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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

If you’re lucky, you’ve never experienced the sinking feeling you get when your luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel post-flight. But if you’re me — or one of millions of other fliers — you deal with said feeling by either praising yourself for packing a well-stocked carry-on or immediately going into panic mode.

Regardless of your luck with lost bags (or lack thereof), you’ll likely be comforted to know that, according to SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques) — an organization that deals with air transportation communications and works with most major airlines — the number of incidents of mishandled bags has been nearly cut in half over the last five years.

Fun with Numbers: Report Exaggerates Airline Complaints

To see the numbers in an easy-to-understand format, check out the infographic below, published by Irish Independent and designed by Boldface on Visual.ly. (Click the image to see a larger version). It shows that the number of mishandled bag incidents in 2007 was nearly 47 million; in 2012, the number was down to a little more than 26 million — a decline of nearly 45 percent. (Note: “Mishandled bags” includes luggage that fell victim to transfer mishandling, loading failure, loading errors, arrival mishandling, airport/customs/weather-related issues, ticketing errors/baggage switches or tagging errors.)

Source

But wait. Isn’t 26 million a lot? It’s a huge number overall, but the graphic also states that nearly 3 billion passengers flew in 2012. That means less than 1 percent of all passengers had a mishandled bag.

So let’s keep this in perspective. Yes, there are still far too many lost bags, but at least it seems like the airlines are doing something about it.

What to Do if an Airline Loses Your Bag

What’s your take? Have you lost a bag? Do the stats make you feel more secure — or more likely to pack an extra-large carry-on? Weigh in with your comments below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

airport sign Are you flying somewhere fun in the near future? Exotic? Far away? I’m half jealous and half not. While I’d love to be getting away, I don’t envy anyone having to deal with flying right now. In the past two days, the flying experience has gone from not so fun to downright unpleasant.

According to a Washington Post article, flights have fallen behind schedule for the second straight day at two of New York’s three major airports, a direct result of air traffic controller furloughs. By 8:45 a.m. today, delays of 30 to 45 minutes or more were already being reported in New York.

With no end to the furlough in sight (an average of about 10 percent of controllers will be furloughed on any given day), these delays are probably not going to get any better any time soon. Congress has so far made no moves to end the sequester.

And New York isn’t the only metropolitan area to be hit by delays. Yesterday, airports across the country were backed up several hours. Chicago-based United told a reporter for Bloomberg that it saw “alarming” delays in Los Angeles as well. Flights into the city were delayed an average of three hours.

Delta told Bloomberg it also expects to see air delays in Chicago and in San Francisco.

Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

The consequences of these delays aren’t just grumpy passengers and getting somewhere late. It also means fliers need to allow more time for their transit. If before you needed an hour to an hour and a half to catch a connecting flight, now you’d better make it three to four hours. If you have to be in your destination by noon, you might want to consider flying in the day before.

The federal government is so aware of the delays that the U.S. Transportation Department is considering suspending enforcement of a regulation that prevents lengthy tarmac delays, the Bloomberg article reports. The rule requires that airlines give passengers a chance to leave a plane if it has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. Airlines can also be fined for the delays. Since 2009, when the tarmac delay regulation was passed, airlines have been canceling flights whenever it looks like a three-hour delay is imminent. With sequester cuts in place and delays of three hours or more entirely possible, that could mean a lot of canceled flights if enforcement of the law isn’t waived.

But it’s not all bad news for fliers. A controversial rule that would have allowed passengers to begin carrying small knives on planes again has been put on hold while the TSA considers additional input. Public opinion has been widely opposed to the measure, as have flight attendants and airlines.

Have you flown in the past two days? Are you flying soon? What are you dreading most? Weigh in below.

What Not to Do at the Airport

– written by Dori Saltzman

airplane silhouetteI have just as many gripes about airlines as the next person, and given that I’m a travel journalist, I tend to smile and nod vehemently when they’re crucified for decreasing seat sizes and charging for things like carry-on bags. But I can’t keep my mouth shut on this one.

After analyzing federal data, a group of private researchers says airline complaints from passengers increased by about 20 percent in 2012, despite more on-time flights and fewer lost bags, the Associated Press reports.

While I agree that customer complaints are bad — in an ideal world, there would be none at all — the article goes on to say this: “United Airlines had the highest consumer complaint rate of the 14 airlines included in the report, with 4.24 complaints per 100,000 passengers.” Forgive me if I sound insensitive, but is there really a reason to be terribly concerned if the worst offender generates only four complaints for every 100,000 of its passengers?

And let’s not forget this added tidbit: “That was nearly double the airline’s complaint rate the previous year.” Oh, the horror! Now four of every 100,000 United passengers are angry instead of two? I think I just heard the audience gasp.

