The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced four major changes to airline regulations that will affect frequent fliers. Under the new regulations, airlines will be required to refund bag fees if they lose luggage.
Currently, airlines are required to compensate passengers for the value of lost bags, regardless of whether a fee was paid to check them. According to Associated Press, airlines mishandled 2 million bags last year, although that number also includes damaged and delayed ones. The new regulation would not force airlines to pay travelers for delayed luggage.
New airline guidelines will also affect the amount of time passengers spend on an airport tarmac. U.S. regulators have put a 4-hour limit on the tarmac for international flights after last December when passengers were stranded on the tarmac for more than 10 hours at New York’s JFK airport. Some airline trade groups say the new tarmac regulation will force airlines to cancel more international flights to avoid the $27,000 per passenger fine that comes with breaking the rule.
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The Federal Aviation Association will add air traffic controllers to 27 towers after another air-traffic controller fell asleep on the job. This time it was at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada.
After several attempts to contact the air-traffic controller, the pilot of an air ambulance, carrying a critically ill patient, was forced to land at the airport early Wednesday. Federal transportation officials said the controller could not be reached for 16 minutes.
In the last two months, there have been 4 other incidents where an airplane pilot was unable to reach a sleepy air-traffic controller at a U.S. airport, including Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport and Seattle’s Boeing Field-King County International Airport.
The FAA has demanded that additional controllers staff overnight shifts where only one controller works. The National Transportation Safety Board and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have announced investigations of these recent air traffic control incidents.
A TSA agent’s pat-down of a child at the Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans has caused a major uproar. This video, posted on YouTube, shows a female TSA agent explaining the security procedure to the child’s mother Selena Drexel, and then subjecting 6-year-old Anna to an intense pat-down. Todd Drexel, Anna’s father, says Anna started to cry afterwards.
Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned why the child wasn’t taken to a private area and whether the screening was necessary. A TSA spokesman says after reviewing the incident that the agent did follow proper procedures.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, thinks a modified pat-down for children 12 and under may be necessary after a string of similar incidents. There’s no word yet if there are efforts underway to change airport screenings for children.
Japan was rocked by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake today, near the same location of the 9.0-magnitude temblor on March 11. Japan Meteorological Agency has issued a tsunami warning for places on the coast. Miyagi is the primary area that will be affected.
NPR’s Greg Dixon reports that Japan’s NHK is urging anyone along the coast in the region near the epicenter to head for higher ground. Lesser tsunami advisories cover Aomori, Iwate, Fukushima and Ibaraki.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says workers have evacuated the Fikushima Daiichi nuclear plant despite no signs of new problems after the strong aftershock. Officials say the quake hit 25 miles underwater off the coast of Miyagi prefecture. Buildings as far as Tokyo shook for a minute, according to Associated Press.
Japan’s last quake, in March, set off a tsunami that struck the country’s North Central coast, leaving 1000s dead or missing.
Photo: News photographers huddle around the damaged piece of the Southwest Airlines
flight 812 at NTSB headquarters in Washington (Reuters)
Four Southwest planes, repaired for cracks, will likely return to service by Saturday. Airline officials say the 5th plane with cracks in the skin will be held back for additional, previously schedule maintenance.
Southwest grounded 79 of its older Boeing 737 aircraft for inspections after a hole opened in the roof of a similar plan over Arizona last week, forcing an emergency landing. The defective plane will be flown to a maintenance center for permanent repairs until Boeing determines how to fix the problem.
Boeing has already provided instructions on how to fix the cracked planes, which is usually a 2-day job.
The orca responsible for his trainer’s death last year is performing at SeaWorld Orlando again. The killer whale Tilikum was back in the pool performing for crowds last week. The whale will also be part of the “One Ocean” show at SeaWorld, which debuts April 22.
You may recall that SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau drowned to death last year after Tilikum bit her ponytail and held her underwater. Now a year later and with mixed emotions, Dawn’s family says their OK with whale’s return to public performances at the theme park.
SeaWorld has plans to dedicate the Dawn Brancheau Educational Complex in honor of the trainer. Despite their goodwill, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has slapped the theme park with a $75,000 fine that is currently in dispute.
SeaWorld has taken steps to improve their trainers’ safety. The theme park no longer allows trainers in the water with orcas. Plans are also underway to build an escape hatch that trainers can activate with the press of a button. A false bottom of the pool would raise the whale and trainer above the surface of the water, ideally separating the trainers from danger.
LivingSocial has expanded its portfolio to offer hotel deals. A few months ago, the daily-deal maker launched LivingSocial Escapes, a travel division that offers 1- or 2-night travel experiences. The company provide its members with deals on a few hotels within driving distance and a few choices that would require a quick airplane trip. The airline tickets are not included in the deal.
So here’s how it all works. LivingSocial sends its members a weekly email that touts several hotel deals. The deals are available for purchase for 7 days. The time frame for use varies, but it generally expires after 1 year. “Once you make your purchase, you have to set up your trip, which gives the hotel a chance to sell you an extra night or 2,” said LivingSocial exec Doug Miller in a recent USAToday.com interview. But wait there’s more, members can get a free escape if he or she shares a deal with friends and 3 of them buy it.
Ski resorts, located along the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, are attracting more skiers and snowboarders after record snowfalls. The Sierra typically gets snowfall in April, but this season the area has seen more than 61 feet of snow — just a few feet shy of the 65-feet record set from 1950 to 1951.
Ski patrol guides had to create tunnels to reach their warming huts, and avalanches broke out windows at two life stations at Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. According to Associated Press, almost 59 feet of snow has fallen there, breaking the old record of 29 inches.
The unexpected snowfall has sparked Squaw Valley to extend its season through Memorial Day, and Heavenly Mountain Resort, on Mammoth Mountain, may remain open through the 4th of July.
Despite the booming business at ski resorts, the snow is causing problems, including roof damage for some homeowners and businesses. The good news is that the snow has increased California’s water supply, which may spark Gov. Jerry Brown to declare the end to state’s lingering drought.
Photo: United Continental
Great news for business travelers and frequent fliers! United Continental has announced plans to offer more perks to its customers, including free in-flight Wi-Fi. United Airlines will add Wi-Fi to more than 200 planes, including its Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft.
United Continental also includes Continental, which merged with United late last year. The airlines are in the process of moving to a unified brand. Continental already offers LiveTV to its customers, but soon both airlines will provide fliers with access to Wi-Fi and 95 LiveTV stations.
The airline merger has even bigger plans on the horizon. United Continental is exploring adding international Wi-Fi service and looking at striking a deal with other broadband providers to help wire its fleet of more than 700 jets, according to United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek.