Archives for May 2014
Consumers and the free market are facing a full frontal attack from the airlines. Their minions have swarmed through the House of Representatives casting an untruth that members both Republican and Democrat are swallowing hook, line and sinker.
The airline’s big lie is that the Department of Transportation (DOT) rules require them to hide taxes and fees through imposition of the full-fare advertising rule. Both Republican and Democrat Representatives have signed up to sponsor HR 4156, a bill that rolls back this consumer-friendly full fare advertising rule.
This Airfare Transparency Act of 2014 is based on a lie. A Big Lie.
“If you tell a lie that’s big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap.”
Richard Belzer, UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Believe
One does not have to be a legal wizard to see that the airlines’ claims about DOT requiring them to hide taxes and fees is a lie.
• Go to any airline website and it is easy to find taxes and fees through pop-ups and links.
• Many airlines make sure that their passengers know about taxes and fees at the time of purchase.
• Read the regulation in question. It explicitly states that the airlines can “remain free to provide an itemized breakdown (displaying to the customer the amount of the base fare, taxes, and other charges), but they may not display such price components “prominently” or “in the same or larger size as the total price.”
Some airlines were concerned that passengers would not know how much of their total price consists of government imposed taxes and fees. We want to assure these carriers that nothing in this rule prohibits them from making this information available to consumers. This final rule allows carriers to advise the public in their fare solicitations about government taxes and fees, or other mandatory carrier or ticket agent imposed charges applicable to their airfares. Sellers of air transportation may have pop-ups or links adjacent to an advertised price to take the consumer to a listing of such charges, or they may display these charges on the same page in fine print if they prefer. Such charges must accurately reflect the actual costs to the carrier of the service or matter covered, be displayed on a per passenger basis, and be displayed in a manner that otherwise does not deceive consumers. Consequently, the rule requires that any such listing not be displayed prominently and be presented in significantly smaller type than the listing of the total price to ensure that consumers are not confused about the total price they must pay. Also, we are prohibiting the presentation of any “total” fares in advertising that exclude taxes, fees or other charges since the major impact of such presentations is to confuse and deceive consumers.
From the Federal Register,/Vol. 76, No. 79/Monday, April 25, 2011/Rules and Regulations Page 23143
• Airlines are allowed to highlight taxes and fees with no restrictions on their websites, on printed ticket itineraries and on boarding passes.
Even with explicit permission from DOT, airlines simply choose not to highlight these taxes and fees. However, they resort to a baseless lie. And, they keep repeating it.
Now, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are repeating airline propaganda and the Big Lie is getting legs.
In responses to constituent letters, congressmen are returning correspondence that support the airline lie. It appears that these congressmen have not even taken the time to read the regulations about which they proceed to pontificate.
From Sen. Tim Kane, Virginia, May 28, 2014, in response to a letter I sent to his office, stated:
The Transparent Airfares Act, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Bill Shuster, would permit airlines to advertise pre-tax ticket prices, with taxes and fees in separate categories. A Department of Transportation rule requires airlines to disclose the full price of tickets – including all fees and taxes – in their advertising. Some argue consumers should know how much of their flight cost is attributable to taxes and fees, rather than to the flight itself. Others argue that separating out costs in this manner gives consumers an inaccurate idea of how much they are paying, and that one bottom-line price is more useful.
This is misinformation and a repetition of the airline lie. The current regulation allows airlines to disclose taxes and fees anywhere they decide. Period. There is no need for this law other than to confuse consumers.
A Message From Congressman Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin 5th District, May 23, 2014:
I also oppose requiring airlines to hide government taxes in the ticket price. Americans have a right to know how much they are being taxed when they purchase an airline ticket.
Again, here is the Big Lie — “requiring airlines to hide government taxes in the ticket price.” There is simply no such requirement, rule or regulation.
A letter to a constituent from Congressman Michael H. Michaud, Maine 2nd Congressional District, May 9, 2014:
Currently, a rule implemented by the Department of Transportation in 2012 prohibits airlines and travel agents from providing full disclosure of government imposed taxes and fees in advertised prices.
Again, this congressman parrots the airline lie, the same airline propaganda.
As an advocate, I have never previously experienced such a concerted and prolonged period of untruths. I cannot fathom that when members of Congress and their staff can in black and white, in the Federal Register, see clearly that they are being misled by the airline propaganda, they remain steadfast in perpetuating a lie.
The continued misrepresentation of DOT rules by airline lobbyists is disgraceful. The repetition of these falsehoods by our congressmen is shameful or based on gross ignorance. In any case, the American public is not being served with integrity.
JetBlue and Singapore Airlines to launch codeshare operations
Pending regulatory approval, JetBlue and Singapore Airlines plan to launch codeshare operations.
JetBlue and Singapore Airlines have been interline partners since 2011. The expanded partnership would provide customers seamless connections between the two airlines, combining flights on both carriers and easily facilitating one-stop ticketing and baggage check-in. Flights will become available for sale pending regulatory approval.
Under the proposed codeshare, JetBlue customers would have access to five new cities in Europe and Asia, while Singapore Airlines customers would have access to 16 destinations in the U.S.
Boeing 787 receives U.S. approval for expanded flying
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has received approval for extended operations, which means they can fly on longer routes.
