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 The Brancatelli File

joe ISN'T IT...

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

February 18, 1999 -- Isn't it ironic, expensive, outrageous, inevitable, inconvenient and pathetic? What's happening on the road, I mean.

ISN'T IT IRONIC? American Airlines and its unhappy pilots were in a Dallas court yesterday arguing over how much the pilots union would be required to pay for the sick-out that led to last week's raft of canceled flights.

American's executives are angry and disturbed that they were forced to cancel upwards of 6,000 flights when the pilots mounted a job action to protest the airline's plans for integrating recently purchased Reno Air into the American system. American wants to be reimbursed for the cancellations and they want the money to come from the coffers of the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American's pilots.

Do you know what your compensation is if American or any airline cancels a flight? Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not a penny. Airlines don't guarantee their schedules--and you agree to that state of affairs via the incredibly onerous "contract of carriage" attached to every ticket--so carriers figure they don't owe you a dime if they dump a flight.

So here's my suggestion to U.S. District Court Judge Joe Kendall, who yesterday delayed his compensation ruling until April. Reimburse American exactly the same amount that the airlines give us when they cancel flights.

Fair is fair, right? Why should an airline be compensated for a flight it doesn't guarantee to run in the first place? Why should an airline be reimbursed when its customers aren't afforded the same courtesy?

ISN'T IT EXPENSIVE? There's a burgeoning surplus in the Aviation Trust Fund, the omnibus financial parking space for all the federal ticket taxes we pay. So what does the Federal Aviation Administration propose as it predicts a trust-fund surplus of almost $7 billion by September 30? New taxes and user fees, of course.

The Clinton Administration wants to increase the Immigration User Fee to $8 (from $6) and initiate an unspecified increase in the $5 Customs User Fee. The proposed FAA budget also projects $1.5 billion per year in new fees, which works out to about $2.50 per ticket. And just to add financial insult to taxation outrage, the Department of Transportation is floating a proposal to allow local airport authorities and municipalities to increase their passenger facility charges (PFC). PFCs are now capped at $3 a segment and $12 per roundtrip. But the bean-stealing bureaucrats at the Transportation Department now suggest a $5 per segment fee with a $20 roundtrip cap.

ISN'T IT OUTRAGEOUS? Airlines not only ensure our loyalty by operating frequent-flyer programs, they also earn millions of dollars in profit from the plans. So what's new at Qantas, one of the few airlines that actually charge frequent flyers a fee (A$50) for the right to be members? Effective June 1, Qantas will charge flyers a bi-annual fee of A$20 for accounting and administration costs. As my Australian friends are fond of telling me, things are different in Oz, but paying for the right to be loyal to an airline sounds bizarre to those of us who grew up in Kansas. Or Brooklyn.

ISN'T IT INEVITABLE? American Airlines will be the first major carrier to stop producing printed timetables. Starting next month, American will publish its schedule only on the Internet.

ISN'T IT INCONVENIENT? In the go-go years of the late 1980s, Korean authorities promoted Seoul as Asia's next great hub city. Flyers frustrated by the long delays at Narita in Toyko were willing to consider Seoul as a gateway. Korea even giddily plunged ahead with a new airport to replace Seoul's aging and unpleasant Kimpo. But that was then and this is now. After almost two years of the Asian Contagion, traffic and flights to Seoul have all but disappeared. In fact, if you're heading to Seoul from the United States, United Kingdom or Switzerland, your only nonstop choices are the Korean carriers. Delta, United, Northwest, British Airways and Swissair have all dropped Korea nonstops during the last 18 months.

ISN'T IT PATHETIC? You may have heard that the Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, has introduced the Passenger Bill of Rights. Want to know what the proposed legislation would guarantee us? Among other things, it would prohibit an airline from using a single flight number for trips involving a change of plane; require airlines to disclose the reason for delays, cancellations or diversions; require the airline to return lost property if the passenger's name is on the lost item; require code-sharing airlines to disclose the code-share; prohibit airlines from collecting additional fees if a passenger only uses a portion of a ticket; and require that airlines reveal the number or percentage of seats available for frequent-flyer awards. What does it say about an industry whose practices are so corrupt and dishonest that we have to pass laws to require airlines to tell the truth?

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.