Passenger rights advocate sues Delta over alleged e-mail hacking

Is Delta Airlines really a den of hackers? Passengers’ rights advocate Kate Hanni thinks so and is suing the world’s largest carrier over it. Hanni, of, alleges that Delta conspired with Dulles, Virginia-based Metron Aviation to yank e-mails from her computer in an effort to stall her “efforts to protect air travelers from lengthy tarmac delays and other inconveniences.”

She’s found an easy target for a war in the press – nobody is in favor of most of what airlines put us through. Hanni is asking for at least $11 million in damages and the opportunity to present her case before a jury. But, now that this has entered the legal system, we have to be especially careful not to indulge a public battle over everything except the evidence.

Delta spokesperson Trebor Banstetter can’t comment beyond, “Obviously, the idea that Delta would hack into someone’s e-mail is clearly without merit,” which was released in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Hanni claims that her service provider, AOL (which owns Gadling), confirmed that her e-mail had been hacked. She also says, in the court filings, that Metron officials revealed that Delta provided the stolen e-mails, which included lists of donors and personal files.

The linchpin in all this is a graduate student, employed by Metron, with whom Hanni was sharing information. Metron executives confronted the student with the e-mails and said that Delta wasn’t happy that Hanni was receiving information that would facilitate the passage of the passenger bill of rights. The contents of the messages were not clear from the lawsuit.

Metron provides services around research, airspace design and environmental analysis to the global air traffic industry, and it has Delta as a client. The company didn’t immediately respond to requests by the AP for comment.

It’s too soon to draw any conclusions from the lawsuit; clearly, there’s a lot of information that has yet to be located and released. So, let’s sit back and watch this unfold before drawing any conclusions.

Is a “Passenger Bill of Rights” the answer to bad airline behavior?

There’s no denying the recent string of high-profile episodes of airlines mistreating their customers– whether it’s forcing passengers to spend nine hours in a grounded plane, booting off beautiful girls for their revealing clothes (the nerve!), or inadvertently boarding an 83-year-old woman on a flight to Puerto Rico instead of her actual destination, New York.

After every such incident, it seems someone writes a blog post or an op-ed about how a “Passenger Bill of Rights” would prevent similar misbehavior in the future. But would it?

Not according to George Petsikas, the president of Canada’s National Airlines Council. He says that enacting a such a law would cause airfares to skyrocket since under Canada’s version of the Bill of Rights, airlines would be fined for, among other things, leaving passengers in the plane on the tarmac for over one hour ($500 per person per hour), as well as failing to notify passengers of delays in a timely manner ($1,000 per instance).

Although I am loath to agree with the spokesman for the big, bad, evil airlines, it does seem as if the proposed fines are excessive, and that these costs would merely be passed on to the consumers. I have no doubt that, when airlines “strand” people on the runways for ninety minutes waiting for take-off, they’re actually doing their best to get the plane in the air. Sitting on the tarmac for an extended period of time is inconvenient, frustrating, and uncomfortable, but it is also usually not the airline’s fault. (Nine hours is another story altogether.)

What is needed is not governmental micro-management of the airlines– fifty minutes on the tarmac is okay, but sixty minutes is not– but rather a minimal set of standards of behavior which airlines must live up to. For example, an airline may not allow passengers to wait on the tarmac for over three hours. An airline may not bump a passenger from a flight without offering them reasonable compensation.

When you start fining airlines for every little offense, they will simply raise ticket prices. In effect, we’ll be taking money out of our left pockets to buy the airline tickets, and putting it into our right pockets to compensate ourselves for the airline’s misbehavior.

A passenger ‘bill of rights’ is passed! (In Canada)

Feel that you’re entitled to a food voucher if your flight is delayed more than four hours? A hotel voucher for longer delays? The right to demand off the plane if it sits on the tarmac for hours on end? You’re not alone.

Canada agrees.

The U.S.? Well, such provisions are still languishing in that factory of do-nothingness called Congress.

Canada earlier this month passed a passenger bill of rights that guarantees travelers all of the above. It likely escaped your notice, as most things inevitably do if they happen in Canada, but it has some industry watchers in the U.S. hopeful that Congress might soon get the moxie to follow suit with its own PBOR.

The Canadian measure ensures food vouchers for delays of four hours, and hotel vouchers if the flight delay reaches eight hours. Perhaps the best right it ensures can be exercised during those all-too-common delays that magically occur once you’re on the plane. In Canada, if you have boarded and the flight remains grounded for 90 minutes, you can demand off the plane.

The driving force behind the Canadian PBOR is pretty much the same behind the U.S. version: Growing frustration over flight delays, many weather-related, that kept passengers locked in planes for hours on end in recent years without access to food or water.

What’s holding up a U.S. bill? Some in Congress have been trying to get one through, but as a rider to a larger measure tied to the reauthorization of the FAA. That reauthorization bill has been stalled in committee, with Congress continuing its funding of the administration through payment extensions, none of which have carried with them demands for a PBOR.

When will the FAA — and, hopefully, a PBOR — be sorted out? Looks like a new Congress early next year might be the best bet to breath some life into this long awaited measure.

Heathrow Terminal 5 mess: Delayed? Know what compensation could come your way

While the United States still struggles to pass a Passenger Bill of Rights, it’s nice to know that American travelers are covered under the European Union’s Air Passenger Compensation Requirements, which went into affect three years ago.

With thousands of passengers delayed or waylaid over at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5, now seems to be the perfect time to review just what kind of compensation you’re entitled to when flying within the EU.

The Guardian newspaper has this handy guide to the EU’s APCR. In many respects, the regs are not that different than the ones U.S. airplanes are ostensibly held to. Yet the EU’s somehow seem a little more straight forward.

If you are flying a European carrier within the EU, and your flight is delayed, here is the approximate financial compensation you’re entitled to, according to the Guardian:

  • $200 for a journey up to 1,500km that’s delayed up to two hours
  • $375 on a journey up to 1,500km delayed more than two hours
  • $300 on a journey of 1,500km-3,500km delayed up to three hours
  • $600 on a journey of 1,500km-3,500km delayed more than three hours
  • $450 on a journey of more than 3,500km delayed up to four hours
  • $900 on a journey of more than 3,500km delayed more than four hours

The Guardian points out that airlines have big incentives to pay up if you process a claim that falls under the regulations; they face fines of nearly $10,000 from the EU if they don’t.

So, just because you’re flying out of the U.S. doesn’t mean you forfeit your rights as a passenger. If any of you have been caught up in the Heathrow mess this week, maybe you should get something for your troubles.

Get better service being stuck on the London Eye than on an airplane

Here’s an observation by Mike Nezza at The Lede. Although, it was ruled by a federal court that airlines don’t need to provide passengers with comforts if they are detained while sitting in an airplane, passengers stuck on London’s gigantic Ferris wheel, the London Eye don’t have to worry about such trifles.

Just like Abha reported in her post, if you get stuck on the London Eye, you’ll get blankets, water, glucose tablets and a toilet. If you get stuck on an airplane, according to the law, you are not guaranteed water, a working toilet or fresh air. On the London Eye, you’ll also get a terrific view of London if you’re close to the top. On an airplane, if you look out a window, there’s the tarmac—maybe other airplanes, a runway or a building or two.

But, perhaps one might rather be stuck on the ground than up in the air. Those at the bottom of the London Eye may have been allowed to get off. If you’re out on a runway, there you are, and are, and are, and are.