The approval, known as ETOPS, will allow airlines to fly routes that are up to 330 minutes, or 5-1/2 hours, away from a landing field, versus the 180-minute, or three-hour, limit in place since the Dreamliner was launched in 2011.
31 air traffic control towers with surprising charm
Aviation buffs will enjoy this gallery of air traffic control towers located throughout the world.
The air traffic control tower is the most important part of any airport, yet it’s also the most unacknowledged. Fliers seldom stop to admire their ethereal beauty and futuristic silhouettes. We’re missing out: These towers are fascinating architectural specimens.
Below you’ll find our tribute to the incredible architectural variety and delicate design of air traffic control towers all over the world.
(Photo: BriYYZ/Flickr Creative Commons)
American Airlines President Scott Kirby, speaking at a recent research conference, defended “nickel-and-diming” by the airlines.
Kirby said that charging extra for extra services is “the way many other businesses price, (yet) an airline charging ancillaries or extra for extra services gets characterized for nickel and diming … It’s inconsistent with how other industries get characterized.”
He added that the airline industry’s “regulatory history has not been very good. We’re not thought of as an industrial business (by) regulatory.” At the moment, he said, the best airlines can hope for from the government is that it “do no harm.”
Unfortunately, it is the airlines that are doing harm to themselves. The Department of Transportation (DOT), in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) released the day after Kirby’s comments, is throwing the airlines a lifeline.
The aviation industry is so ingrown and unaware of the effects of their personal and painful form of drip pricing that they see the DOT efforts as a threat rather than an opportunity.
A friend of mine asked me, “With low airfares and most planes running on time, why are we so upset with airlines?” Her answer to her own question was that passengers are being faced with a never-ending series of extra fees and nowhere can they see the final full air transportation cost. “We feel we aren’t getting the best deal because we can’t compare prices,” she finished.
Even a good deal can go bad when passengers feel like they have been treated badly. Families are under pressure to pay extra for reserved seats so that they can sit together. Stories of airlines charging $100 for a carry-on bag when the airfare is only $79 are circulated. Passengers who follow the rules find that they need to gate check hand bags when overhead bins fill are incensed. Seat reservations are mysteriously changed, ruining month-old planning. And, enormous change fees are always a shocker; especially when they apply to a family of four.
The airlines are doing all of the big things right — good on-time arrivals, fewer lost bags, text messages for flight changes. But, they are doing the little things that make customers feel special (or just like human beings, rather than cargo) poorly or not at all.
The result is an abysmal customer-service rating for airlines. Only one airline, JetBlue, ranks in the 100 top companies in the 2013 Temkin Customer Service Ratings. And, other customer-service rankings list airlines at the bottom of the heap.
So, DOT has stepped into the customer-service breach to help the airlines tell the truth and improve their customer satisfaction ratings. When customers know the prices they are paying up front, they are happier and satisfaction ratings are sure to go up.
Imagine being able to compare prices across airlines. On one screen consumers will be able to compare the full cost of travel on American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, Spirit or Alaska. They will be able to see that sometimes the nickel-and-diming airlines like Spirit and Allegiant aren’t always the cheapest alternative. They will be able to see how their ticket prices will change based on what credit cards they use. Passengers will be able to plug in frequent flier information and see which airline really offers the best deal. And, a family of four will know whether they have to pay for one or two reserved seats to guarantee that they can sit together.
When consumers know what they are paying and understand the rules of buying, they can roll with the punches. It is when the airlines sucker-punch them with obscure fees and surprise costs that they become disgruntled.
The airlines should strongly support the most recent DOT NPRM that calls for more ancillary fee transparency. These proposed DOT rules will improve customer service rankings and ultimately make the skies friendlier for the free market and for the flying public.
Europe’s best affordable castle hotels
When you’re in Europe, you don’t have to make as much as royalty to stay in a castle. Check out this guide of the castles you can stay at without paying a king’s ransom.
Tulloch Castle Hotel, Ross-shire, Scotland
Once upon a time, only the chiefs of clans could sleep in such a privileged property. Now this 12th-century castle, 45 minutes’ drive from Inverness Airport (and just 28 miles from Loch Ness), is open to all, even a rumored resident ghost.
A 250-year-old wood-paneled great hall and trappings like oversize plaid headboards, large drafty fireplaces and a family and pet cemetery — replete with overgrown scrub and an iron gate — add to the haunted atmosphere. It’s all a fitting tribute to the 20-bedroom castle’s windswept Scottish Highland location. bespokehotels.com; rooms from $108.
Alaska Airlines to launch new flights from Seattle
Alaska Airlines will launch 27 new daily flights out of Seattle-Tacoma by next spring.
Beginning in June, Alaska will launch new daily service to New Orleans and Tampa from Seattle, followed by new service to Baltimore, Detroit, and Albuquerque in September. The carrier will then begin new service to Cancun, Mexico in November.
Report: Las Vegas crowd getting younger, gambling less
A recent snapshot of Las Vegas visitors shows that the crowd is getting younger, gambling less, and spending more on food and drink than five years ago.
The 103-page report, based on thousands of surveys conducted throughout 2013, finds the average age of visitors now is just under 46. That’s four years younger than in 2009.
(Photo: Dave Conner/Flickr Creative Commons)