ALL POSTS IN [Airports]

New Airline Regulations Increase Frequent Fliers Perks

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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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.

Southwest Airlines Repairs Cracked Planes
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.

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New Business Class Perks on United Continental Airlines
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.

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U.S. Travel Association Recommends Airport Security Changes

The US Travel Association wants to make traveling easier for fliers. According to CNN.com, the group is calling for a trusted traveler program that would allow passengers who volunteer certain information about themselves to go through less rigorous security before their flight.

Under this proposed program, passengers would be considered low-risk based on information such as a background check, employment history, lack of a criminal record and other factors. Each participating passenger’s identity would be confirmed at the airport using biometric info, allowing them to pass through security at a quicker pace.

TSA Administrator John Pistole believes something needs to change. “The TSA screens more than 628 million airline passengers every year at US airports, and the vast majority present little to no risk of committing an act of terrorism,” he said earlier this month.

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High Oil Prices Spark Airplane Fees

Rising fuel costs has prompted airline carriers to look for ways to increase revenue. One idea is to charge travelers for items that were once free, including on-board sales of food, drinks, pillows, blankets and entertainment. Industry officials say airlines prefer complex fees to additional fare hikes because people will quit buying tickets if airlines raise prices too high.

American Airlines, United-Continental and Delta are among the carriers considering various new fees. The airlines have proposed charging customers for seat assignments, where a family of 4 will start paying anywhere from $10 to $16 to choose their seats.

Elite or business and first-class passengers would be exempt from the airlines’ proposed seat assignment fee. Travel experts believe airlines will waive the fee for travelers who book a flight and choose their seat within the last 24 hours. But fliers may pay a fee if they want to choose and confirm their seat well in advance.

Other proposed fees include charging for customized travel, including fancy food and champagne in economy class, security-line services and travel-concierge services.

TSA Agent Linked to Drug Dealers

A TSA agent was arrested for helping a drug dealer get past security at Buffalo’s Niagara International airport on Tuesday. According to The Buffalo News, 43-year-old Minneta Walker was watched for months after federal agents became aware of her ties to local drug dealers.

The Buffalo TSA bust is the most recent example of a crackdown on airport crime over the past year. In February, 2 TSA workers at New York’s JFK airport were arrested for stealing nearly $40,000 from passengers. Just 2 days before, a Newark Liberty Airport supervisor was charged with stealing $30,000 over a 13-month period.

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