To be fair, these numbers only include the passengers who were annoyed enough to report their grievances to the U.S. Department of Transportation; there are probably many more who took their complaints solely to the airline. And of course, seeing the number of complaints double is never a good sign. But let’s keep things in perspective.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

The AP also notes that larger planes and smaller seat sizes, which allow airlines to cram more passengers onto each plane, still aren’t enough to offset the decreased number of available flights — meaning last year saw a rise in the number of passengers bumped due to overbooking. “The rate at which passengers with tickets were denied seats because planes were full rose to 0.97 denials per 10,000 passengers last year, compared with 0.78 in 2011.”

In plain English, it means that of every 10,000 passengers, less than one person gets bumped because his or her flight is full. Can I get a big, fat “so what?”

Let’s focus on what the airlines are doing right. Want your bag to get to your destination at the same time you do? You’re in luck. According to the AP, the mishandled bag rate was 3.07 in 2012, down from 3.35 bags the previous year (and a high of 7.01 bags back in 2007). That means about three of every 1,000 bags were mishandled in the last two years. Yes, I’ve had lost luggage, and I know that for those three passengers, it’s terrible. But the stats are getting better.

The same is true for on-time arrivals, about 82 percent of which arrived on time in 2012 — an improvement over the 80 percent that landed on time in 2011.

I happen to think this is a positive outlook for the industry. Now, if only someone could figure out ways to speed up the security process and keep that middle seat unoccupied.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

What do you think? Is the report full of hot air, or does it have merit? Weigh in below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

car keys saleA cocktail, a sandwich, a set of headphones, maybe some Wi-Fi … most in-flight purchases aren’t exactly weighty or expensive decisions. But if China’s Spring Airlines has its way, travelers could be pondering a much larger purchase on an upcoming flight: a new car.

Bloomberg reports that Spring Airlines could begin selling automobiles on flights next month, at prices starting around $16,000. The Shanghai-based discount airline flies largely within China, with some international service to Japan. The car sales would be introduced on flights from Shanghai.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sold on the concept. Sure, sitting on a plane gives you plenty of time to pore over the various features of one car or another. But 35,000 feet isn’t exactly a prime spot for a test drive. And I can’t help but feel badly for the flight attendants, whom Bloomberg notes “will be trained on the car details.” They probably didn’t know when they signed up to hand out drinks and keep the cabin safe that they’d also end up shilling cars.

So what’s next for in-flight commerce? Perhaps flight attendants should become certified realtors and sell us our next house as well.

9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane seatWould being able to eliminate jet lag make your next long-haul flight more bearable? What about knowing your food tray wouldn’t be jammed into your sternum if the person sitting in front of you decided to recline?

Solutions to both of these air travel problems have recently been proposed, and we at IndependentTraveler.com couldn’t be more excited.

Jet lag is an especially tiresome problem (pun intended) for travelers. But now you can just lather up those photons and erase your jet lag woes, Delta Air Lines promises. And though the “Photon Shower” conjures up futuristic images of a world with hovercrafts and Mars vacations, the device is real — almost.

Designed by a New York firm for Delta, the “Photon Shower” is a vertical shower-stall-style chamber that provides light therapy to users. According to an AdAge blog post, here’s how it works: users input their travel information, then step in and bask in a light sequence that recreates the effects of sunlight, which scientists say combats jet lag and provides a pick-me-up to tired travelers.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Though it was displayed at the latest TED conference in California, the Shower has not yet been rolled out to airports — and Delta is offering no timeline on when it might be available.

A second technology development, equally as exciting, is sadly even farther away from reality. The result of a global student design competition sponsored by the James Dyson Foundation, the AirGo economy seat is something we’d really like to see installed on airplanes. (ABC News agrees.)

The seat, designed by Malaysian engineering student Alireza Yaghoubi, aims to give fliers access to all their limited seat space, even when the person in front of them reclines. To accomplish this, the tray table and TV screen are housed above the seats, so that when a seat is pushed back it does not force the tray table or TV back as well. In Yaghoubi’s design, the two are attached to an individual bulkhead, which also provides guaranteed baggage storage space for each individual seat (another problem many fliers face!).

Fighting Jet Lag: Tips from Our Readers

Yaghoubi told ABC News he got the idea for the seats after several uncomfortable eight-hour flights. On a typical flight, he said, the person in front of him reclined his or her seat, occupying one-third of the space he had paid for.

There’s just one problem with the design. It takes up 16 percent more floor space than the seats most airlines have now. But perhaps fliers would be willing to pay a little extra for the security of knowing they’d actually get to use all the space they paid for.

Given a choice, which of the two technological advancements would you like to see become reality first? Let us know below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

When you fly as often as we do here at IndependentTraveler.com, those in-flight safety demonstrations can get a little boring — so we always perk up when an airline decides to have fun with them. And nobody does that as well as Air New Zealand. Richard Simmons had us wishing we were in pink spandex, while a planeful of elves, wizards and hobbits had us longing for a Middle Earth getaway.

