FAA

NY-area airports want to fine unruly passengers for flight delays

Here’s an intriguing idea: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, LaGuardia and Newark International airports, wants to sue unruly passengers who cause major flight delays.  This is the story I wrote Monday for msnbc.com.

 

Unruly airline passengers at any of the three New York area airports (JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty) may soon have to go to court and pay for the cost of delaying a flight.

“On a regular basis we’re having issues where planes have to come back to the gate because of disruptive passengers,” said Steve Coleman, spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three airports. “We’re looking to cut down on the number of incidents that require police response and reduce the amount of time and money airlines lose because of these incidents.”

Coleman said the airport authority is embarking on a campaign that will include the use of social media, posted signs and other methods to strongly remind passengers to behave and follow the instruction of airline crewmembers.

“Our lawyers are also looking at ways we can take civil action against the most egregious cases,” said Coleman.

The cost per hour to operate a U.S. passenger airline is $5,867, according to Airlines for America (A4A), the airline trade association. “So any delay represents a real cost to an airline’s bottom line,” said A4A spokesperson Steve Lott. If the new policy is enacted, the Port Authority might sue passengers responsible for a delay to pay for the related costs.

In 2011, there were 1.3 million flights at the New York area airports and Port Authority and police responded to close to 400 incidents involving disruptive airline passengers. “Most of those were due to people who wouldn’t turn off their electronic devices, which is a federal law,” said Coleman. Many other incidents were related to smoking and passenger disputes.

“And it’s not just a New York thing,” said Coleman. “This resonates with airports across the country.”

Research conducted by the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) shows that passengers often blame the airport for airline-related delays. “So, certainly the discussion the Port Authority is having is likely to prompt other airports to think about this,” said Debby McElroy, ACI-NA’s executive vice president, policy and external affairs.

The incidents-to-flights ratio at the New York area airports and elsewhere “is actually quite low, but any effort that helps enforce the message of what the laws are will help,” said A4A’s Lott.

Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, said he applauds efforts to reduce airline delays, but it seems somewhat unfair to single out airline passengers for systemwide problems. “There can be numerous reasons why passengers might be responsible for delayed flights, including what happened two weeks ago when a family was escorted off the plane because their daughter wouldn’t stop crying.”

Passengers who interfere with the duties of a crewmember and engage in unruly behavior can be fined by the FAA or prosecuted on criminal charges. Reporting incidents to the FAA is at the discretion of crewmembers, and in 2011, as of October, the agency had taken action on 127 incidents nationwide.

“The Port Authority has not contacted the FAA. So we are unaware of their plans,” said FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette. “The bottom line is that people should know if they behave badly on an airplane they can go to jail or be fined.”

What do you think? Should airports be able to levy fines on unruly passengers who cause airplanes to return to the gate?

Tidbits for travelers: airfare tax holiday (sort of) & fresh airport art

A little bit of this and that for a summer Monday:

Tax holiday on airline tickets – sort of

The U.S. government’s failure to reauthorize the budget for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), means that domestic airlines can’t charge some federal excise taxes on flights until the issue is worked out.

For a while there over the weekend, it looked like travelers would be getting a holiday from several taxes (the 7.5% tax on domestic transportation, the $3.70 domestic segment tax and the $16.30 international arrival/departure tax), but it turned out only some airlines, including Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines (surprise!) and Virgin America are passing along the savings.

 

The other airlines? They raised their bases fares so that, in many cases, anyone seeking to buy a ticket would pay what they would have before the FAA shutdown.

Sneaky!

Elsewhere…

If you’re traveling through John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA before September 12, 2011, look for paintings by Steve Metzger on the departure (upper) level near the security screening areas and on the arrival (lower) level near baggage carousels 1 and 4.

Courtesy Steve Metzger

A professor at Fullerton College and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Metzger’s paintings from photos depict “metaphoric icons of the passage of time.” Here’s a link to more images from the Metzger exhibition.

And, on Thursday, July 28, 2011, passengers at Philadelphia International Airport will be able to watch woodworker Roosevelt Bassett turn discarded wood lathe into purses and hats.

Part of the airport’s series of artist demonstrations, Bassett will be at work from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. in the Terminal B-C Food Court.

If you’re not passing through the PHL on Thursday, don’t worry. There’s an exhibition of Bassett’s wood handbags in Terminal B.

