Thursday, April 13, 2017

We need legislation now to make air travel less hellish, airline employees less abusive

As Twisted Sister says, We don't have to take it from the airlines any more

     United Airlines called in the police to severely beat one of its already boarded passengers this week for refusing to give up his seat on an aircraft. And the nation took notice.
    The president of the company initially blamed the victim, claiming that United agents had followed established policy and that the 69-year-old doctor who was dragged off the plane was “belligerent.” Neither of these statements is true: Airlines have no right to “bump” passengers who have already boarded an aircraft, and in this case the doctor was quietly minding his own business until the the United agents unlawfully tried to take his seat; even then the doctor firmly refused, but there have been no reports of belligerence. So on top of a bloody face the poor man was defamed to a national audience by the president of the company.
    To make matters worse, United’s victim had a sordid sexual past involving the giving out of prescription pain pills to a lover and the suspension of his medical license almost two decades ago. At some point he was said to have “anger management” issues. Although there is no evidence that he was disruptive on the flight, various press outlets trumpeted this news, so that the whole world now knows of this poor bloody-faced man's tawdry conduct two decades ago. So what we have is a United Airlines passenger who has been beaten, defamed by the president of the company, and totally humiliated by the press for exercising his contractual right to not give up his seat on an airplane. This from an airline with the slogan: "Fly the Friendly Skies."
    This man isn’t alone. Most of the airlines treat all of us like crap; United just has the worst reputation of the lot. Shortly after this story went viral another disgruntled United passenger told about how he was ejected from his paid first class seat and forced to sit in a economy middle seat between a feuding couple because somebody “more important” arrived at the gate at the last minute. When he tried to stand his ground he was told to give up his first-class seat or he would be put in handcuffs.
    Most of us have no problem with the airlines bumping passengers; we know it’s part of the business. But there is a difference between bumping someone prior to boarding and yanking someone who has already boarded off a plane because someone the airline deems more important has arrived at the last minute. Once passengers board a plane their rights are governed by the Contract of Carriage, and airlines that bully passengers need to face government fines, civil actions, and criminal charges.
    But we need more. For the past several years the airlines have intentionally been making their coach product as wretched as possible to give passengers an incentive to pay a much higher  price for premium seats. For example, the 747 and the 777 flew for years with nine-across seating, with a relatively comfortable seat width of about 18.5 inches. A few years ago several airlines added a 10th seat, even though it meant reducing the seat width to an incredibly narrow 17 inches, which was unheard of on long-haul jets. The Boeing 787 was designed for comfortable eight-across seating, but the airlines crammed in an extra seat making this the most uncomfortable plane in the sky. Certainly there is no evidence that the American public is getting skinnier.
    Adding these seats adds very little net revenue. A tenth seat increases row gross revenue by 11 percent, but this increase also comes with substantial expenses, in that it does cost real money to fly people from here to there, and an increased passenger load requires increased staffing; the net revenue increase is probably less than five percent per row. Most of us would gladly pay five or six percent more to fly in comfort rather than absolute misery. But we aren't offered that option; instead we can pay double or more for a much larger Premium Economy seat. I don't want to pay double for something I don't need; I want to pay five or six percent more for the same width we've flown with for years.
    Airlines say that customers only shop for low fares, and they have to offer the most stripped-down product imaginable. Perhaps. But this is where government regulation has a role in protecting society. Congress needs to enact legislation protecting to protect the flying public.
    ● We need protection from heavy handed actions by the airlines. No one who has boarded an aircraft should ever be required to give up their seat to someone “more important.” Airline employees who bully innocent passengers with threats of arrest should themselves face criminal charges.
    ● We need regulations concerning minimum seat width and pitch (legroom). Planes with eight or more seats across should be required to have a minimum seat width of eighteen inches and most planes should be required to have a minimum seat pitch of 31 inches (As a practical matter, this means the 747 and 777 should be limited to nine seats across and the 787 to eight seats. This might result in slightly higher fares, but it will also reduce the number of air rage incidents, as well as health problems associated with being crammed into a small space for a long time. The best way to enforce this is by placing a small tax on airline tickets for nonconforming seats; airlines wishing to sell tickets for a mini-seat will have to add a tax to the ticket price, thus eliminating the incentive for these abominable seating arrangements.
    ● Young children should receive an assigned seat next to an adult at the time of booking. If the airline wants to charge extra for this assigned seat, fine, but families shouldn’t be forced or allowed to engage is desperate on-plane efforts to convert five middle seats into five seats together. It’s not fair to the family and it’s not fair to the other passengers.
    ● We need for the government to do a better job of explaining exactly what the rights of the airlines are and exactly what the rights of the passengers are. And then we need for those rights to be enforced by the courts, by the Department of Transportation, and of course by us, the flying public. And when airline employees use the police to violate customer rights, those employees should face criminal charges themselves.

    Those who are tired of the airlines running roughshod over the citizenry should contact their congressman and ask for regulations to protect the flying public. You may do so by clicking on the links below:

To email Sen. Thad Cochran, click here.

To email Sen. Roger Wicker, click here.

To email Rep. Trent Kelly, click here.