Flying Off into the Sunset
Kate Hanni, Vocal Advocate for Passenger Rights, Steps Down
Unwavering Commitment to Improving Airline Passenger Rights
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
|FlyersRights’ Executive Director, Kate Hanni, announced she is stepping down after nearly seven years of unwavering commitment to improving airline passenger rights, due to personal and family reasons.
During her tenure, Ms. Hanni championed consumer priorities, protecting airline passengers by founding FlyersRights.org, a thriving 25,000+-member non-profit consumer advocacy organization that empowered the flying public with a powerful voice.
Ms. Hanni served as organization’s nationally-recognized spokesperson.
She has made over 3,500 appearances on multiple media outlets to raise awareness, and in the process, became a nationally recognized and significant political force.
Under Ms. Hanni’s leadership, FlyersRights established emergency and anonymous tip hotlines, gathered thousands of stories of disgruntled passengers and built a comprehensive action plan for the airline passengers’ Bill of Rights for Members of Congress and the media.
In perhaps her signature move, Ms. Hanni pushed for heavy fines for airlines that left passengers stranded on planes during long tarmac delays. Since the fines, the delays have almost disappeared. This DOT ruling came after a decade of intermittent calamities and inaction.
We at FlyersRights wish to thank Kate Hanni, who started the organization from scratch, with great personal and financial sacrifice and went well beyond what could be expected. FlyersRights was built out of conviction that airline passengers’ rights should count as much as airlines’ rights.She devoted a huge chunk of her life to testifying in Congress, speaking to the media, travel and much more. For that, we are eternally grateful to Kate.
READ MORE: U.S. imposes 3-hour limit on tarmac delays
READ MORE: Days of long tarmac delays may be over
In December 2009, FlyersRights got passed a time limit that airlines couldn’t leave passengers on planes sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours without letting them get off. The rule was later expanded to prevent four-hour delays on international flights. The rule threatened fines up to $27,500 per passenger.
The next major rule was announced in April 2011 and required airlines to post their full airfares, including all government taxes, in every advertised price. Other parts of the rule required airlines to reimburse passengers for bag fees if their bags are lost and allow passengers to cancel reservations within 24 hours without penalty.
Airlines fought the rule in court. They argued that forcing the most prominent advertised fare to include taxes violated the First Amendment and that allowing cancellations within 24 hours was arbitrary and capricious.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the rule last July as within the department’s power to prevent unfair or deceptive practices in the industry.
Passengers are now able to hold a reservation without payment, or cancel a booking without penalty for 24 hours after the reservation is made, if they make the reservation one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date. In addition, airl
ines are required to promptly notify passengers of flight delays of over 30 minutes, as well as flight cancellations and diversions, and they are prohibited from increasing the price of passengers’ tickets after purchase.
Enforcement fines against airlines for civil violations ranging from aircraft maintenance to misleading advertising nearly doubled during her leadership.
The first tarmac-delay fine, against American Eagle for $900,000, was announced in November 2011. The fine was for 15 flights with lengthy delays in thunderstorms the previous May 29 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
The threat was potent even before that. From when the rule went into effect in April 2010 through November 2012, the most recent statistics available, airlines have reported 90 tarmac delays of at least three hours, according to the DOT. That compares to 1,213 lengthy tarmac delays from the start of reporting in October 2008 to April 2010.
Fines grew significantly. From 2009 through 2012, the department issued 203 civil penalties totaling $16.5 million in fines, according to the aviation enforcement office. For comparison, the 105 penalties totaled $8.8 million during the previous four years, according to the DOT.
FlyersRights Announces Transition
The Board of Directors of FlyersRights has announced the appointment of Paul Hudson, Esq. as its new Executive Director.
Mr. Hudson has been an Executive Board Member of FlyersRights since 2010 and an Aviation Consumer Action Project (ACAP) Board Member since 1995.
In 2008 Mr. Hudson become a legal and strategic advisor to Kate Hanni, supporting the call for federal protections for airline passengers everywhere.
Together they have testified and lobbied lawmakers and DOT officials, held press conferences and staged a mock airplane stranding in Washington to publicize their cause.
Mr. Hudson represented Ms. Hanni in federal court during a class-action lawsuit against American Airlines for “false imprisonment” stemming from her 2006 stranding.
Mr. Hudson was the former president and founder of the Pan Am 103 Victims Family Organization and has been a public interest or government lawyer since 1974. Mr. Hudson is a seasoned professional with a strong commitment to the goals of FlyersRights. Paul Hudson’s 16-year old daughter Melina died on Pan Am 103, destroyed by terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
DOT Secretary, Ray LaHood, Resigns
With a track record of improving airline passenger rights, last week Secretary LaHood informed President Obama that after serving for four years at the helm of DOT, he would not be staying on for the second term.
Under Secretary LaHood’s leadership, DOT published several rounds of regulations designed to strike a better balance between airline profits and passenger rights; among them, ending excessive tarmac delays, as well as new protections that encompass lost bags and bag fees, full disclosure of additional fees and bumping and expansion of the tarmac delay rule.
LaHood’s DOT showed the regulations finally have teeth by levying hefty fines against airlines that break the rules.
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, gives LaHood a grade of B-minus.
“He certainly presided over an improvement in passenger rights. In the last year, though, he seems to have rested on the momentum that was there previously,” Hudson said.
FlyersRights presented the DOT with 19 recommen
dations last summer, he noted, including establishing an airline passenger emergency hotline and providing travelers with compensation for excessive flight delays.
But the government committee that examined the proposed reforms ignored them, Hudson said.
He hopes that whoever replaces LaHood will take a much more serious look at the recommendations.
Federal Government Aviation Leadership Changes
For the first time in history there will be a near complete change in federal government policy leadership in aviation.
In the House of Representatives the new leadership includes Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV); Aviation Subcommittee Chair Frank LoBiondo (D-NJ), Ranking Member Rick Larson, (D-WA).
In the Senate, the new leadership is Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Ranking Member Sen. John Thune (R-SD); Aviation Operations, Safety & Security Subcommittee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chair Sen. Mark Prior (D-AR) and Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA).
The Senate has confirmed Michael Huerta as FAA Administrator and Polly Ellen Trottenberg, as Under Secretary for Transportation Policy. Finally, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman is in line to be nominated as the new DOT Secretary according to the Wall Street Journal.
Outrage of the Week!
Last week, a FlyersRights member who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote to us about thesqueeze on United upgrades:
“United has started flying Coach/Business First like Continental when it was a separate airline. On my NY-LA-NY flight in December, 2012 it was a 3-cabin aircraft. Now on NY-LA-NY in February, it is a 2-cabin. This means a REAL pinch on upgrades as there is no more business class. I don’t know if they are rolling this out to other transcon flights, but I bet they are.”
“They also did away with the personal video screens in December and a flight attendant lied to me when I said I had the video player on the flight out, but they were gone on the flight back (3 day business trip!). She said they did away with them “a long time ago.” Three days is a long time ago I guess for United. This now makes business travel even more uncomfortable.”
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On behalf of all of us at FlyersRights, we’d like to express our gratitude for your years of loyalty.
Your support has been invaluable. And your help is critical to ensure we can stay here for the long term and respond to passengers rights.