>
The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
A place for intelligent writers
A place for intelligent readers
 by Jon Burras
2017 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
C
surfyogi@verizon.net
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Jon at
An Airline Passengers'
"Bill of Rights"
From Customer to Hostage to Criminal

     The glory days of being excited to board an airplane and fly off to a distant land are now officially over. What was once a dreamy pleasure of dressing up in a suit and tie for men or a long dress for women and transporting yourself to someplace new aboard a shiny airplane has changed. While the aircraft might have remained the same everything else has changed. The suits and ties are gone, the long evening gowns have disappeared, luxurious meals and a sense of excitement have now been replaced with a sense of dread and disbelief. Welcome to the new world of airline travel.

     We are living in an age when many people will only fly if they have to. They will try to do business in their home office or put off that vacation to a theme park instead of getting on an airplane and traveling someplace. Many people are sick and tired of the hassles of flying and will do anything to avoid them.

     The bottom line is that the airline industry has so eroded in quality and service that it has become a nuisance rather than a pleasure to get on an airplane and travel. The airline industry is one of the few industries that have the right to abuse, neglect, criminalize and mistreat its customers. When you buy your ticket you are a customer. When you board the aircraft you are now a hostage to the archaic rules and discipline of the airlines. If you speak up about mistreatment you are now criminalized and arrested or ejected from the plane. Is it not time to right this misguided ship and create an airline passengers' "Bill of Rights"?

     It was in 1978 that then President Jimmy Carter signed into law the "Airline Deregulation Act." This was the beginning of the end for the airline industry. In 1978 there were sixteen major U. S. airline carriers with dozens of smaller ones. This new law was intended to loosen the strings of government regulation and create more competition in the airline marketplace. Today, decades after deregulation, there are only four major U. S. airlines left with a handful of smaller ones.

    Before deregulation ten major airlines had control over ninety percent of the airline business. As of today, four airlines control eighty five percent of the airline business in America. Since 1978, over one hundred and fifty airlines have gone out of business or have merged into other airlines. There is very little competition anymore and this lack of competition allows airlines to do whatever they wish to do. One might want to ask why the United States Justice Department has not filed charges against the airline industry for racketeering laws and monopolies?

     Hence, it is time for a passengers' Bill of Rights to protect the flying public from the widespread abuses that the airline industry has carried out. The following article lists the demands that are now imperative to change.

Airline Passengers' "Bill of Rights"

1. Government Regulation

     It is time to resume regulation of the airlines and just like the government did with the telecommunications industry, it is time to break up the major airlines which would allow for more competition.

2. Nationalize the airline industry

     Most countries have a national airline, either fully or partially funded and run by the government. For instance, here are a few national airlines; Turkish Airways (Turkey), Qantas (Australia), El Al (Israel). In fact, there are over one hundred and fifty countries with state run airlines. The United States is nearly the only country without a government run airline. Is it not time to consolidate all of the airlines into one government run airline called Air America or United States Airlines?

     The United States government has taken over the passenger railway transportation system. This is called Amtrak. This is a government funded service to the people. It receives taxpayer money every year to keep it funded. The airline industry must become the same. Right now the airlines are labeled as a commodity to be bought and sold with billions of dollars in profits at stake each year. This needs to be relabeled as being a service to the American people.

     Large airlines have cut service to smaller cities where only half an airplane is full of passengers. Many people are not being served. If you wanted to fly from St. Louis to Nashville you might have to fly to Chicago first. With a nationalized airline system all the people of the country would be served and not just those who live in large metropolitan areas.

3. Air Marshals

     Currently there are air marshals on a fraction of the flights in the United States. For the safety of the passengers and the crew there needs to be an air marshal on every flight. After all, it was not long ago that there were three crewman flying the aircraft—the pilot, co-pilot and the engineer (also called the weather operator).  Having a safety patrol officer on board each and every flight seems like a no-brainer to me. Police departments on the ground do not stop patrolling certain neighborhoods. They might spend more time in one section over others based on crime statistics but they do not ignore a large section of the population. The airline industry has chosen to ignore many passengers' need for security by only staffing some planes with security.

