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.”
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.”
So many of us spend our lives connected via the Internet. We earn our wages and pay our bills online. With whatever money is left, we shop online. We stay connected to family and friends. We read our news, our books and magazines on electronic devices. We share photos, ideas and snarky comics via social media.
You’d think travel would be the one time we go off the grid, but it’s usually not possible. Travel is often work-related, requiring the posting of content and the reading of emails. We may leave family behind who we have to check in on while we’re away. And a few of us — not naming any names — are addicted to electronics. We panic when there’s no Wi-Fi available. And we don’t like to pay for it.
Yes, Virgin America offered free in-flight Wi-Fi last holiday season, and perhaps will again. And there have been a few promotions where Wi-Fi was offered free or discounted, but for the most part, we pay. When Internet service is provided by Gogo, as with AirTran, Alaska, American, Delta, United and Virgin America, it costs $4.94 to $19.95 for mobile devices (smartphones, tables and e-readers) and $11 to $49 for computer devices (laptops and netbooks). JetBlue and Southwest each have their own Internet service. Southwest’s is not yet widely available, but its free portal contains content such as a flight tracker, shopping and games, all at no charge. Internet access beyond that is $5 all day, per device.
Paying for Wi-Fi annoys us , even if it’s only $5. We have hotspot entitlement syndrome. And we’re not alone. When we asked on Facebook if you’d use Wi-Fi if it was offered in air for free, few of you would take a pass.
Hilary Huffman Sommer said, “I would definitely use it, especially when traveling for work or when work intrudes on my leisure travel.”
Gregory Ellis also would log on to work. “Nothing else to do while in those busses with wings,” he wrote.
“Absolutely,” wrote Michele Cherry. She admitted to the amount of time she can kill on Facebook and that she can’t sleep on airplanes. And she already pays for Wi-Fi on international flights or longer domestic ones.
When Delta first began charging for a second checked bag internationally about four years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never fly them again. My husband is European and every time we go over we bring loads of stuff with us. Eventually we simply got used to the $50 fee. But then it went up to $75 and that was it for us — no more second checked bag. And then it went up again!
Unfortunately, the airline is no longer alone in charging a truly hefty fee for that second bag. United just announced that it too is raising the fee for a second checked bag from $75 to $100 for international flights.
I can’t help but wonder why the airlines are doing this. Do they really hope to make more money from folks who either don’t know how to trim their luggage down or are visiting relatives and therefore expected to lug over boatloads of gifts?
Or maybe they’re aiming for the point of no return at which most fliers will simply throw up their hands and say no more. Are too many second checked bags weighing the airlines down?
Some say this is what Spirit was aiming for when it recently began charging folks up to $100 for putting carry-on bags in the overhead bin. Cranky Flier, for one, said the airlines are penalizing passenger behavior they want to discourage. In Spirit’s case they’re hoping to cut down the number of people who wait until they’re at the gate to inform the airline they’ll be using overhead bin space.
With fuel prices what they are and airlines trying to save every penny, perhaps it’s in their interest to cut down on the number of second checked bags. And for those who aren’t getting the message — or don’t care — I guess the $100 fee covers the extra fuel.
What do you think? Would you pay $100 for a second checked bag?
On my last flight, the gate agent announced that anyone in boarding zone five with a roll-aboard carry-on should go ahead and bring it up to the desk to be gate checked, as there wouldn’t be enough overhead bin space for it on the plane. I wasn’t particularly surprised; it seems that every time I fly, the boarding process turns into a chaotic mess of passengers stumbling down the aisle with their hefty carry-ons, searching row after row for a precious sliver of overhead bin space. (And don’t even get me started on the de-boarding process, when all the people who stowed bags 10 rows behind their own have to fight their way against traffic to be reunited with their possessions.)
Fortunately, the airlines — who created this problem in the first place by imposing fees on checked baggage — are responding by making overhead bins larger. According to a report from the Associated Press, four U.S. airlines are planning or have already begun making changes to the overhead bins on select aircraft: American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways. These updates include more spacious bins as well as new bin doors with a more generous outward curve, allowing bags to be stowed wheels first rather than sideways.
Jet manufacturer Boeing is also tweaking the bin designs on its new planes to better accommodate standard roll-aboard bags.
On the one hand, it’s about time. Having effectively instituted penalties for checking bags, the airlines ought to be prepared to accommodate more carry-ons. On the other hand, if fliers know the bins are getting bigger, will they just bring more stuff? (According to the AP story, the airlines are going to be more vigilant about policing the size of carry-ons — so it may not be an issue.) Plus, the ballooning bins are just more dispiriting evidence of what we already knew: that those pesky baggage fees are definitely here to stay.
