Working in DC on the DOT rulemaking

Perhaps the most mysterious acronym in Washington is NPRM. It stands for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This is where the rubber meets the road in government. This is where the regulations are written to put laws into effect.

It is through the rulemaking process that consumer groups prevailed and got tarmac delay rules created. It is through the rulemaking process that the 24-hour rule, which allows passengers 24 hours within which to change their minds about most airline tickets or correct mistakes. It was through the rulemaking process that lost luggage and bumping compensation were increased.

Today, the new rules being considered will require airlines to disclose extra fees when consumers are purchasing their airline tickets. If Travelers United prevails, new DOT rules will allow airline passengers to see not only airfares when they check prices to compare across airlines, but also extra baggage and seat-reservation fees. And, perhaps, more.

Having a team of consumers, with the interests of consumer travelers working in Washington, DC, is something travelers never had prior to the creation of Travelers Unites (formerly Consumer Travel Alliance). But, today our organization is involved in travel from ticket purchase and advertising rules to hotel reservation fees, and from rental

Oh my, I lost my ID. How am I going to get home?

If you’re a US citizen or resident, traveling in the U.S., and your government issued photo ID, is lost or stolen, or worse, if you’re in a foreign country and your passport is lost or stolen, you don’t have to panic. Your fate won’t be the same as Charlie’s in the Kingston Trio’s song, “The Man Who Never Returned.”

When your driver’s license goes missing, immediately filed a police report. The police faxed her a copy of the report. She went to the airport and presented the police report to the TSA agent at the entrance to security. Seeing the report, the TSA agent asked if she had a Costco Card. She did. She caught a break, but you can’t depend every TSA Officer will accept it. The Costco card has its member’s photo embedded in the card. She got through security and flew home.

Most of us don’t have some kind of second photo ID when we travel, but we still can get through TSA security when traveling in the US if our government issued photo ID has been lost or stolen.

According to TSA,
Adult passengers (18 and over) are required to show a US federal or state-issued photo ID … in order to be allowed to go through the checkpoint and onto

Airline passengers beg, “Treat us like dogs”

Seat pitch in planes keeps shrinking; seats themselves become thinner and less comfortable; and the width of seats is getting narrower as Americans get, shall we say, broader. Let’s face it, coach passengers are facing a squeeze that they have never experienced before in the history of aviation.

Pets, on the other hand, are protected by specific space, food and water requirements. With the differences between the front of the plane and the back of the plane getting more dramatic, passengers are beginning to think that some kind of human minimum space requirements should be mandated.

Now that airlines have discovered their perverse marketing logic that discomfort helps them sell more seats with pitch, all humane considerations for adequate seat dimensions seem to have been tossed aside. Worse, passenger discomfort has become a profit center.
You might call it a game of aeronautical chairs that will directly affect passenger comfort, convenience and cost.

Two experts with inside knowledge of the airline seat industry — a vice president at a seat manufacturer and a nationally recognized expert in the study of body measurements — recently talked frankly about some of the reasons behind the anger and discomfort.

Americans are getting bigger, says Kathleen Robinette, who’s

Flight attendants: still the unsung heroes of 9/11

Over the years since 9/11, there have been many ceremonies, new memorials and remembrances for those who died in that day’s tragic events. The 9/11 Memorial Museum opened this year, fulfilling the desires of many of the families whose loved ones died in the Twin Towers.

Police officers, firefighters and other first responders gather every year with politicians on stages across America. Yet few remember that the first casualties of the terrorist attacks were flight attendants. Sadly, airline crew members are almost never included in the tributes.

That’s a shame.

I’ve said so on every anniversary of the September attacks, and I’ll say it again this year.

Airline flight attendants are the unsung heroes and frontline foot soldiers in this country’s “war on terrorism.” The stress on our airline systems has increased and will only get worse. And yet flight attendants continue to report to work every day, ready to do what they can to keep us safe. I hope the traveling public does not take them for granted.

Every time a plane takes off, every time a traveler stands up and walks toward the cockpit, and every time a passenger ducks behind his seat to dig through carry-on luggage, flight attendants go on

By |September 11th, 2014|Airline|0 Comments|
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    Consumer Groups ask DOT to move quickly on airline price transparency

Consumer Groups ask DOT to move quickly on airline price transparency

Here is the text of a letter that was sent to the Secretary of Transportation this week. Some of the largest consumer groups and those focused on travel asked Secretary Foxx to make sure that new rules being formulated to disclose airline extra fees to consumers are not delayed.

September 10, 2014

The Honorable Anthony Foxx
Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Regarding DOT-OST-2014-0056-0079

Dear Secretary Foxx,
We consumer groups are writing to you to urge the Department to focus on what we
consider the core issue in the current airline consumer protections NPRM – the
consumer’s ability to see, compare and buy ancillary fees. Consumers do not want
to see this issue delayed again should other portions of the complicated NPRM
require more study and analysis.

A robust docket shows that American consumers need and demand price
transparency, the ability to comparison shop increasingly complex airline tickets
along with fees for ancillary services and the ability to purchase those services
wherever airlines choose to sell their tickets.

The solution is simple. The DOT’s final rule should ensure that:
• Airline consumers can see the full cost of flying including basic ancillary fees.
• Airline consumers are able to comparison shop across airlines including
passenger and flight specific ancillary fees.
• Airline consumers are

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    Head of Travelers United to speak at ABA conference in Montreal

Head of Travelers United to speak at ABA conference in Montreal

The ABA Forum on Air & Space Law, with McGill University’s Institute of Air & Space Law, will hold its annual conference in Montreal on Sept. 18-19. The event will feature a series of panels with senior airline executives and key government decision makers concerning matters of critical importance to the aviation industry, including consumer rights, labor law issues, divergent interpretations of the Warsaw/Montreal Conventions, international aviation traffic rights, and global competition law issues.