4. No overbooking of flights

     When an airline overbooks a flight they are committing fraud. The airlines are selling you something that they do not have. For instance, imagine if you went to the internet and purchased a couch at a store and then went to pick it up. At the store you were told that they did not have your couch but they would give you a lamp instead. That is fraud. You purchase an airline ticket and expect to have a guaranteed seat on the airplane. When you arrive you are told that you have been kicked off the plane and instead are handed a small compensation. It does not matter even if you have someplace important to be (like a wedding or funeral).

     It is time to eliminate this fraudulent behavior perpetrated by the airlines. Airline executives should spend time in jail for overbooking flights and committing fraud.

5. No fees; One price for all

     The airlines are making billions of dollars by "nickel and diming" the flying public. It is time to stop all the fees and just charge one up front cost. Airlines make billions of dollars by charging for checked luggage, change of flights, carry on luggage, meals, movies, head phones, blankets, extra leg room seats and many more items. In addition, there are stand by fees, unaccompanied minor fees, pet fees, advanced seating fees, extra leg room fees, over sized luggage fees, heavy luggage fees and many airlines charge a fee if you call them on the telephone to book a flight rather than use the internet. In fact, the airline industry earned over 3.8 billion dollars in 2016 just from baggage fees. One could now make the argument that the airline industry is primarily in the business of a nickel and dime fee collection store. Transporting passengers seems to be secondary.

    It is time to stop the insanity. With today's current trend one might soon find himself having to pay to use the restroom, pay for toilet paper, pay for using the overhead reading light and pay for how much air you breathe on each flight.

    Everything should now be included, including your first 2 check in bags, carry on luggage and a one time flight change. Meals should be a decent meal. Some airlines have cheapened meal service so much that  fast food seem like a luxury. In 1987 American Airlines removed olives in its salads to save $40,000 a year. Some airlines will not give you a full can of soda. These policies need to change.

6. Mandatory seat distance

     Currently the average seat pitch (the distance between one point on a seat to a similar point on another seat is 31-32 inches. This distance is good for someone five foot six or below but not anyone else. (American Airlines just reduced their seat pitch to 29 inches on many routes.) If you feel like you are being crammed into a seat then you are right. Airlines are removing more and more of the leg room in order to fit more paying passengers.

     It is time for reform. The mandatory rules should be no less than 40 inches in seat pitch. Many people cannot even leave their seats without sophisticated acrobatic maneuvers and well honed yoga poses if the seat in front of them is leaning back. You are forced to crawl over friends, loved ones and strangers in order to get out. Imagine what it might be like in the event of an actual emergency.

7. Mandatory seat width

     Have you noticed that the average person is getting larger and seat widths are getting narrower? Have you been stuck between two heavy people on a flight who have been spilling over into your territory? Are you one of those heavier people who can barely squeeze yourself into a seat? Do you find yourself fighting for whatever little armrest you can get a hold of and stake out your territory?

     The average seat width in today's airplane is 17.2 inches. It is time to widen each seat to a minimum of 25 inches each with at least a five inch armrest for each person (not shared).

    In addition, special overweight seats must be available for obese people who cannot even fit in a normal seat. We spend so much time in our lives on the ground assisting handicapped people (parking spaces, ramps, lighting, special curbs, traffic lights that chirp, etc.), yet it seems that once we are in the air people with special needs are on their own. Movie theaters, government buildings, schools, courtrooms and many other locations have special handicap seating. Why are airlines immune to these laws?

