Delays

“Zilch” and other compensation airlines may owe you 

Whether or not the power outage that caused British Airways to cancel all flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airport last weekend was caused by a worker pulling the wrong plug, the airline is looking at perhaps $100 million in compensation payouts to thousands of passengers whose travelers were disrupted by the snafu.

While acknowledging that it may take “a little longer than normal to process all of the payments,” due to the volume of customers affected, on its website British Airlines is assuring passengers whose plans were put into disarray by the outage that it will comply with European Union Regulation 261/2004.

The rule outlines the compensation airlines must pay passengers for flights that are delayed or canceled and covers scheduled flights to or from airports in EU countries (as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and some other non-EU regions) as well as flights to and from the EU  purchased on U.S. carriers but operated by a EU carrier.

“It’s who you’re flying not where you’re buying,” notes George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com.

“If it’s within the airlines’ reasonable control, then compensation kicks in, which can max out at 600 euros,” said Hobica, “Getting paid is another thing, and can involve paperwork and waiting or negotiating, which is why there are a half dozen firms that will do the work for you, for a cut of the money owed.”

But at least those passengers have the law on their side.

On US, Canadian, Middle Eastern, or other non-Euro airline flights that are delayed or canceled due to IT outages, mechanical issues, crew delays or other issues within an airline’s control, passengers are legally due “zilch, nada, nothing. Nothing mandated by law” said Hobica,

That doesn’t mean passengers always get nothing, though.

Policies outlining what services are provided to a customer waiting in the airport vary by airline and are contained in their contracts of carriage, advises consumer organization Flyersrights, noting that the contracts of carriage generally leave it to the airline’s discretion to distribute meal vouchers and hotel accommodations.

Delta Air Lines outlines its policies on situations such as delays, cancellations, diversions and bumped passengers in its Customer Commitment document.

For example, the airline promises to “provide hotel accommodations at Delta contracted facilities, based on availability, if you are inconvenienced overnight while away from your home or destination due to a delay, misconnect or cancellation within Delta’s control.”

In August 2016, the carrier went the extra step of offering $200 in travel vouchers to customers whose flights were cancelled or who were delayed by more than three hours due to a system wide IT incident.

United Airlines spokeswoman Maddie King said the company strives to provide customers with flexible travel options when there are unanticipated interruptions to operations.

“We actively assist in rebooking customers and often provide compensation for customers who experience extensive delays that are within our control,” said King, “During severe interruptions we will provide customers with a travel waiver to change their flights at no cost. (United’s policies on flight delays and cancellations are posted here.)

And JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights outlines, in perhaps the industry’s most straightforward language, what customers can expect from the airline “when things do not go as planned,” including specific credit amounts to be issued for cancellations and delays.

On its website, the U.S. Department of Transportation confirms that “for domestic itineraries, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled,” but does note a few situations that are covered by laws, including situations involving involuntary bumping of passengers, in which case required compensation can reach 400 percent of a one-way fare, but not more than $1,350.

As result of the recent United Airlines ‘incident’ involving a man being dragged of a flight in an involuntary bumping situation, United Airlines has issued policy changes which include the promise to offer passengers up to $10,000 to voluntary give up their seats in an effort to avoid having future overbooked flight situations.

Likewise, Delta has stated that it will offer up to $9,950 to passengers who volunteer to give up their seats on overbooked flights, said Zach Honig, editor at ThePointsGuy.com, “Though I wouldn’t be surprised if we never hear of the airline paying out compensation approaching that amount. Chances are enough travelers will volunteer long before the compensation offer gets well into the thousands.”

(My story about airline compensation for ‘inconvenienced’ passengers first appeared on NBC News.

 

Travel Tidbits: airport yoga & tarmac delays

suitcase

I’m doing a fill-in stint over on the Today in the Sky blog at USA TODAY this week. Here are are some of the stories I’ve been working on over there:

Airport yoga studio round-up

DFW YOGA STUDIO SIGN

New Year, new resolutions: lots of travelers have vowed to be healthier, less-stressed when out on the road this year and, next to measured walking paths and restaurant menus with tasty vegetarian and gluten-free options, yoga rooms are some of the best tools airports have to offer.

Yoga aficionados encourage travelers to relax and stretch anywhere they can, but here’s a snip-n-save list of official yoga spaces currently at U.S. airports:

San Francisco International Airport : SFO kicked off the airport yoga room trend back in January 2012 and has yoga rooms in Terminal 2 (in Boarding Area D) and Terminal 3 (Boarding Are E, near Gate 69). Both are open 24 hours. Mats provided.

Chicago O’Hare Airport: Located on the mezzanine level of the Terminal 3 Rotunda, near the urban garden. A video monitor offers yoga exercise techniques and a public restroom for changing clothes is nearby. Mats provided. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Chicago Midway Airport: Located on Concourse C, next to Mother’s Room. A video monitor offer yoga instruction tips. Mats provided. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Burlington International Airport, Vermont: Located on the second floor, near a family bathroom and across from the airport Observation Tower. Mats provided.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Yoga studio spaces open 24 hours at Gate D40 and at Gate E31. Mats provided. The Gate E31 yoga space is fairly new and is tucked beneath the Skylink escalator. In addition to exercise balls and stretch bands, DFW plans to create its own set of videos to offer yoga instructions for beginners and advanced yoga students simultaneously.

