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airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Next time you’re in Beijing, don’t ask anyone behind the China Eastern Airlines desk which gate your flight is leaving from. They might just strike out at you for being so impertinent!

At least that’s what happened back in March when freelance journalist Matt Sheehan filmed an angry airline worker trying to hit several customers with a steel chair.

Now, I’ve heard of angry airline employees yelling at passengers and, of course, there’s the infamous case of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who deployed the emergency slide after claiming he was verbally abused by passengers. And I fully appreciate how difficult it must be for airline workers to rein in their anger when passengers are yelling at them — but this story takes the cake.

According to Sheehan, passengers waiting for a flight were ping-ponged back and forth between several departure gates as their flight was delayed later and later. After the departure gate was changed yet again, he and several other passengers went to the counter for information. Sheehan admits many of the passengers were angry.

Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

Enter the manager who tried to calm the crowd down, but also refused to acknowledge that the departure gate had been changed numerous times. And that’s when things got ugly. Two of the angry passengers lashed out; one threw a wadded newspaper at the manager, while another threw a plastic water bottle.

Take a look at how the manager reacted:



Okay, yes, the passengers shouldn’t have thrown anything. But the manager’s reaction was way out of proportion. Maybe if the passenger had thrown a knife, it would have been appropriate. But wadded newspapers and plastic bottles do not rate a steel chair response.

– written by Dori Saltzman

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Remember United Breaks Guitars, the song that became a social media sensation after a country musician had his instrument destroyed at the hands of an airline? Well, it turns out Delta breaks guitars too.

Dave Schneider, a musician with the band the LeeVees, was carrying a vintage 1965 Gibson ES-335 guitar — worth about $10,000 — on a flight from Buffalo to Detroit last month, reports Yahoo! News. On trips for past gigs, Schneider had always carried the valuable instrument onto the plane with him, but this time Delta employees at the gate wouldn’t allow it. “They said it was their policy,” Schneider told IndependentTraveler.com. “They had let me carry the guitar on [our previous Delta flight] from Portland to Philly, so why not here in Buffalo?”

Schneider reluctantly gate-checked the guitar, even though he told us that there were empty seats on the plane where he could have put the instrument, and that it would also have fit into an overhead bin. (On its Web site, Delta says, “Guitars and other smaller musical instruments, such as violins, will be accepted as your free carry-on baggage item on Delta and Delta Connection carriers flights. These items must easily fit in the overhead bin or other approved storage location in the cabin, based on available space at the time of boarding. Musical instruments may be gate claimed at the discretion of the passenger and as a result of limited overhead space.”)

After the plane touched down in Detroit, Schneider waited at the gate for his instrument to be returned, only to hear a screech from the elevator — where the guitar case was caught between it and a rail on the loading dock. Here’s how it looked when it was finally freed an hour later:



The guitar was damaged to the tune of $1,980 — more than the $1,000 Delta initially offered as compensation. After a whirlwind of media coverage, including an appearance on CNN, Schneider told us that he and Delta finally settled the issue yesterday. “They’re paying for the repairs and more,” he said.

What Not to Do at the Airport

The story has an even happier ending: Gibson, the maker of the damaged guitar, recently reached out to Schneider. The company offered him “a brand new 1963 50th Anniversary Cherry Red ES-335 due to the incident with Delta Airlines,” Schneider wrote on his Facebook page. “THANK YOU GIBSON!”

But what happens the next time Schneider needs to fly? “I might start just using ukeleles,” Schneider joked. “I really don’t know what to do. A lot of people ship their guitars, so that is a good option. But even that makes me nervous. It shouldn’t be that hard. I would pay a $50 fee to bring an instrument on the plane. I think that’s a great idea.”

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Those of us who fly frequently don’t usually get too surprised anymore by stories of airlines treating passengers like cattle. Yet the experience of a disabled U.S. Marine aboard a Delta Air Lines flight earlier this week shows that the airlines are capable of sinking to shocking new lows.

The Washington Post reports that Marine Lance Corporal Christian Brown, a double amputee wounded a year ago in Afghanistan, was “‘humiliated’ to the point of tears on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington after being clumsily wheeled to the back row of the plane, according to a complaint sent to the airline by an outraged fellow passenger.”

The passenger, retired Army Colonel Nickey Knighton, said that Brown was offered a seat in first class by another traveler, but flight attendants would not allow the switch because the doors had been closed for take-off and no one was supposed to move around the cabin. Instead, Knighton wrote, Brown was “paraded through the aircraft,” leaving him “visibly upset.” The Post reports that Brown was ill with a fever at the time and was traveling to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment.

It’s unclear why Brown was brought onboard so late in the boarding process; Delta’s own Traveling with Disabilities brochure says that “Preboarding is offered on any Delta flight if you meet all check-in requirements and notify the gate agent.”

Delta’s corporate communications office responded to the incident with this statement, quoted in the Post: “The story in no way reflects either Delta’s standard operating procedure or the very high regard we hold for our nation’s service members. We are sorry for the difficulties that transpired and are investigating this event to determine the appropriate next steps.”

