How airlines plan to have their way with fare disclosure

The U.S. House of Representatives’ suspension calendar is an unlikely ground zero for a midsummer battle over airline ticket advertising. But then, almost nothing about the oddly named Transparent Airfares Act, a bill championed by the domestic airline industry, has followed a likely trajectory.
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Here we go again! Another tarmac stranding incident — beware of outraged talking heads on TV

It seemed eerily familiar: A JetBlue aircraft, a freak storm, passengers stranded on an aircraft for hours — and all happened near the media capital of the world.

Except that it wasn’t Valentines Day 2007, the infamous ice storm that cost JetBlue its golden reputation, made a small-minded mainstream media obsessed with tarmac delays and led to tough but largely unnecessary new government rules on tarmac delays.

It was happening right now, in real time.
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Can this trip be saved? A flat tire on the way to the airport — and a $273 fee to fly

Ana de Pascht’s airline ticket from Albany to Raleigh/Durham came with all of the usual restrictions: nonrefundable, nontransferable and non-changeable without paying a hefty fee.

But it wasn’t the usual flying experience. On her way to Albany, she got a flat tire.

“I called US Airways and asked what could be done,” she says. “I was told that I had to buy a new ticket and also pay a change fee of $150 — a total of $273 — if I wished to travel on the next flight out. I did question the agent about any other ways to avoid paying all that money and was told that was my only option if I wished to fly.”

Interestingly, most airlines used to have what’s called a flat-tire rule that allowed airline staff to rebook passengers like her on the next flight at no extra charge. But in an era of “no waivers, no favors” the loophole was quietly closed.

Well, sort of. Ticket agents still have a lot of flexibility in dealing with passengers who can’t make a flight, and US Airways could have bent its rules. It chose not to.
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“The Department of Transportation has used a bazooka to kill an ant”

The long-awaited sequel to this summer’s controversial tarmac delay study has just been released. In it, aviation analysts Darryl Jenkins and Joshua Marks claim 384,000 more passengers were stranded by cancellations last summer, and an additional 49,600 air travelers experienced gate returns and delays. It calls on the Transportation Department to clarify its three-hour turnback rule — a rule the DOT insists is a resounding success.

I asked Jenkins about the study and its conclusions this morning. Here’s our interview.

You’ve analyzed flight cancellations based on last summer’s data. What’s the bottom line for passengers?

If it’s summer, and there’s a thunderstorm, and your flight is canceled because of this rule – and last summer, load factors were 90 percent or higher – it will take a full day to rebook you on another flight.
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Tarmac-delay rule gives air travelers more respect

If you’re afraid of being trapped in a parked plane on your next trip, stop worrying.

Only three flights were delayed more than three hours in July, the latest month reported by the Transportation Department. All the incidents happened on the evening of July 23, when a line of “very nasty” thunderstorms swept through Chicago, according to American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely.
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What to do when an airline doesn’t follow its own rules

Can you force an airline to follow its own rules? Phil and Margaret Warker wanted to know after a disastrous return flight from Nassau to Washington via Miami. US Airways blamed the weather and offered them a $100 flight voucher for the trouble.

But the Warkers saw things differently. They believe they were involuntarily bumped from their Miami flight, and claim the gate agents in Nassau promised them more compensation. Who’s right?
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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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