Now Bear Grylls, lately of “Man vs. Wild,” has us readying our fire starter kits and emergency rations. In the latest iteration of the “celebrity” safety briefings, Bear takes viewers on an adrenaline-filled romp through the New Zealand mountains while still buckling up for safety and heeding the flight attendants’ instructions. Take a look:



Do new twists on standard briefings make you any more likely to pay attention? Sound off in the comments below.

Watch more fun airline videos:
President Obama Appears in Air New Zealand Video
Delta Flash Mob
Finnair Goes Bollywood: Jai Ho!

– written by Dori Saltzman

airplane child drink trayPillows, headphones, meals, checked bags … these are just a few things that travelers used to get for free but currently have to pay for on most flights. And now there’s someone out there arguing that airlines should eliminate the free beverage and snack service as well.

John Nicholson at the Huffington Post writes, “Stop forcing that default complimentary soda and snack on your economy passengers on domestic flights. Most of us don’t want it, all of us can do without it and we all know you can’t really afford it.” He goes on to argue that we can easily live without a soda or a mini-bag of pretzels for a couple of hours on the ground, so why do we need them in the air? If we actually do want some refreshment, he says, we should be able to buy it at a reasonable price, rather than paying the airlines’ current inflated prices for anything more substantial than a handful of potato chips.

While I see his point, I’m not quite convinced. First off, does anyone really think the airlines would suddenly give us reasonably priced food options if they eliminated complimentary snacks? Call me crazy, but I think they’d just pocket the profit.

Why Airline Food Stinks: A Scientific Explanation

And yes, most of us can live a few hours without eating, but in the ultra-arid environment of a plane, it’s nice to have that extra drink to help us stay hydrated, even on shorter flights. If you must take my snack away, at least let me still have some water for free!

Finally, well, let’s face it: flying is boring. Having the drink/snack service to look forward to is one thing that gets me through the hours. Especially since the airlines have taken just about everything else away.

5 Foods to Avoid Before Flying

Do you think the airlines should eliminate the complimentary soda and snack? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

dog in carrier When I moved back to the United States from Romania, where I’d been living for two and a half years, I brought home a new husband and, just as importantly, our cat. We’d rescued her from an animal shelter two years before and there was no way we were leaving her behind. So we jumped through all the hoops presented to us — finding an FAA-compliant crate outside of the U.S., getting our cat micro-chipped, having a vet create a pet passport (basically just a record of her health and vaccines) — before my husband crated her up one November morning and brought her with him to the airport for his Lufthansa flights from Bucharest to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to New York City.

Fourteen hours later my husband and cat arrived safely at JFK. It never really occurred to me that he would land safely and she wouldn’t. But after reading about a recent investigation by NBC Bay Area, I’m counting my lucky stars it turned out so well.

Turns out lots of animals don’t make it. Most stories don’t get into the news, but some do — like the case of former model Maggie Rizer. Back in September 2012, her 2-year-old golden retriever died during a flight from the East Coast to San Francisco.

Perhaps the most famous of all mistreated pets was Jack, the Norwegian forest cat that disappeared in JFK airport after an American Airlines baggage handler dropped his crate. Though he eventually turned up after falling through the ceiling in a customs area, he was so sick and dehydrated that he had to be put down.

Sadly, these stories are not as uncommon as we’d like to think. According to the NBC Bay Area investigation, 302 animals have died, been injured or disappeared while in the care of commercial airlines over a six-year span. The most common cause of death as determined by the airlines was “unknown.” Other common causes — again, as determined by the airlines themselves — were pre-existing medical conditions, escapes from the kennels, self-infliction and natural deaths.

The investigation even revealed which airlines have the worst record. Delta Airlines saw the most tragic outcomes, followed by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental and United (those last two are now one single entity).

Traveling with Pets

So, does knowing all this make me think twice about flying my cat in the future? You bet it does! What’s worse than knowing that my animal may not be safe in an airline’s care is reading about how the airlines do everything in their power to deny any responsibility for the deaths. Going forward, if I can’t drive to a destination with my cat, then she’s just going to have to fly coach with me.

Have you ever flown your pet somewhere? What was your experience like? And do you think airlines have a responsibility to get your pet to their ultimate destination safe and sound? Weigh in below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

american airlines new liveryAfter months of rumors and speculation, American Airlines and US Airways officially declared yesterday that the two carriers plan to merge into the country’s largest airline.

It’s the latest of several merger announcements over the past few years in an airline industry that continues to contract. Delta and Northwest joined forces in 2008, and United absorbed Continental in 2010. After American Airlines and US Airways become a single carrier, to be named American, the U.S. will be left with only three major legacy carriers. And don’t forget Southwest Airlines, which is currently in the process of assimilating AirTran’s flights and services after their merger in 2011.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Airline mergers typically lead to less competition, higher fares and plenty of glitches as the carriers try to integrate two different operating systems. (Remember the computer problems that stranded some United fliers last year?) Elite fliers will also want to keep a close eye on their miles to be sure they’re credited correctly when the two programs are integrated.

How do you feel about the American/US Airways merger — excited? Worried? Indifferent? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter