Stunned by the day’s travel news — no really, stunned

by Christopher Elliott on January 29, 2009

I’m having a hard time typing this morning because I’m stunned …

Ice torture. Passengers on an AirTran flight from Columbus, Ohio, to Orlando were stuck in transit for 12 hours yesterday — many of them on a grounded plane. Flight 373 to Orlando had been scheduled to take off from Columbus, Ohio, at 8 a.m. But an overnight snow storm reportedly turned the parked plane into a popsicle. Ground crews used three truckloads of deicing fluid in a futile attempt to thaw the frozen plane. “We had no water, no air, they couldn’t turn the engine on,” one traveler said. The passengers were let off the aircraft for lunch, and AirTran offered them free roundtrip tickets for the trouble.

Is this enough to push the proposed Passenger Bill of Rights back into the legislative spotlight? No. But it should be.

Is economy class punishment? Serena Williams is threatening herself with a 16-hour flight in coach class if she is eliminated from the Australian Open. “I was thinking ‘Okay, if you lose, you’re going to fly coach all the way back to Florida,’” she said when asked what she was thinking while she played against her last opponent. “How uncomfortable that would be? That motivated me to do a little better.”

We don’t need Williams to tell us coach class is one of the most exquisite forms of torture known to mankind. But having her experience it firsthand? Priceless.

Losing your Virgin-ity. Our friends at PlaneBuzz are reporting the Transportation Department has ruled that Virgin America now must report financial and origin and destination data. Why did it withhold that information? “We can only assume that it didn’t want us all to know how much money it was losing. And on what routes,” PlaneBuzz noted. “So the airline played the legal ‘wait it out’ game by first refusing to do so, saying that it would be forced to ‘reveal confidential information’ if it did so.”

What’s shocking to me isn’t that Virgin and two smaller carriers were able to “opt out” of reporting that information for months until the feds forced them to show their numbers. It’s that there’s no penalty. What would the IRS do if I decided to stop filing my taxes?

Excuse me while my fingers thaw.

Update: My colleague Benét Wilson at Aviation Weekly has an interesting postscript to the Virgin story. Turns out its chief executive, David Cush, offered the following explanation for the confidentiality request in a recent interview:

We asked for confidentiality because we are a private company, and a private company should not be required to disclose sensitive competitive and financial data. Because of our network and our small size, our competitors would be able to go in with great granularity and determine our financial performance and perhaps construct strategies around that analysis to make life more difficult for us. There’s no public benefit to having that data public. And there’s certainly no public benefit of having our competitors use it to strike against us. We’ll wait and abide by what we’re told.

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  • http://www.randallshirley.com Randall Shirley

    Hey Chris,

    At what point does some passenger on one of these innumerable tarmac-delays finally say, “Enough. F@#$ this, I’m getting off the plane.” Seems rather easy to open the door, go down the chute, and walk back to the terminal.

    It’s probably illegal, but what right does an airline have to keep people trapped in an airliner the way they’ve been doing over the past few years?

    Thoughts?

  • http://www.ffocus.org Bruce InCharlotte

    Another stuck on the tarmac story? How is this still happening in 2009? What’s not clear to me after reading the original article is if they were actually stuck on the plane that whole time, or if they spent some of that time in the terminal.

  • Rich

    Chris: What you didn’t note in your story about AirTran is that they will be giving all passengers a free roundtrip ticket as compensation.

  • marge

    Excellent post, Chris! Happy thawing….

  • Don J

    The FAA needs to adopt a new rule, comparable to the EU, that requires all bumping penalties and failed flight re-imbursements be made by check or, at the passenger’s request, in cash. Future flight oupons, free flight tickets, and bumping incentive coupons should be banned. Period. If airlines are to improve their customer service, they need to be hit right square in their immediate bottom line.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/elliott Christopher Elliott

    @Rich fixed that. Thanks.

  • http://www.tripchill.com David

    One of our users skirted this issue. She was sitting on the airplane waiting to leave and passengers were still boarding. Our TripChill Smart Notification (www.tripchill.com) sent her a notification that this flight was going to be late and she was going to miss her flight. So, she decided to get off the flight and rebook because she needed to get home in order to make her next trip. I guess the flight attendants questioned how she knew the flight was going to be late. Anyways, she told us that the flight was stuck waiting to leave and she escaped on a different flight that actually got her to her destination quicker than her scheduled flight. Go figure!

  • Frank

    Don J said The FAA needs to adopt a new rule, comparable to the EU, that requires all bumping penalties and failed flight re-imbursements be made by check or, at the passenger’s request, in cash. Future flight oupons, free flight tickets, and bumping incentive coupons should be banned. Period. If airlines are to improve their customer service, they need to be hit right square in their immediate bottom line.
    =======================================================

    BAN BUMPING?……..Good, lets do that. And, in order to do that, you’re TICKET RULES now change too. All tickets are non refundable and they become ‘USE EM OR LOSS EM’ status. You miss the flight or become sick etc. TOO BAD. You’re ticket is now worth, NOTHING.

  • Skip

    That’s kind of the way it is now, isn’t it? Tickets worth nothing?

    Why does Congress refuse to pass a Passenger Bill of Rights; one with teeth? Why? Are they so afraid of the airline lobby?

  • Ann, CTC

    “That’s kind of the way it is now, isn’t it? Tickets worth nothing?”

    I’m not sure that Skip understood what Frank was getting at. This scenario of “use it or lose it” already exists in much of the world outside the US. Nonrefundable means not only nonrefundable, but nonchangeable too. Once you purchase it, it’s yours, whether you go or not. Plans change? Too bad, buy a new ticket. Get sick? Too bad, buy a new ticket.

    Be careful what you ask for as it’s not as simple as it sounds.

  • Heather Collins

    # On January 29th, 2009 at 2:32 pm Rich said

    Chris: What you didn’t note in your story about AirTran is that they will be giving all passengers a free roundtrip ticket as compensation.
    *******************************************************

    Yes he did.

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