8. Bathrooms

    Where else in the world are you told that you cannot go to the bathroom but an airline? Passengers are at times told to pee in a cup or hold it for unreasonable amounts of time before they are allowed to get up and use the restroom. Should we all begin to bring adult diapers with us on a flight these days? Passengers should be required to stay in their seats for no more than ten minutes before a take off, ten minutes after take off and ten minutes before landing (except when heavy turbulence is present). The days of holding passengers hostage from not using the bathroom are over.  

9. No cell phones

     Most people do not want to hear someone else's conversation on a cell phone. Keep it this way. Do not allow people to use a phone.

10. No animals

    No animals should be allowed in the cabin. While your therapy cat might keep you calm while flying you are now subjecting many of the passengers to cat hair (horrible if you have allergies), and other potential vermin like fleas and ticks (carrying Lyme disease). This is a very selfish gesture.

11. A jail     

     There are more and more skirmishes and outright fights on planes than ever before. What is needed is a small jail in the back of the airplane to contain unruly passengers in the event of bad deeds happening.

12. A quarantine room

     Sick passengers need to be quarantined to a special enclosed room so as to not infect the rest of the passengers. How often do you hear that one person has infected an entire plane with tuberculosis or a deathly ill person gets on board with the Ebola virus and several passengers walk off carrying the disease. Temple thermometer scanners should be used on all passengers before boarding to see if anyone has a raised temperature, including the crew.

     After all, cruise ships will quarantine passengers feared to be sick with a contagious disease. Often the entire ship is told to stay in their room in order to avoid spreading an outbreak of a disease. Hospitals will quarantine people feared to have a contagious disease. Why are airlines immune to this practice? Exotic germs from all over the world are being spread through the airline industry.

13. Smaller cities served

     Airlines must serve many of the smaller cities that have been ignored. Airlines can no longer just serve the major hubs and larger cities.

14. Ozone cleaner

     Airplanes are filthy. After every flight each airplane must be completely closed up with ozone machines running for one hour to kill the mold, viruses and bacteria that have been carried on from the last flight. Ozone is used by commercial cleaners to clean hotel rooms of smoke, mold, dander and pathogens.

15. User friendly lounges                

     While not always the airlines problem, most airport lounges are very poorly designed. Often passengers are forced to sit or sleep for hours on the most uncomfortable seats or on the floor. Airlines should work with airports to have waiting areas with reclining seats and places where waiting passengers can enjoy a higher level of comfort. In an emergency when many flights are cancelled (like a snow storm), passengers will have a comfortable place to rest.

16. No dress code

     If it is decent to wear on the ground then it is decent to wear in the air. Far too often people are banned from flying because the airline does not like what someone is wearing. Airlines should not be in the business to decide what a dress code should and should not be. If the attire does not break any decency laws on the ground then the airline should have hands off in the matter. The 1950's morality dress code is over. The airlines still have not received the memo.

17. Customer service representative

     Every plane should have on board one customer service representative. This person can handle any conflicts between the passengers and any crew member or company policy. They can also change someone's flight if they are late for their connecting flight. Too often the cabin crew has a dual role— to act as the customer service representative and to enforce company policies. This is not working. An independent third party is needed.

     Airline crew and pilots have too much power over passengers to remove them from the aircraft without "just cause." A family is removed over where to store a birthday cake on Jet Blue. A passenger is removed because he complains that a blanket should not cost $12 on Hawaiian Airlines. A passenger is dragged off a United flight for refusing to give up his seat after being bumped by the airline.

     Passengers should be able to complain and even remove flight crew (including pilots) when it is reasonable to do so. We have seen too often how a stressed out crew member is either intoxicated or mentally off and working their shift for the day. A customer service representative on every flight would help to alleviate much of the war that goes on between passengers and crew members.

18. Breath test

     All passengers and all crew members must first pass a "breathalyzer" test before boarding the airplane. Too often we have seen intoxicated passengers board an aircraft and the problems are just beginning. On occasions, we have been witness to crew members (including pilots) who are intoxicated. Everyone must be first checked before boarding and the consumption of alcohol while on board must be restricted.

