Fuel To The Fire
April  26, 2017
 
For the past few weeks, FlyersRights has been hounded by the media for comments on BumpgateLeggingsgateStrollergate and Delta’s recent weather meltdown.
It’s as if normal customer service rules don’t apply to the airlines. The industry seems immune to normal corporate pressures that influence any other customer service business.
This is an industry that has transformed the customer experience into one that most people hate. No one is happy about boarding a domestic flight in North America.
So, what are you buying when you purchase a ticket? You’re agreeing to a one-sided contract called the Contract of Carriage. Known in the law as a contract of adhesion. You either take it or don’t fly.
A panoply of punishment for passengers over the past month, involving; forcible removal from plane (United), a crew member vs. passenger blowup (American), compulsory wardrobe change from leggings (United) and Delta’s cancellation of 4000 flights in Atlanta due to severe weather.
The airlines can pretty much say or do whatever they want in these contracts.
Recently they’ve gone above and beyond the normal things and redefining what were always normal terms, like “Force Mejeure” or “Act of God”, which traditionally referred to the weather or war.
Now, airlines are saying “Act of God” includes the lack of equipment or personnel – something that used to be their responsibility.
The airlines write these one-sided contracts and get to enforce them at will. They have the protection at every level of government to do basically whatever they want. This isn’t a good thing for consumers.
The airlines are now over-consolidated corporations.  It’s an industry with very high barriers to entry. You don’t see someone casually deciding they want to start a new airline in the United States. That’s why we’ve ended up with just three large network domestic carriers –  plus the smaller Southwest, Alaska-Virgin and JetBlue. Ironically, people prefer to fly on the smaller carriers. It shouldn’t be this way.
But, cracks are emerging. Years of bottled up resentment has resulted in the blowups we’re seeing now. The public’s frustrated at how awful Economy Class has become, and fueled by how much better Business Class and First are, that they shuffle past on the way to the rear of the plane.
The passengers on Dr. Dao’s flight saw United’s Polaris branding all over the terminals at Chicago O’Hare. Images of incredible Business Class seats with glamorous crew members, all smiles, beckoning you to take a nap. This Polaris product marketing seems to be everywhere, in every airport around the world. So, everyone is aware. What a difference!
Your shuffle past First Class is intentional too, of course. Just like making everything miserable in the back of the plane is a carefully calculated strategy. It’s like two planes in one, catering to two different markets . The front is the posh, private jet, and in the back is a low-cost, discount carrier. This is a problem.
Passengers should expect to be treated with the same level of respect as they’d get in a hotel or restaurant, but instead, the experience in Economy Class on US domestic carriers does not match that.
Next time you’re on a LA to New York flight, Listen to the international passengers’ conversations, who’ve just gotten off their transpacific flights on Cathay or Qantas. Hear their dismay at the quality of the travel experience on US airlines by comparison.
The general American spirit of friendliness does not exist in the airline industry.
A Message From our President:
The lopsided power of airlines, however, goes far beyond one sided contracts of carriage. Airlines have in the Patriot Act a draconian statute making it a federal felony to disobey a flight attendant’s instructions (interference with flight crew) punishable by up to 20 years in prison plus a fine.
Hundreds of passengers have been charged under this law since 2002 for minor infractions including declining to desist from overly amorous conduct and breast feeding a baby. Things that used to be punished by a fine or misdemeanor charge.  In the United-Dr. Dao case, but for passenger video on YouTube, the report by the Chicago Airport Police stating they only used “minimal necessary force” and blamed the passenger.
Then there is the exemption of airlines from all state and local consumer protection laws and most tort law, recently confirmed by the US Supreme Court in Ginsberg vs. Northwest Airlines.
Airlines also have the right to transfer any case in state or local court to US District Court where litigation costs far exceed any normal passenger claim, other than those involving death or serious physical injury.
Couple these laws with exemption from antitrust laws granted by the US DOT for most international airline joint ventures (aka alliances), exemption of airport authorities from antitrust laws,  prohibitions on most foreign competition or foreign investment in US airlines, FAA regulations making new airport construction by private entities virtually impossible, approval of nearly all airline mergers by the Justice Department, and we have in US air travel the worst of all worlds: Lack of both reasonable regulation and competition, allowing airline abuses to fester and passengers to suffer under a regime of tyranny not tolerated for any other industry.
Paul Hudson
president, FlyersRights.org

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