and update monthly on the company’s public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least forty percent of the time, during a single month.
  • Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price

  • The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but rather passengers and consumers - that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.

  • Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real-time.

  • Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.

  • Require that these rights apply equally to all airlines code-share partners, including international partners.

These "rights" don't sound that unreasonable. I couldn't imagine what it would be like stuck on a plane for 12 hours without food or water. I think that would be a bit annoying and it's time somebody does something about this!

Besides, if I ever take a dump in one of those small little airline toilets, you can be rest assured that we'll be going back to the terminal or people will be bailing out of the emergency exits!