19. Improve screening process

    Passenger safety needs to be paramount. Improve screening for all airport workers and airline employees. All airline employees must also pass through a baggage check and a metal detector before all trips. We have seen on occasion how airline employees have been allowed to hide drugs or other contraband in their luggage.

     Profiling must continue at a high degree. Those who show the most signs of risk must be thoroughly checked. A no fly list is warranted but there must also be an easy manner in which to get off this list if you feel that you are on it without reason. All passengers must go through as intense a screening as Israel's airline (luggage checks, body searches etc.). All passengers must pass through an x-ray to see if there are any weapons, drugs or explosives hidden in body cavities. Improved bomb sniffing apparatus must be used on everyone.

20. Missile defense

    The threat of a missile hitting an aircraft from a rogue government or terrorist is always present. A Korean Airlines plane was shot down by a Russian military aircraft in 1983 because the Korean airplane strayed off course and into Russian airspace. Several airplanes worldwide have been knocked out of the sky in recent years by terrorists using land based shoulder fired missiles. The technology exists to outfit airlines with a missile defense system but the airlines have refused to spend the money on it. It would cost about one million dollars per plane. The airplanes from EL Al (Israel) have it as does the President of the Untied Sates on Air force One. Isn't it time that the ordinary passengers are awarded the same level of protection?

21. All seats cost the same

    Have you ever had to book a last minute flight only to find that you have paid three or four times the amount as the person seated right next to you on the flight? Airlines are gouging last minute flyers, whether it is a business trip or a family emergency. Under this new reorganization plan, all seats in the same section (1st Class, Business Class or Coach) will cost the same, no matter if you booked a ticket a year in advance or the day of the flight.

22. Eliminate Frequent Flyer Programs

     Frequent Flyer programs are just a way to lure you into spending more money, often on trips and items that you do not need. These programs are so expanded now that they are not just about airline miles but also hotels, car rentals and at times every time you spend a dollar on your airline credit card you are rewarded. In addition, these free seats are taking away from a paid passenger seat causing airlines to shrink leg room elsewhere for those paying passengers. End this practice. While at it, end the practice that airline employees and their families (and often friends) are allowed to fly free all over the place. These are free seats where a paid passenger could be using.

23. Full refunds           

     Airlines are in a unique position that if you do not use your ticket in most cases you do not get a full refund. Instead, you might have to pay a severe penalty (like $150) and be able to rebook the flight up until a designated day in the future. How many businesses are allowed to operate like this?  Some big box commercial stores are so good with refunds that you do not even need to show an original receipt to get a refund on an item. In contrast, the airlines are so greedy that refunds are few and far between, no matter how many receipts you show for your purchase.

24. Shrink carry on size

     Several years back luggage manufactures decided to create a bag that would just barely fit into the luggage test pocket in front of each airline's boarding gate. All of a sudden passengers stopped checking in so much luggage and would just travel with these oversized carrying on bags. Overhead luggage racks began to be filled to capacity and a race to board first came into play as many fought to find room in the overhead compartments. What once was reserved for purses and back packs now is filled to capacity with square sized luggage.

     The new dimensions of the carry on luggage must shrink. Current dimensions for carry on luggage are a bag no larger than 9 x 14 x 22 (2722 square inches). The new dimensions must shrink to 8 x 10 x 19 (1520 square inches). When you arrive at the gate each bag must fit completely in the test rack or it will have to be checked in. This will eliminate much of the race to stuff your suitcase in the overhead bin as many will be forced to check in luggage now. Carry on luggage was designed for a day trip or a one night overnight stay and not a three week vacation to the South of France.

25. Family section       

    Have you ever flown with a crying baby for a long flight? If churches can partition off areas and enclose them for families with screaming children then so can airlines. It is almost inhumane to expect a small child to sit still and be quiet on an airplane for an extended flight. Enclosed family areas are needed. 