The only consumer representative selected to present at this conference full of the world’s top aviation lawyers, is Charlie Leocha, Chairman of Travelers United. He will be speaking as a member of a panel discussion about

By |September 2nd, 2014|News|0 Comments|

Travel news: Hotels add fees like airlines, Best/worst cars in America, bus beats plane for short trips

Mimicking the airlines, hotels get fee-happy

Guaranteeing two queen beds or one king bed will cost you, as will checking in early or checking out late. Don’t need the in-room safe? You’re likely still paying. And the overpriced can of soda may be the least of your issues with the hotel minibar.

Vacationers are finding it harder to anticipate the true cost of their stay, especially because many of these charges vary from hotel to hotel, even within the same chain.

Coming out of the recession, the travel industry grew fee-happy. Car rental companies charged extra for services such as electronic toll collection devices and navigation systems. And airlines gained notoriety for adding fees for checking luggage, picking seats in advance, skipping lines at security and boarding early. Hotel surcharges predate the recession, but recently properties have been catching up to the rest of the industry.

The most hated car company in America is

The most-loved car makers include Mercedes-Benz DDAIY, +0.66% which holds its No. 1 spot from last year despite a 2% decline in customer satisfaction, and Subaru 7270, -0.20% Morgeson says that the dominance of Mercedes-Benz isn’t surprising, as luxury cars — thanks to often superior quality and service — often

By |September 1st, 2014|News|0 Comments|
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    Rep. DeFazio comments on and misquotes his misguided Transparent Airfares Act

Rep. DeFazio comments on and misquotes his misguided Transparent Airfares Act

Finally, after months of attempting to figure out the motivation of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) in co-sponsoring the anti-consumer Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 together with Bill Shuster (R-Penn), Mr. DeFazio responds to an op-ed in his local newspaper.

Though Mr. DeFazio claims that the op-ed opposing his bill contained inaccuracies, Mr. DeFazio’s defense of his bill was replete with inaccuracies. Mr. DeFazio misquoted his own bill, and misstates the current Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that his bill was designed to replace.

I am dissecting Mr. DeFazio’s comments because what he claims the bill says and what it really says are two different things. The claimed purpose of the bill is far better served by leaving the DOT rule it aims to replace, in force.

These misstatements either indicate that Mr. DeFazio doesn’t really understand the significance of the legislation or that he is being disingenuous. It would be far better if he were to admit that he was hoodwinked by the airline lobbyists and that he made a mistake. That would put to rest the questions about why Mr. DeFazio supports this legislation. (Here is a link to the full text of this bill.)

In the first paragraph of his defense,

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    Travel News: In-flight entertainment BYOD, wearable technology in flight, Dallas-to-DFW rail link

Travel News: In-flight entertainment BYOD, wearable technology in flight, Dallas-to-DFW rail link

Air passengers prefer their own gadgets over seat-back options

Airline passengers generally like the idea of ditching seat-back onboard video screens and instead wirelessly streaming movies and TV shows to their own portable devices, such as laptops and iPads, according to a new study.

But passengers also expect some kind of compensation, such as more free entertainment or lower ticket prices, from airlines which will save money by eliminating the screens aboard their aircraft, according to the research report, “Airline Passengers Receptive to BYOD Future” by market research firm Osurv.

The study said the U.S. airline industry’s trend toward BYOD – bring your own device – video entertainment delivered wirelessly is “its most significant cost-cutting campaign since tacking on fees for checked baggage and inflight meals.”

How wearable technology can revolutionize IFE, empower crew and redefine the onboard passenger experience

“Cabin crew could send private or group messages in multiple languages directly to passengers wearing smartglasses. Food selections, passenger requests or medical info could also be sent directly to the cabin crew.” Live flight information, updates on delays, re-routes and bookings could also be communicated via smartglasses “without the need for laptops and other bulky computing devices”.

Google Glass is best for hands-free use cases,

By |August 26th, 2014|News|0 Comments|
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    Travel news: US High-speed rail, a joke; Asians in Europe; Tourism in Turkey, US Airline profits

Travel news: US High-speed rail, a joke; Asians in Europe; Tourism in Turkey, US Airline profits

“America’s High-Speed Rail Dream Has Become a Global Joke”

Last week, People’s Daily, the newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, ran a lengthy analysis of high-speed rail development under the headline, “America’s High-Speed Rail Dream Has Become a Global Joke.”

Seeing the “revolutionary impact” high-speed rail has had on the economies and on people’s daily lives in China and Europe, it said, “Americans’ high-speed rail dream has become increasingly intense.” But, it adds, “though America leads in freight rail, its passenger rail conditions are terrible.” The article cites, by way of example, a train ride from Washington to Boston that was scheduled to take between six and seven hours but took 13 hours because of heavy rain.

Asia’s role in tourism: You ain’t seen nothing yet

It being peak tourist season in Paris, there were queues everywhere, and this was the biggest sign of change: There were as many Asian faces as Caucasian in those lines.

On the Bateaux Mouche and at Moulin Rouge, Asian faces dominate. These are the new markets of first-time travelers. And, well, first-time travelers have got to do the main tourist sights before they move on elsewhere.

At Moulin Rouge, Fanny Rabasse, the head of communications, told me