Hate gate checking your bag? Here’s how to prepare in case it happens to you: A Bag Inside a Bag.
We take a break from our regularly scheduled grumbling about the airlines to bring you this toe-tapping video of a Delta Air Lines flash mob, featuring employees shaking their groove things at airports in Atlanta, New York and Detroit. (TOC, the fourth location mentioned in the video, is Delta’s Technical Ops Center in Atlanta.)
Be warned that the first minute is a bit of a snooze — but we promise you’ll be smiling by the end. Take a look:
See the world through the eyes of a suitcase. The “eyes,” in this instance, are six cameras that Delta Airlines attached to a piece of checked luggage. Delta recorded the bag’s journey from check-in counter to baggage claim area and posted the footage on YouTube. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sway to a spacey New Age soundtrack as you watch the bag hitch a ride on a flight from Atlanta to New York. (I predict a big-budget Hollywood remake to follow.)
Note the teaser at the end: “Now you can track your bag’s journey.” Passengers aren’t permitted to attach spy cams onto their own Samsonites — at least not yet. But Delta’s making it easier to keep tabs on luggage with another kind of gadget. The airline has created a new app that allows travelers to follow the whereabouts of their checked bags on their smartphones. (Be sure that you don’t try tracking your bag during take-off or landing, lest you end up like Alec Baldwin.)
The app follows checked bags much the way postal services track packages, by providing a tracking code along with periodic status updates. In addition, fliers can use the app to get flight alerts, check in, make seat changes, rebook flights and more. Delta’s app is free, and it’s available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. Download it here.
From the moment you book your plane ticket (want to select your seat in advance? That’ll be $10, please) to the day you roll up to the check-in counter and shell out $50 for your checked bags, the airlines leave no fee unturned. And this past weekend, most major U.S. airlines found yet another way to line their pockets at the expense of the flying public.
On Friday, Congress failed to pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. As of Saturday, FAA-funded construction projects have been put on hold, all non-essential employees have been furloughed and — most importantly for fliers — the agency has lost the ability to collect various taxes that normally go along with the purchase of a plane ticket.
Hurray! Cheaper airfare for everyone, right?
Well, no. Instead of passing the tax savings on to travelers, most major airlines are raising their fares to offset the cost of the taxes — and pocketing the difference. The Associated Press reports that American, United, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue have all increased their fares, typically by about 7.5 percent.
According to an earlier AP report, “Passengers who bought tickets before this weekend but travel during the FAA shutdown could be entitled to a refund of the taxes that they paid, said Treasury Department spokeswoman Sandra Salstrom. She said it’s unclear whether the government can keep taxes for travel at a time when it doesn’t have authority to collect the money.”
Editor’s Note: On August 5, the IRS announced that passengers will not be getting refunds for taxes paid during the FAA shutdown after all. You can read the IRS statement here.
There are a few airlines out there that are giving travelers a break, including Virgin America, Frontier, Alaska and Spirit. Yes, that’s the same Spirit we wrote about a couple of weeks ago as one of the ugliest airlines in the industry. But hey, we can give credit where it’s due. It’s nice to see Spirit making the customer-friendly choice for once.
Does a woman with stage IV breast cancer hoping to die in her Korean homeland belong on the no-fly list? Earlier this week, Seattle-based Northwest Cable News reported that Korean Air had barred Crystal Kim from flying out of Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport over the weekend — even though Kim presented clearance from doctors and was traveling with her daughter. Ms. Kim has rebooked with Delta and is hoping to make the flight today.
Editor’s Note, May 13, 2011, 11:35 a.m.: MSNBC reports that the Kims did indeed fly yesterday, and that Delta upgraded them to first class.
Korean Air technically has the right, as do all air carriers, to deny passengers if they’re determined to be too sick to fly. The airline said it feared Crystal could die onboard and traumatize other passengers.
Here’s the video report from Northwest Cable News:
While Ms. Kim’s sad story may have something of a positive outcome, you may or may not be surprised at who — and what — else has issues getting airborne:
– Bulldogs: Delta announced in February that it would no longer carry American, English and French bulldogs. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, it seems that a disproportionate number of these flat-snouted, respiratory-issue-prone canines were dying in flight.
– Pregnant Women: Not all policies are the same, but most airlines restrict women in late-stage pregnancy from flying without a note from a doctor, a special examination from an obstetrician, clearance from an airline’s special assistance team or all of the above. There’s often a distinction between flying on domestic and international flights, so check individual policies.