26. Ceiling height adjustment

     The ceiling height of an average airplane is meant for someone who is five foot eight or shorter. There are many tall people who are being discriminated against on airlines who end up bumping their heads on the ceiling or other apparatus. The ceiling height of an aircraft should be able to accommodate anyone who is at least seven feet tall. Stop the discrimination against tall people.

27. Fireproof boxes

     All airlines should be mandated to carry fireproof boxes on board. We have seen on many occasions how a lap top computer or cell phone have caught on fire midflight. These boxes should be available if a problem begins to erupt.

28. Padded ceilings and air bags

    Many people are injured or killed when turbulence erupts and these passengers are not wearing their seat belts at the time and are thrown into the ceiling. Why can we not have a padded ceiling and ceilings where air bags are deployed in the event of turbulence? After all it was not too long ago where we did not even have seat belts in cars. We have since gone from seat belts to shoulder restraints to front airbags and even side impact airbags. Why is there not an airbag in the front of a person on an airplane? While most airbags will not save someone from a violent crash, an airbag being deployed will certainly help in minor crashes. Why are we told in the event of an emergency to cross our arms, lean forward and kiss our ass goodbye?

29. Showers

     Flights over 5 hours should be required to have showers on them. One does not need a spray of  5 gallons a minute shooting down on you to feel refreshed. A simple light spray will do. Some of the elite airlines flying from the Middle East have showers. Why are U.S. airlines so far behind? What is worse than to get off an airplane full of airplane stink and feeling crusty all over? 

Conclusion

    The airlines are a business and not a kingdom. The skies are no longer the "friendly skies" and passengers feel at war with the airlines. It would be one thing if airlines were losing their shirts by doing business. However, they are not. In fact, they are raking in record profits. In 2016 the airline industry posted a whopping 25.6 billion dollar profit. This was up over 214 % since 2014. There is no hardship excuse at why passengers are being so horribly treated.

     The airlines wish you to believe that once you are locked in that metal tube and off in the air that time stands still and nothing happens. They want you to read your book, watch your movie and be obedient to the core. But things happen in flight. People get sick, people die, people have heart attacks, people get drunk, people fight, people have arguments, babies are born and accidents happen. Is it not time for the airlines to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios?
     You cannot keep an animal in a cage and keep prodding it without expecting it to begin to attack you. Airlines continue to squeeze and prod passengers and the limit has been reached. There is now a war between crew and passengers and it is all the airline's fault. Passengers feel like caged animals with shrinking seats, shrinking leg space, inability to use the bath room and being charged for every little part of flying.

     Americans are being held hostage by the airline industry. A citizen will purchase a ticket and he believes that he is a customer. Once he boards the aircraft he soon learns that he is locked in a hostile environment and is really a hostage to archaic airline rules and behavior. If he makes any unreasonable demands or questions industry policies he might quickly be labeled as a hostile threat, deemed a criminal and removed from the plane by shaming or by brute force. From customer to hostage to criminal in the blink of an eye.

    Deregulation of the airlines has been a colossal failed experiment. It is now time to reign in this dinosaur of a beast and bring back not only regulation but a host of other changes. It is time that the passengers have a say in how airlines do business.

    While the technology of the airplane might have evolved greatly over the last fifty years (greater fuel efficiency etc.) the business of flying has greatly deteriorated. What was once a grand and splendid experience has been turned into a hapless misadventure of poor customer service, elevated greed and outright disrespect.

     It is time for an airline passengers' "Bill of Rights". Only when the public begins to boycott an airline and force it to change will there be real change. Only when government steps down hard on airlines will there be change. Until then, try to enjoy your shrinking seats, half can of soda and over booked flights. If you feel like an animal being prodded in a cage and the walls are becoming even more closed in on you then you just might be right? If you feel like a hostage stuck inside an aluminum tube then you might just be right as well?