Spirit Airlines Denies Refund to Dying Vietnam War Vet

On Brown’s Facebook page was a comment from another Delta employee that seemed a bit more heartfelt:

“So sorry for your treatment on Delta,” wrote Facebook user Demian David Brooks. “As a pilot for Delta, I just wanted to tell you that we are with you, and when I fly, there are no more important passengers than our military. I personally do everything in my power to ensure all military personnel have a great experience on Delta. I have proudly transported many Wounded Warriors and make it a point to introduce myself and say thank you for your service. I have transported fallen heroes and always stand on the tarmac at full salute to pay respects. A few weeks ago in the terminal, I was fortunate enough to see 3 military personnel in uniform, and secretly paid for their lunch as I slipped away. Again, from one line pilot, sorry. And thank you for your service.”

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.


If it weren’t September I’d think the recent news about Ryanair’s CEO calling passengers “idiots” was an April Fool’s joke. I mean, the CEO of a company who relies on its customers for business wouldn’t really call them idiots, would he?

But now that my initial shock has passed, I’m actually more surprised that I was surprised this happened. Despite the fact that business would dry up if passengers decided to revolt, Ryanair and its low-cost compatriot in the U.S., Spirit Airlines, are the two most customer-unfriendly airlines.

In his most recent “up yours” moment, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called passengers who do not print out their boarding passes ahead of time “stupid” and “idiots,” the Huffington Post reported.

According to the article, O’Leary’s comments were prompted by a customer who complained about having to pay 300 euros to print out five boarding passes before flying from Alicante, Spain to Bristol, England. The whopping 60 euro charge for getting a boarding pass printed at the airport was upped from 40 euros in 2011 after a Spanish court found the fee to be illegal. The company vowed to fight the ruling and increased it rather than get rid of it.

Got a Complaint? Take It to Twitter — Even if Airlines Say Not to

When the angry customer took to Facebook to share her frustration, O’Leary responded in his usual customer-friendly (NOT!) manner:

“We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid. She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you.”

Per The Independent, as quoted by the Huffington Post, O’Leary said that virtually all passengers print their boarding passes in advance, so to the few who don’t, he says “bugger off.”

O’Leary is not alone in his anti-customer spirit. Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ben Baldanza is also known for brushing aside customer complaints.

In an interview with FoxNews.com, Baldanza made it clear he does not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy, saying that customer complaint rates are “an irrelevant statistic.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, out of 100,000 passengers last January, Spirit received 8.27 complaints, by far the worst record in the industry.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

But he told FoxNews.com you have to look at the statistics the other way around. “If you ran a restaurant, and out of every 100,000 customers, 8 of them said they didn’t like your menu, would you change your restaurant?” he asked. “Why don’t we interpret that 99.92 of all customers have no complaints? Because that is what it says.”

He most famously revealed his feelings about his customers in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer complaint that had been forwarded to him. In doing so he sent his reply not only to his employees but to the original customer as well. He wrote, “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”

Call me naïve, but I still believe the airlines are here to serve my needs and treat me accordingly. If that means I have to pay an extra penny or an extra $100 to go with an airline that still treats me like a valued customer, so be it.

Maybe folks that go with the low-cost carriers and expect to be treated well are idiots. What do you think?

– written by Dori Saltzman

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

A Vietnam War veteran dying of cancer recently had insult added to injury when Spirit Airlines refused to refund his plane ticket, reports FoxNews.com. Jerry Meekins, 76, booked a flight last month with the ultra-low-cost carrier to visit his daughter, who was undergoing surgery. But a couple of weeks later, his doctor told him that the cancer he’d been battling for two years was terminal and that he was simply too ill to fly.

Meekins’ ticket was nonrefundable, so the airline refused to give him back the $197 he’d paid, or to allow him to transfer the ticket to his daughter. Instead, Spirit has offered only a credit for a future flight — one that Meekins will likely never be able to take.




Spirit’s stance on nonrefundable tickets isn’t unusual in the industry. On most airlines, the cheapest available fares are “nonrefundable and nontransferable”; if you want the option to change or cancel your plans, you’ll have to pay a premium for more flexible fares. But it’s not unheard of for airlines to make exceptions to their policies based on extenuating circumstances such as Meekins’. Take this example from consumer advocate Chris Elliott, who successfully got US Airways to give a refund to a traveler suffering from from liver disease. Sure, we understand that rules are rules for a reason. But isn’t there any room for a little compassion?

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

Apparently not at Spirit, where things seem to be business as usual. The airline’s home page is currently advertising its latest summer sale fares, illustrated by a woman in a bikini holding a couple of provocatively positioned beach balls:

spirit airlines home page



Stay classy, Spirit.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Want to pack anything more than a laptop and a change of underwear on your next flight? You’d better pony up. As of tomorrow, low-cost carrier Allegiant Air will join Spirit Airlines in charging a fee not only for checked bags but also for any carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of you, reports MSNBC.com.

