Air Travel

“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.

 

Robotic check-in kiosks & other new tech for airports

My May “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY is all about some of the cool new technology – and creative uses of emerging technologies – that may soon make your trip through the airport less painful and, possibly, more rewarding.

The ideas were featured at the Air Transport IT Summit I attended in Brussels recently, which was convened by SITA, a global air transport IT provider owned by airlines and other air transport companies.

Here are some of the ideas that caught my eye:

No more check-in lines? KATE may help

Last year, SITA Lab, SITA’s technology research arm, introduced a self-propelling baggage robot, named Leo, who may someday greet you at the airport curb, check you in for your flight, issue your bag tags and then take your bags away for processing.

This year, SITA Lab unveiled Leo’s cousin KATE, an intelligent check-in kiosk that can move autonomously, and in teams to busy or congested areas in airports.

KATE the kiosk can monitor a variety of data sources, including flight and passenger flow information, sense where and where additional check-in kiosks are needed and, using geo-location and obstacle avoidance technology, move through the airport without bumping into things or people.

The robotic kiosks are also designed to automatically return to their docking stations when they are low on power or if they need to be a fresh supply of boarding passes or bag tags.

Kate is cute (although she did run over my toes) and these roving kiosks could not only help airports and airlines better serve passengers when rebooking is necessary due to flight cancellations or weather delays, but they might also be useful on duty in offsite locations, such as train stations and convention halls and, possibly, cruise ports.

New ways to pay airlines – and get paid by airlines          

Airlines that use the common-use SITA check-in kiosks and bag-drop stations now standard at many airports currently don’t currently have a secure way to accept passenger payments at those terminals for extras such as baggage fees upgrades and other ancillary items.

At the Air Transport IT Summit, SITA announced that is has solved the ‘multi-merchant’ problem with a new payment system that uses point-to-point encryption (P2PE) technology that can accept various forms of payment, including MasterCard, Visa and Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant chip cards.

Look for a roll-out of this in SITA’s common-use kiosks and bag drops stations at airports in the next few months.

On the flipside, for those occasions when airlines must (or want to) compensate passengers for flight delays, cancellation or overbookings, a company called TravaCoin has partnered with SITA to test a voucher system that airlines can use to quickly issue credit to passengers that can (or can only) be spent on new flights, upgrades, hotel stays, services inside the airport or perhaps donated to local charities and non-profits.

TravaCoin CEO and founder, Brian Whelan told USA TODAY he envisions the digital currency being of special interest to airlines based in or flying through European Union countries that are currently required by EU Regulation 261 to pay passengers up to 600 euros (currently about $668) per inconvenience.

“At the moment airlines are holding out and making it awkward,” said Whelan. “They’re losing the money eventually, but also losing customer loyalty. This is a way for airlines, even airlines not covered by the regulations, to be proactive by issuing currency that can be spent in the TravaCoin community. The goodwill and the money go hand in hand.”

So do the benefits that airlines, especially, might gain from adopting TravaCoin currency for compensating passengers.

“There is a ‘breakages’ notion,” said Whelan, “If you give people vouchers, one way the merchant benefits is if the customer never spends the voucher.”

TravaCoin’s surveys have found that while many passengers who say they’d accept the vouchers would ‘top up’ and spend some of their own cash on top of the voucher value, about 20 percent would likely not spend their vouchers at all.

The goodwill aspect of TravaCoin appeals to Brian Cobb, vice-president, Customer Experience at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which has successfully used new technology to improve customer service with reduced checkpoint wait times and cleaner restrooms in public areas of the airport.

“Love the idea. Especially with the consumer choice in how to spend, including donating back to the community,” said Cobb. “While it is likely sometime in coming, airports may need to leverage customer service recovery tools much in the way airlines do today. It’s a solid method to support recovering the brand perception and exceeding customer expectations.”

 

An arty take on the airline tray table

(By Pedro Campiche (NEW YORK CITY) – New York Skyline)

Delta Air Lines teamed up with Coca-Cola to use the tray tables on one of the airline’s airplanes as a gallery to show off 12 artist-made images of popular destinations around the world, including Amsterdam, Atlanta, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York City, Paris, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo.

In addition to showing the art on the tray tables of one 767 airplane, the original trays will be shown in Concourse A, between gates A15 and A11 at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Here are a few more of the images:

This one is by Ping Zhu, from Shanghai.

The tray table art above – with Dutch waffles and bicyclists floating through flower-lined streets – is by Sac Magique of Amsterdam. The one below is Skip Hursch’s take on Mexico City, using a modern lens on traditional Central American textile design.

Here’s Stevie Gee’s take on Los Angeles.

And here’s how James Eads shares Paris.

 

Now: fly commercial to Havana

havana-cookies

The first commercial flights between the United States and Havana started flying on Monday, by coincidence just a few days after the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

A 45-minute American Airlines flight from Miami to Havana was the first flight US – Havana flight of the day, followed by JetBlue’s flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Havana.

I joined the JetBlue flight. Here are some snaps from the send-off festivities, the flight and the Havana airport.

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JetBlue crew members had to apply to be part of the team on this inaugural flight, writing letters to try to compete for a spot. This flight attendant was glad to be on the flight so she could bring her doll “Lulu” back to Havana for the first time since 1962.

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There are just a few shops in the post-security area of Havana Airport – but several places to buy cigars.

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View out the window of Havana Jose Marti International Airport

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American and JetBlue were the first airlines to begin flying between the US and Havana, but by January Alaska Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Spirit, Southwest and United should be flying there too from a variety of cities throughout the U.S.

TSA & the things they bring

TSA GUNS

The TSA publishes a report each week on the number of firearms and other prohibited items people try to take with them through security checkpoints at airports.

Last week, March 11-17, 2016, for example, 62 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints around the country. 50 of those firearms were loaded and 14 had a round chambered.

Passengers don’t just try to guns with them onto planes. They take inert grenades, really big knives and one person tried to take this with them onto a plane at JFK International Airport in New York:

TSA JFK suspicious can 3-16-16

Looks like something that might explode, right?

According to the TSA Blog, the “organic mass and protruding wires… “ended up being what the traveler described as abstract art.”