Tarmac Delay Study

Pittsburgh Airport clearing snow

The tarmac delay rule put in place in 2010 by the Department of Transportation to protect fliers from being stranded for hours on airplanes during long delays has actually made travel delays longer, a new study finds.

The study compared actual flight schedule and delay data before and after the rule went into effect and found that, while it has been very effective in reducing the frequency of long tarmac delays, the rule has raised cancellation rates overall and created longer travel times.

“Cancellations result in passengers requiring rebooking, and often lead to extensive delay in reaching their final destinations,” the study conducted by researchers at Dartmouth College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded.

The tarmac delay rule was put into place after a series of highly publicized incidents left passengers stuck in airplanes during ground delays for lengthy periods of time and, among other provisions, imposes hefty fines on airlines that violate a three-hour tarmac delay limit.

The study proposes a modified version of the DOT’s rule that increases the tarmac limit by a half-hour, to 3 ½ hours, and applies it only to flights with planned departures before 5 p.m. The study also suggests that the tarmac time limit to be defined as “the time when the aircraft begin returning to the gate instead of being defined in terms of the time when passengers are allowed to deplane.”

“Passengers overwhelmingly support limiting tarmac time to no more than three hours,” said Kendall Creighton, a spokeswoman for FlyersRights.org, one of the groups that first urged DOT to create protective rules.

But Airlines for America, an industry trade group, would like to see these reforms.

Stuck at … IAH Airport

IAH airport

Travel enough and you’ll have one of those days when a short flight delay turns into a long one.

Then that long delay turns into an unreasonably long one.

And then the airline informs you that, contrary to what the mechanics have been saying for the past three or four hours, the airplane you’ve been sitting on isn’t going to fly.

And then you’re in line with a lot of really cranky people at the customer service desk waiting for a hotel voucher so you can try again in the morning.

After a forty minute wait for the hotel van, you arrive at the hotel the customer service agent described as “really, really nice, you’ll love it!” to discover that it’s a really creepy hotel with a no-smoking floor that reeks of smoke.

But you consider yourself lucky, because the front desk clerk exchanges your food voucher for the bar’s last bottle of wine which, she admits, the bartender ran out to buy at the grocery store because the bar had somehow run dry.

iah wine (2)

Automated passport control machines speed up travel

Passport Kiosks ready to go at JFK_courtesy Delta Air Lines

Courtesy Delta Air Lines

On Monday, arriving U.S. passengers from international flights at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 began using automated passport machines to speed their trip through customs.

Similar self-service machines already in use at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Terminal 5, and at two airports in Canada (Vancouver and Montreal) are already helping to significantly cut down wait times at customs that, at times, have forced arriving international passengers to stand in line for up to five hours or to be held back on a plane.

JFK is the busiest U.S. entry point for international travelers, and 40 automated passport kiosks have been purchased by Delta for use in Terminal 4, where it is the largest tenant among more than 30 airlines. At JFK, only U.S. citizens will initially be able to use the machines, but soon Canadian citizens should be able to use the machines as well.

Delta would like the Custom and Border Protection agency to increase staffing and improve scheduling to accommodate peak arrival times. “But we don’t know how long that will take,” said Delta spokeswoman Leslie Scott. “This is something proactive we can do now as an investment in the customer experience. Because if a passenger has enjoyed the in-flight meals, the lie-flat bed and other aspects of an international flight having to stand on line for hours on arrival really ruins the experience.”

ORD KIOSKS

Courtesy Chicago O’Hare International Airport

According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, since July 1, when the automated passport control technology was rolled out at O’Hare Airport’s Terminal 5, daily passenger volume has increased by 21 percent, to over 15,000, but wait times during peak arrival periods have been reduced by 33 percent.

The number of passengers waiting over 60 minutes per day at O’Hare has been reduced by nearly 60 percent, and the number of passengers waiting for over two hours has been eliminated almost entirely. The number of passengers missing their connecting flights has been drastically reduced as well.

At O’Hare, only U.S. citizens could initially use the kiosks, but this month the program was expanded to include Canadian citizens as well.

(O’Hare also has another program in place that gets people through customs quicker: in International Terminal 5 a program called “1-Stop” is available to arriving passengers with proper documentation and only carry-on luggage.)

Several vendors, including the Vancouver Airport Authority, IBM and SITA, make and market the technology and the hardware, which will be rolled out at several other airports in North America in the next few months.

Machines made by SITA at Orlando International “are deployed but not yet in use,” said SITA’s Sean Farrell. “We’re just waiting for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to certify the system, but right now that agency is on furlough.”

Toronto Pearson plans to launch its automated passport control kiosks, being built by IBM, in mid-November.

Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport has 20 kiosks that should be operational by the end of the year.

On its own, Dallas/Fort Worth International is developing and building 30 automated passport reading kiosks that should be up and running by early November.

And 36 automated passport machines, purchased at a cost of $3.5 million by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, will be installed in November at Miami International.

“It’s pretty well documented that we’ve had challenges in our international arrivals area,” said Miami’s airport spokesman Greg Chin. “Our peak waiting times have been as much as two to three hours, and this is one of the ways we’re trying to mitigate the challenges.”

Visitor makeup is 70 percent U.S. citizens at O’Hare versus 70 percent non-U.S. visitors at MIA, said Chin, “And because U.S. citizens are easier to process, we don’t think our reduction will match [O’Hare’s] 30 percent but we hope to at least approach that.”

(A slightly different version of this story first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior. This is an updated version.)