Is this the worst week for air travelers since 9/11?


From bankruptcies to terrorist attacks, air travelers have seen it all in the last decade or so. But I can’t think of a week that’s been jam-packed with so much bad news for airline passengers since 2001. Maybe you can, but stick with me for a moment while I review the list.

It isn’t just the sequestration problems that are causing unforeseen slowdowns — it’s a confluence of other events, some related to the mandatory cuts, but many not.

FAA furloughs. The government cutbacks provide the bleak backdrop for this week’s events, with the FAA yesterday predicting a wide range of delays. On Tuesday, more than 1,025 delays in the system were attributable to staffing reductions resulting from the furlough, according to the FAA. That’s not as bad as some observers who ought to know better had predicted. But there’s still time for things to get much worse.

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New change fees. United Airlines and US Airways both raised fees to change a non-refundable airline ticket to $200 for domestic flights, a $50 increase. In other words, it now costs more to change a ticket than to buy one for most passengers. Absurd? You bet. Now the pressure is on Delta Air Lines, the number-two airline, to follow suit. Most industry-watchers believe it will quietly do so before the end of the week. I hope it doesn’t. This is a chance for Delta to differentiate itself and do something pro-consumer, for a change.

TSA delays knife policy. Amid all this chaos, the TSA decided to delay a new rule that would permit small knives on planes. Why? Maybe it didn’t want to add to the furlough confusion. Then again, maybe it has absolutely no idea what it’s doing and is turning tail and running away from what would have probably been a common-sense rule. But who knows?

Tarmac-delay rule may be suspended. But the worst possible news, just in advance of the busy summer travel season, came from the airline industry’s trade group A4A, which has proposed suspending the tarmac-delay rules in the wake of sequestration. Those rules let passengers off the plane if they have to wait for more than three hours. A4A argues it needs more time, given the FAA furloughs.

On days like today, I’m happy to not be flying. Like you, I’m trying to understand the airline industry’s need to increase fees, even as it is flush with profits. (Greed, perhaps?) I’m trying to understand the reason the tarmac-delay rule should be suspended, but the airline industry’s arguments don’t make any sense to me.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say these FAA furloughs are being used to pull a fast one on passengers.

Is this the worst week for air travelers since 9/11?

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