– The Contagious or Comatose: While Ms. Kim’s disease was obviously not contagious, there are other ill passengers airlines can bar from flying. Those carrying a contagious disease or other infections — flashing back to 2009, H1N1, for instance — should always check carrier rules before boarding. Not surprisingly, an airline can also bar a passenger from boarding if he or she is comatose; passengers must be able to follow emergency procedures.
Is there something in the air? In this instance, the answer is yes. In the past few days, we’ve noticed a spate of reports regarding air travel that have left us overjoyed, irked or just plain exasperated. Let’s start with the exasperating one first and work our way down to a little good news.
Something’s not kosher here.
EasyJet, a budget airline based in the United Kingdom, has apologized to passengers bound for Israel after it mistakenly loaded a pile of pork products onto the aircraft. According to the Jewish Chronicle, passengers were offered “ham melts and bacon baguettes” during the flight, which originated in London. Other news outlets added that the airline normally serves kosher and vegetarian sandwiches on flights to Israel.
You wanted to go where?
An 80-year-old wheelchair-bound woman was inadvertently allowed to board a flight bound for Charlotte, N.C., when her destination was actually Dulles International outside of Washington D.C. The CNN report says the woman “allegedly received someone else’s boarding pass from a Delta Air Lines employee,” and then somehow made it through security and into the air with the mismatched ticket. The woman, who’s from Ethiopia and speaks no English, was reunited with her family on Sunday evening, hours after she arrived at the wrong destination. The airline and the TSA are investigating.
Well, we knew this was coming.
USA Today is warning travelers that the sudden rise in oil prices and increased overall demand for fewer seats will most likely lead to higher fares for both business and leisure travelers. It quotes airfare expert Tom Parsons as saying, “The higher the fuel goes, the more you’re going to have to pay. We could see another round of fare hikes very soon.” He says if you see a good sale for a summer fare, jump on it.
And, finally, some good news.
If you’re worried about whether you’re going to arrive safely once you set foot onboard a jet, an AOL Travel dispatch on a recent International Air Transport Association report should help put your mind at ease. “Airlines flying Western-built jets globally had the best safety performance in 2010 in the history of aviation, with only one crash per every 1.6 million flights,” it says, adding that “2.4 billion people flew safely in 2010 on 36.8 million flights, 28.4 million on jets and 8.4 million on turboprops.” There were 17 major crashes last year, compared with 19 in 2009; however, when Eastern-built jets are included, the overall number rises to 94 accidents — compared with 90 the previous year.
Delta Air Lines evidently doesn’t want you to know about a certain travel jacket that transforms passengers into walking carry-on bags. The airline refused to print an ad featuring the 24-pocket fleece jacket by SCOTTEVEST/SeV Travel Clothing, which had been submitted for Delta’s in-flight magazine, Sky.
The ad, pictured here, shows an X-ray view of a travel jacket that has various items — passport, iPad, iPod, pen — stuffed into a multitude of pockets. Note the headline: “The Most Stylish Way to Beat the System, SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing Has Specialized Pockets to Help You Stay Organized & Avoid Extra Baggage Fees.”
According to SCOTTEVEST C.E.O. and founder Scott Jordan, who’s been posting video commentary on this issue on his YouTube channel, Delta claims to have rejected the ad for two reasons. First, the “How to Beat the System” headline coupled with the image of an X-ray jacket implies that the “system” travelers are beating is the airport security system. Second, Jordan says the airline deemed the ad misleading because the jacket doesn’t actually help anyone save money on baggage fees, as each Delta passenger is entitled to one free carry-on bag.
Scott Jordan begs to differ. He argues that passengers can pack in their travel jackets what they would have otherwise stowed in checked bags, consequently saving them an extra piece of luggage in some cases. And, of course, this jacket is not designed to thwart airport security, says Jordan. Check out his response:
According to Tnooz, a Delta spokesperson released this statement: “Our discrepancy with this particular vendor was strictly based on creative standards. Delta and MSP Communications, publishers of SKY magazine, reserve the right to decline advertisements which do not appropriately represent Delta Air Lines or the travel industry.”
Whether or not Delta truly rejected the ad because of “creative standards,” the airline has gotten caught up in a blaze of bad publicity, fueled — in part — by Jordan’s clever promotional tactics. (SCOTTEVEST is the same company that paid for travel writer Rolf Potts to trek around the world with no bags and just an 18-pocket jacket, as we previously reported in our blog).
Ultimately, Scott Jordan — just like Delta — is making money from this modern epidemic of airline baggage fees. If we didn’t have to pay 50 bucks to check a bag, we probably wouldn’t need a 24-pocket travel jacket that sells for $140. Is Scott Jordan looking out for the little guy, or is he simply a shrewd C.E.O. taking advantage of public opinion to sell his product?