Why Americans Hate Their Airlines

The United States has gone from ten to just four airlines controlling about 80 percent of domestic seat capacity.
04/13/2017 03:38 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2017

Americans hate their airlines, and with good reason!

The broken jaw, shattered nose, concussion and two missing teeth that United “agents” inflicted on Dr. David Dao shocked everybody.

But recently, new extra fees for things that American travelers used to get for free are driving them crazy: baggage fees, change fees, extra charges for normal size seats, charges for premier access.

Sure, they may be getting cheaper prices, but they’re also being sliced and diced into small pieces. Meanwhile, the airline industry is projected to earn record profits of $35.6 billion in 2017 from service fees collected off their hostage passengers.

United and Delta both have had particularly rough weeks of late. Both airlines bumped scores of passengers because of operational problems (Delta weathered about 3,000 flight cancellations) with hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers.

But only one airline ended up facing world-wide outrage. The other managed to come out much more cleanly.

United and Delta have different policies when it comes to overbooked flights. When it comes to bumping passengers, Delta is more generous than United and other airlines, writes the Wall Street Journal. For example, Delta offers more incentives like gift vouchers to avoid forcefully bumping passengers. But they have also engaged in corporate thuggery. See this woman being dragged off a Delta flight last December.

On Sunday, United decided it had to put four crew members on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. The airline asked for volunteers, offering a hotel for the night and a voucher for $800. United claims they raised the offer to $1,000, but there were no takers. The airline did not raise the offer further.

Normally, issues surrounding overbooked flights are supposed to be resolved by gate agents before boarding the plane. In this case, the plane was fully boarded before United realized their grievous error. The airline then selected four passengers, “at random,” to bump involuntarily. Three agreed to get off the plane, but Dr. Dao refused, saying he had patients to attend to the next morning, and was beaten to a bloody pulp and dragged off by airport police.

Video of the egregious incident horrified people worldwide, and at the same time “confirmed what many see as typical airline treatment of passengers as cargo not customers.”

What’s more, United ultimately cited an incorrect rule for de-boarding the passenger. As law expert John Banzhaf points out, the law only permits United Airlines to remove customers from aircraft under very specific circumstances, including unruly behavior, intoxication or medical concerns.

If an airline captain gives you an order to undress, or to fondle a stewardess, or to punch your seatmate, that order is illegal. A captain is supposed to give orders that relate to the safety of the travel. They are not supposed to give orders that are intended to benefit the the bottom line dollars that airlines will earn.

Delta, meanwhile, had a week of cancellations after severe storms ripped through its Atlanta hub. The airline ended up with planes and crews out of position and faced crew shortages. Standby lists grew. Delta, with flights severely overbooked, also faced the challenge of getting pilots and flight attendants on flights so they would be in place for upcoming flights.

The airline ended up delighting some customers by handing out gift cards to entice people to voluntarily give up seats. Customers reported offers of $800, $1,000 and even $1,350 per passenger in gift cards from American Express, Bloomingdales and Best Buy. Many took to social media to gloat.

Delta’s willingness to go above $1,000 may have lured some volunteers, and the offer of gift cards was extremely appealing to many fliers. Some veteran travelers dislike discount airline vouchers because they can be hard to use, and since they can only be cashed in for trips, infrequent fliers may not see much value either. But gift cards are just like cash in consumers’ pockets.

“Delta Airlines has had an epic operational meltdown this week,” said Joe Brancatelli of Joesentme.com. “Its response is about as you’d expect: denials, lies, deflection, misinformation―and, of course, thousands of long delays and cancellations and irate flyers and flight crews stranded around the world.”

American Airlines is not exempt from passenger fury either. They have been accused by a Market Watch survey of being the worst of all.

The airlines are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) but, unlike in Europe, where regulations are more stringent, the FAA is often a rubber stamp for whatever the industry wants. Witness the wave of uncompetitive mergers routinely approved.

In recent years, the United States has gone from ten to just four airlines controlling about 80 percent of domestic seat capacity. The United States is heading towards a two or three-airline cartel, which, with hub city domination, will then systematically eliminate all remaining carriers and open the way for astronomical price hikes and drastic service cuts, with expensive extra fees.

The supposed “contracts of carriage,” some running up to 37,000 words, are a joke.

No passengers ever read these complex contracts, that they supposedly agree to, and courts have ruled in other cases that such contracts put airlines in a superior bargaining position and are inherently illegal according to the doctrine of “contract adhesion.” They are unconscionable.

Write to: jfleetwood@aol.com

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