Airline Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

It’s that time of year again! All around the country, people are filling out their brackets and arguing over match-ups. That’s right; it’s March Madness Airline Madness! Just like last year’s Hotel Madness, we’ve compiled a list of travel pet peeves. Only this time around the competition is for the title of Worst Airline Annoyance. Our selection committee vetted the pool of candidates and chose the 16 worst offenders. Now it’s time for you to vote. Over the next two days, all of the first round match-ups will be posted here on Gadling for you to weigh in. The winners will advance to the second round, then the Final Four and so on until we crown an Airline Madness champion.It’s going to be an exciting few weeks of debates, arguments and rants about cry babies, overhead space and baggage fees. We know you’ll have some opinions to share and we hope that you’ll speak up in the comments.

Below is a list of our first round match-ups that will be up for voting later today for the first four match-ups of the first round. The second half of the first round will be open for voting tomorrow, so keep checking back for all of the action! [Update: The first round has ended and voting is closed.]

#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures

#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets

#4 Baggage fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats

#5 Lack of overhead space vs. #12 Inattentive parents of crying babies

#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment

#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing

#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats

Welcome to Airline Madness! It’s up to you to pick the champion (because everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy)!

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Airlines challenge new consumer protection rules

In April , the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced wide-ranging Airline Passenger Rules that included, among other things, that airlines disclose all potential fees up front in advertising. Airlines want more time and are challenging the new advertising rules.

Airlines say they need another 6 months or so to “overcome substantial technological problems and properly train their employees,” according to a document submitted June 7 by the Air Transport Association of America, the Regional Airline Association and the Air Carrier Association of America reports TravelWeekly.

“We note that the Department has changed its position on full-fare advertising after 25 years of permitting posting of air transportation prices separate from government taxes and fees,” the airlines said. “Carriers have relied on this government policy and built their advertising practices around it. Dismantling the current advertising system and reassembling it to meet the new standards will take multiple steps and will be difficult and time-consuming.”The DOT Airline Passenger Rules that went into effect in April require airlines to refund any bag fee if the bag is lost, increased compensation for flyers who get bumped and put strict limits on tarmac delays too. But it’s the full disclosure of fees that has Spirit Airlines challenging the proposed new rules.

Among the rules Spirit is challenging: the full fare rule, which requires airlines to show the full cost of a fare including taxes and airport fees reports Travel Pulse. Spirit says that hides “enormous government tax burden on travel.”

Spirit is also protesting the new rule that lets consumers cancel a flight without penalty within 24 hours of booking. While some carriers do this already, Spirit says that consumers will abuse the rule as well as the proposed “price freeze” for non-ticket services after purchase. The result, Spirit says, will be higher ticket prices.

In a related story that may come into play also, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has become more involved with Internet advertising, soliciting public comment on how it should revise more than decade-old guidelines that translate federal advertising laws to the Internet. A significant difference between the bite of the DOT and the FTC is that the FTC has the ability to sue companies not in compliance while the DOT levies fines.

Related Stories

Flickr photo by ellenm1

Airline fees are worth more than Facebook

Outside the travel world, everyone’s marveling at the prospect of a Facebook IPO, which could be valued at as much as $100 billion. So, what are we missing while we fawn over Mark Zuckerberg’s creation? How about the slow, stodgy, ugly airline industry. Known for a painful user experience and a steady decline of free features, the likes of Delta and American Airlines are outdoing the hottest online property in the world simply by annoying their customers.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation‘s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, baggage and reservation change fees brought the U.S. airline industry a whopping $5.7 billion last year. Delta picked up close to a billion dollars on baggage fees alone, which doesn’t include what they yanked from the wallets of soldiers returning home from combat. The largest airline in the country also brought in approximately $700 million from reservation change fees.

American Airlines, the fourth largest airline in the United States, came in second in both categories, with $580.7 million in baggage fees and $471.4 million in reservation change fees.The particular beauty of these fees is that they are basically found money. Some passengers need to check bags, and the airlines have to invest in the overhead required to meet this demand. It’s an expense that can’t be avoided. With this fee, they monetized what they’d have to pay anyway. The same is the case for reservation change fees.

The top five earners of baggage fees in 2010 are:

1. Delta: $952.3 million

2. American: $580.7 million

3. US Airways: $513.6 million

4. Continental: $341.6 million

5. United: $313.2 million

Unsurprisingly, the top five earners of reservation change fees don’t look much different:

1. Delta: $698.6 million

2. American: $471.4 million

3. United: $321.5 million

4. US Airways: $253.1 million

5. Continental: $237.4 million

No doubt, activist groups will be up in arms shortly. And airline employees will lament the fact that their executives are so richly compensated while they have endured round after round of pay cuts and layoffs for years upon years.

Frankly, I offer my congratulations to the airline industry. Yes, they are soaking us. Passengers are a captive audience, particularly on routes with limited coverage, and we sometimes have no choice but to pay. The airlines are using this to generate profitable growth for their shareholders, which is their primary responsibility.

So, what about Facebook? The company is estimated to pull in revenues of somewhere above $4 billion this year, most of it from advertising. It is pretty interesting that the popular social network is annoying its customers as a way to generate revenue, just like the airlines!

Who knew that pissing off your target market was an awesome business model?

