Trade groups want their piece of pie in the sky

fire in the skyNo one would claim that any of the new travel-related laws scheduled to take effect in 2010 are game-changers for travelers. They’re relatively minor: a new credit card rule here, a new airport security policy there.

But what kind of law would really improve your travel experience next year?

Instead of asking readers for their opinions, as I do every week, I decided to hand the mike to the trade organizations in Washington that represent various parts of the travel industry. Specifically, I wanted to know which law they’d like to see passed in 2010 that they think would most benefit travelers.

The short answer? Most trade groups want laws authorizing Congress to spend more money, which they say will help us.
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Victim of seatback police: “It felt like we had somehow landed in a World War II movie”

seatsBeware of the airline seatback cops. They recently nabbed Cheryl Smith, and they could be coming for you.

What do these airborne officers want from you? Your total obedience, and an empty seat pocket in front of you. More or less.

Never mind that what they’re asking for makes no sense, whatsoever.
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How are airlines stopping the spread of Swine Flu on planes? (Hint: Begins with “p” and rhymes with “hell”)

purellIt looks as if the airlines have no intention of loosening their inflexible change fee requirements to prevent a Swine Flu outbreak on planes. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that it has begun testing hand sanitizers for flammability, and at least one source close to the agency says carriers intend to deploy bottles of the gel on their planes as flu season gets underway.

That’s right, the airline industry’s answer to the H1N1 problem is apparently Purell on planes.
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Sky-high government fines against United, US Airways for safety violations

engineIn yet another sign that the government has adopted a “get tough” approach in dealing with the airline industry, the Federal Aviation Administration today proposed near-record penalties against two airlines for safety violations.

The FAA wants United Airlines to pay a $3.8 million civil penalty for allegedly operating one of its Boeing 737 aircraft on more than 200 flights after the carrier had violated its own maintenance procedures on one of the plane’s engines.

The government also proposed a $5.4 million civil penalty against US Airways for allegedly operating eight aircraft on a total of 1,647 flights from October 2008 to January 2009 while not in compliance with certain airworthiness directives or the airline’s maintenance program.
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FAA official: “No mention whatsoever of the possibility that Billy Mays wasn’t wearing a seatbelt”

brownLaura Brown is the acting assistant administrator for communications at the Federal Aviation Administration. After the death of Billy Mays yesterday, she was quoted as saying the TV pitchman wasn’t wearing a seatbelt on a plane that made an emergency landing. I asked her about the interview and the importance of seatbelts.

Q: Over the weekend, there was speculation that Billy Mays had died because of injuries to his head during an emergency landing. However, a preliminary autopsy suggests the cause of death was heart disease. What does the FAA know about the incident?

Brown: We are investigating the landing because there was damage to the aircraft. As far as we know, no passengers reported any injury. News reports suggest doctors have tentatively determined Billy Mays’ death was unrelated to any occurrence on the US Airways aircraft.

Q: You were quoted by TMZ as saying Mays wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. You’ve said the quote isn’t accurate. What did you tell the reporter?

Brown: All we told the reporter was that passengers are required to wear seatbelts during takeoff and landing. There was no mention whatsoever of the possibility that Billy Mays wasn’t wearing a seatbelt because there is no monitoring of seatbelt use on routine flights.

Q: Does the FAA know who is wearing a seatbelt and who isn’t?

Brown: No.

Q: What are the FAA rules about seatbelts on aircraft?

Brown: Airlines are required to turn on the “fasten seat belt” sign during any time the airplane is moving on the airport surface,  takeoff, landing, or any other time the pilot deems necessary. Each passenger is required by federal law to fasten his or her seatbelt when the “fasten seat belt” sign is illuminated. (Here’s the full rule.)

Q: Why is it important to wear a seatbelt on a plane?

Brown: An airplane seatbelt is a passengers’ best protection against any sudden or unexpected airplane movements. Turbulence  can occur unexpectedly and can even occur when the sky appears to be clear. Turbulence is a bumpy ride that can cause passengers who are not wearing their seat belts to be thrown from their seats without warning.  In nonfatal accidents, in-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to both airline passengers and flight attendants. Each year, approximately 58 people in the United States are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts.

Q: Can you think of any recent examples of a passenger being seriously injured because her or she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt?

Brown: We we can tell you that from 1980 through June 2004, U.S. air carriers had 198 turbulence accidents resulting in 266 serious injuries and three fatalities. At least two of the three fatalities involved passengers who were not wearing their seat belts while the seat belt sign was illuminated.

Q: What are the penalties for not wearing a seatbelt?

Brown: A passenger who does not wear a seatbelt is vulnerable to injury if the airplane hits  unexpected turbulence. The FAA can impose a maximum fine of $25,000 if the passenger refuse to wear a seat belt and is deemed disruptive or unruly by the flight crew.

Q: Do you have any idea, based on enforcement actions, how often people do not wear their seatbelts, as required?

Brown: While  tracking actual seatbelt use would be difficult, the FAA requires the airlines to provide a safety briefing at the beginning of flight that highlights the importance of wearing your seat belt. The agency has also done outreach via a public education campaign on the importance of wearing seat belts to prevent turbulence-related injuries.

Q: Do you have any advice for airline passengers who are concerned about safety during takeoff and landing, and possibly being struck in the head by items from an overhead bin?

Brown: Stowage compartments must meet certain certification requirements as specified in FAA regulations. Cabin bins are designed to withstand typical forces in order to prevent luggage from falling out an onto passengers.