Tax-holiday for airline tickets

The temporary shutdown of the FAA – the Federal Aviation Administration – due to a spat over $16.5 million in subsidies to 13 rural communities, means a temporary tax holiday for anyone who buys an airline ticket before the issue is resolved.

The shutdown means that, starting Friday night, airlines don’t have the authority to collect federal excise ticket taxes until congress reinstates them.

A release sent out by Alaska Airlines lists the taxes that will not be collected:

• The 7.5% tax generally applicable to domestic transportation – as well as the 7.5% tax on amounts received from the sale of frequent flier miles.
• The $3.70 domestic segment tax.
• The $16.30 international arrival/departure tax.
• The $8.20 departure tax for flights between Alaska/Hawaii and the mainland US.

On a $300 round trip ticket, notes Alaska Airlines, this represents a savings of about $44 or about 14 percent.

What are you waiting for?

FAA: no more emergency oxygen in airplane bathrooms

Now this is scary:

By order of the FAA, U.S. airlines have removed the emergency oxygen generators on all U.S. airplanes.  Here’s the story I worked on today today for msnbc.com:  FAA: No more oxygen in airplane lavatories.

Citing security concerns, the federal government in secrecy last month ordered every airline in the United States to remove emergency oxygen in every lavatory on all 6,000 domestic commercial aircraft.

Under Air Worthiness Directive 2011-04-09, made public this week, the Federal Aviation Administration directed all airlines to disable the lavatory oxygen generators to “eliminate a potential safety and security vulnerability.”

That means that if there’s a sudden loss of cabin pressure, now only those passengers at their seats will have oxygen flowing to the masks that drop down from the ceiling.

“I’m in shock,” said Kate Hanni, executive director of Flyersrights.org, a nonprofit airline passengers’ rights organization. “We get reports of mid-air decompression events all the time. So now going to the bathroom on a commercial flight can kill you? I’m panicking just thinking about this.”

Although rapid decompression is rare, it does happen. In October, for example, oxygen masks were deployed on an American Airlines flight enroute from Miami to Boston after the cabin lost pressure when a two-foot hole tore open in the plane’s fuselage . The crew declared an emergency, and the plane safely returned to Miami. Passengers were panicked, but no one was injured.

But under the FAA’s new directive, any passengers who happen to be in the airplane restroom should such an event occur would no longer have immediate access to oxygen.

According to the FAA, the airlines completed disabling the oxygen generators in the lavatories of all 6,000 U.S. aircraft on March 4. The FAA said in a statement released Thursday that it delayed informing the public about this action because it was concerned about keeping travelers “as safe and secure as possible.”

The agency told NBC News that the action was done proactively in response not to a specific threat but to general concerns that a terrorist could use the lavatory oxygen to start a fire or ignite a bomb.

“Had the FAA publicized the existence of this security vulnerability prior to airlines fixing it, thousands of planes across the U.S. and the safety of passengers could have been at risk,” the FAA stated.

The agency noted that it is working with aircraft manufacturers “to design, certify, and install a new lavatory oxygen system” on all aircraft, adding that “if there is a sudden loss of cabin pressure, pilots are already trained to guide the aircraft to a safe, breathable altitude as quickly as possible. Flight attendants are also already trained to assist passengers to quickly access oxygen — including those in the lavatories.”

Sara Keagle, a flight attendant who blogs at TheFlyingPinto.com, said flight attendants had not yet received training on the new directive but added that they already have access to portable oxygen bottles that could be used to assist any passengers in a lavatory.

“If a decompression should occur, flight attendants are trained to get on oxygen immediately,” she said. “Once it is safe, we would don a portable oxygen bottle and check the cabin, including the lavs, to make sure everyone was OK.”

But Arthur Alan Wolk, an aviation safety expert and licensed jet pilot, said: “Part of the idea of the oxygen mask dropping from the ceiling during loss of cabin pressure is to keep the occupants of the main cabin alive until an airplane gets down to a breathable altitude. By eliminating the source of oxygen for the unlucky souls in the bathroom, you’ve just killed those people.”

Airlines were expected to begin informing passengers about the lack of lavatory oxygen generators on seatback briefing cards, during the verbal passenger safety briefing presentation and on signs posted in airplane bathrooms.