[photo by Tobin Black via Flickr]

Airline passenger rights upgraded

Flying the friendly skies got a bit more friendly this week as the Department of Transportation upgraded the Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights made the law of the land last year. As a result, fewer checked bags should be lost or damaged, fewer passengers should get bumped and fewer flights should get stuck on the tarmac.

“Airline passengers have a right to be treated fairly,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “It’s just common sense that if an airline loses your bag or you get bumped from a flight because it was oversold, you should be reimbursed.

OK, let’s break it down.

Lost Bags and Bag Fees- No service = No fee
Airlines were already required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses for loss, damage or delay of luggage. In a “how did that slip through the cracks?” moment of clarity, airlines are now required to refund any fee for carrying a bag if the bag is lost. That sure makes sense: no service, no fee. Airlines also have to apply the same baggage allowances and fees for all segments of a trip, including segments with interline and code share partners.

That actually could be good or bad news, depending on how it plays out. If the result is that airlines raise baggage fees to everyone in order to cover their loss as a result of this rule, that might not be so good for people like me who have never (knock on wood) had a bag lost.

Full Disclosure of Additional Fees- No more hidden fees
Airlines have to prominently disclose all potential fees on their websites and refer passengers to up-to-date baggage fee information both before and after they buy a ticket. That sounds reasonable, no big deal. A huge deal is that airlines and ticket agents will be required to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised price.

Airlines are also required to let reservations be held at the quoted fare without payment or canceled without penalty for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.

New also is a ban on post-purchase fare increases unless they are due to government-imposed taxes or fees (not fuel surcharges or other airline-imposed fees), and only if the passenger is notified of and agrees to the potential increase at the time of sale. This is a lot like cruise lines do with the potential fuel surcharge that might be added on later if the price of oil goes sky high. You agree to it as a condition of buying the ticket.

Bumping. Big fees paid to bumped passengers.
If you get bumped from a flight and the airline can get you to your destination within a reasonable amount of time, (1 to 2 hours later on domestic flights and 1 to 4 hours international) you will receive compensation equal to double the price of your tickets up to $650 (up from $400). Those subject to longer delays (more than 2 hours domestic and more than 4 hours international) will receive payments of four times the value of their tickets, up to $1,300 (up from $800).

Tarmac Delays. 4 hour limit on domestic and international flights
Thank those passengers who sat delayed on the tarmac for what must have felt like days during the December 2010 blizzard that shut down New York’s JFK airport for this one. Exceptions will be allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons but the new rule puts a four hour limit. Airlines are also required to supply adequate food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and any necessary medical treatment.

These new rules are certainly a big step in the right direction, speaking the universal language of all airlines (money) loud and clear.

Transportation Secretary LaHood concluded “The additional passenger protections we’re announcing today will help make sure air travelers are treated with the respect they deserve.”

Flickr photo by soypocolapantera

Related Stories

Five airline fees you haven’t thought about (but they have!)

Over the past two years, the fees that airlines have figured out have been seemingly endless. Baggage and cancellations are just the tip of the iceberg. Now, passengers are stuck with a healthy dose of fee fatigue, but the good news is that there doesn’t seem to be anything left for which to charge – except maybe access to the flotation devices in the event of an emergency.

Well, don’t get too comfortable.

Despite having had a fantastic year in 2010, there are already grumblings in the airline industry about increasing fuel costs. This means, of course, that the additional expense will have to be passed along to us, the passengers, in some form. Even though we may not be able to think of (realistic) charges to levy, it seems as though the airlines have this under control, according to an article on MSN Money. Already, 19 different a la carte charges exist, and they are set to earn the airlines $22 billion worldwide for 2010.

So, the airlines want more of your money. How are they going to get it? Well, here are five ideas for them:1. Pay to talk to someone: do you need to talk to a ticket agent, or would you merely prefer to do so? Don’t worry; this perk option isn’t going away. You will have to pay for it, though, according to Jay Sorensen of IdeaWorks, a company involved in tracking consumer trends. The good news is that the only people in line will be shelling out cash for the privilege, so you won’t have to wait too long.

Alternative: if you want to talk to someone that badly, and are willing to pay for it, try online dating.

2. Pay to tote your own bags: are you ready to pay to avoid paying check-in fees? Spirit is already doing it, and most airlines in the United States have said they aren’t going to head in that direction. But, American Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways, according to MSN Money, “essentially have,” calling it “priority boarding or choice seating.” If you get a better seat you have a spot for your bags on a crowded flight. Otherwise, you’re stuck hoping for the best.

Alternative: make friends with a frequent flier.

3. Pay to take your bags overseas: we’re getting used to paying for checking the first bag on domestic flights, but we’ve been spared the humiliation when traveling internationally. That could change, though, especially since there’s money to be made.

Alternative: there’s a Paris in Illinois, too.

4. Pay to deal with your kids: so far, an infant on your lap has gotten a free ride, but this discomfort could cost you. George Hobica, of AirfareWatchdog, thinks this one could be on the list for 2011. “If the government doesn’t act to ban lap children,” he told MSN Money, “we might see the airlines make a move.”

Alternative: birth control.

5. Pay to be like everything else: back when I had platinum status on one airline and gold on another (in the same year), I came to appreciate the benefits – and this was even before the ancillary fee trend took hold. Now, status is worth even more, because it alleviates some of this fee pressure. The MSN Money article mentions that the hit could be targeted at non-elite loyalty program members, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see even the airlines’ best customers lose some of the perks someday.

Alternative: buy on price instead of loyalty.

[photo by compujeramy via Flickr]