If you want your carry-on in the overhead bin, you’ll have to shell out $35 at the airport — or $10 – $30 (depending on your itinerary) if you pay online in advance. The charges will not apply to passengers who booked their flights before the new rules were instituted. If you check a bag instead, the cost ranges from $14.99 to $35, depending on where you’re traveling and whether you pay online or at the airport.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Spirit Airlines became the first carrier to charge for carry-on bags back in 2010 (which later inspired the design of a new suitcase to help travelers avoid the fees). For travelers like me who prefer to travel with a carry-on only, this is a frightening trend. Aviation consultant Robert Mann told MSNBC.com that he didn’t think these fees would spread to the major carriers: “No business-oriented airline would do this to customers with a laptop and valet bag — they would drive them right off the airplane.”

But I’m not convinced. If the airlines have a chance to make a few extra millions from yet another fee, why wouldn’t they? Let us know what you think.



– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Spirit Airlines wants your help. Proving that there’s more than one way to view just about everything, Spirit is asking consumers to pressure their government representatives to end consumer protections.

Spirit Airlines has been having a rather public hissy fit, ever since the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new regulations took effect last week that require airlines and ticket agents to include all mandatory taxes and fees in their advertised airfares, and to disclose baggage fees.

Some airlines complained; most just changed their advertised prices to include taxes and fees and also changed the asterisk next to the airfares to reflect that change. Consumers now know the actual price of their purchase, just as they do when they buy a gallon of gasoline or a pack of cigarettes.

Spirit, however, dug in its heels. Perhaps distracted by its campaign to overturn the regulations, the airline simply didn’t advertise prices on its site for several days. The dollar signs and asterisks were still there, just no numbers. Instead, Spirit.com greets prospective passengers with a bold warning graphic next to the statement: “New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares. More info here.”

warning graphic


Clicking on “more info” takes you to a “say no to hidden taxes!” petition with links to representatives and senators. In the appeal, Spirit claims that by “hiding” taxes in airfare, the government can then “quietly increase their taxes.” And as “the transparency leader and most consumer-friendly airline,” Spirit doesn’t support the new DOT regs and asks consumers to help “stop this injustice.”

Yet the DOT’s mandate to show actual costs isn’t what really got Spirit’s knickers in a knot. The new regs also allow consumers to hold a reservation without payment or cancel a booking without penalty for 24 hours — provided the reservation is made one week or more prior to the departure date. In a press release dated January 31, 2012, Spirit posits that the new regulations regarding the 24-hour hold and no cancellation penalties will result in “unintended consequences” and cost consumers “millions” by forcing the airline to hold seat inventory for those who may not pay for it, leading to unfilled seats, and, somehow, lost American jobs. Spirit maintains that the 24-hour hold rule is consumer-friendly, “but comes at a cost all must bear.” And when Spirit says “all” it apparently means its customers.

Despite the fact that the new rules have only been in effect for a week and it’s unlikely there is hard data yet on costs to the airlines, Spirit is being proactive and has introduced the “DOTUC (Department of Transportation Unintended Consequences) fee,” a $2 each-way surcharge on the consumer.

When we tried booking a flight on Spirit, we did not see this fee listed with the rest of the taxes and fees. (Perhaps because it’s not a government-mandated fee, Spirit doesn’t have to disclose it?) Ironically, of all the extra charges that applied to our ticket, the highest by far was Spirit’s own “Passenger Usage Fee,” which you can only avoid by purchasing your ticket at the airport.

passenger usage fees


Gotta love such a consumer-friendly airline.

– written by Jodi Thompson

airlines behaving badlyThis post is the first in a new series called “Airlines Behaving Badly,” which will chronicle the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

“This is an emergency announcement. We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.”

Not what you want to hear at 3 in the morning, cruising about 35,000 feet above the North Sea. But that is exactly what happened to some 275 passengers aboard a British Airways flight from Miami to London Heathrow on Friday night, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

As expected, the passengers — many of whom were awakened by the calm female voice on the automated announcement — panicked. Fortunately, they didn’t have much time to work up a frenzy as the cabin crew quickly canceled the alert.

Oops. A flight attendant reportedly announced on the public address system about 30 seconds later that the message was played by mistake.

Readers’ Worst Airplane Horror Stories

In August 2010, that same terrifying message was accidently played aboard a British Airways flight from London to Hong Kong. If it’s that easy to release the beast, perhaps it’s time to jettison it.

Should the need arise for such a message, just let the flight attendant scream into the mike: “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!”

The response would likely be the same. Well, not exactly the same, but passenger reaction might well be just as terrified.

The plane landed without incident on Saturday, and British Airways issued an immediate apology to the passengers, although some complained that the airline had trivialized their fear.

The Daily Telegraph reported that a passenger said he couldn’t think of anything worse than being told your plane’s about to crash. Hmm, can you?

– written by Jodi Thompson