News & Politics

6 More Reasons to Hate Airline Companies and Flying

From surcharges to abuse of passengers to more airline mergers, flying today is worse than ever.

Perhaps you've flown recently and been shocked to learn that your airfare doesn't even include one checked bag--nope, you have to pay extra for that.

Perhaps you've been horrified to hear of people getting booted from frequent flier programs or discriminated against and kicked off flights, seemingly arbitrarily.

Maybe the absurd security theater with its long lines and its choice between body-scanners and pat-downs puts you on edge.

Or maybe you've been worried--we all have--by the fact that the FAA, the regulatory agency in charge of our safety when we fly, has been the latest, biggest victim of GOP legislative hostage-taking even if it's back in business now.

All these things mean flying feels more tense than ever while the big airlines are looking greedier than ever, at the expense of both consumers and employees.

Here are six big reasons it's less and less friendly to take to the air. (It's interesting to note how many of them are related to GOP policy.)

1. Union-busting

Delta Airlines, one of the behemoths of the air, has a "non-union" or "ani-union" approach. Over at Crooks and Liars, John Amato called Delta the "Scott Walker of the Sky" due to the limits it's gone to buck the rules regarding unionization.

Appeasing Delta's policies was one of the hostage-taking riders the GOP insisted on during negotiations over financing the FAA, and Harry Reid correctly called them on it. "The House has tried to make this a battle over essential air service," he said. "It's not a battle over essential air service. It's a battle over Delta Airlines, who refuses to allow votes [on whether or not to unionize] under the new rules...."

Read more about the fight over airline unionization at TPM and ThinkProgress.

Passengers may feel that flight attendants, pilots or airport staff are the face of the airlines, but common sense dictates that overworked, underpaid employees will create a much less pleasant environment for those of us trying to (literally) get on board. One of the best ways to stave this off? Unions fighting for fair wages and working conditions.

2.Hidden Fees

Those attractive fees that websites advertise may not actually be the whole cost of flying, as many of us know. We're subjected to fees for baggage and for extra baggage, for in-flight food and more. In Europe, these kinds of deceptive pricing ads have gotten so bad a commission is investigating. From the Guardian:

Siim Kallas, a European commission vice-president, who is also the organisation's transport commissioner, said he was concerned about the growing practice of airlines offering attractive, affordable, "headline prices" for flights that are then subject to baggage charges, credit and debit card fees, and airport check-in fees.

The practice, already criticised by UK consumer groups, has been under the spotlight for being used, as a matter of course, by budget airlines such as Ryanair. But it is also a feature of scheduled carriers...

In addition, programs like frequent-flyer miles have grown more difficult to get savings from, if a recent lawsuit from a passenger who was booted off his frequent flyer program and has sued--successfully, thus far--to get that status back is any indication. 

3. Discrimination and Harassment

There was the incident when two Muslim men heading to a conference on tolerance were kicked off their flight due to fears sparked by their traditional garb. Southwest Airlines is a particular culprit in this area. What about the sisters crying about their dad's heart attack? And then there have been the multiple headlines of "too fat to fly," which were given publicity by director Kevin Smith. Clearly, this sort of culture seems to indicate a top-down corporate approach toward passengers. And it's not just Southwest.

How about this headline out of Ireland? Ryanair, which appears to be something akin to the Southwest of Europe, is accused of giving a cardiac arrest patient a sandwich--and charging him for it.

After he regained consciousness and started breathing again, the cabin staff, according to Appleton, said "he had low blood pressure and gave him a sandwich and a soda."

"And they made sure he paid for it," she said.

A new site, Sue the Airlines, is encouraging a mass movement from those who faced harassment or basic lack of service, urging them to take their trouble to small claims court.

4. Pilot and Air-Traffic Fatigue

Recently, there have been numerous scare stories about air-traffic controllers falling asleep at the wheel. Pilot fatigue has been blamed for some awful accidents as well. Why are these professionals upon whose alertness our lives depend allowed to be over-exhausted? The Washington Post reportedthat for many, moonlighting--or having more than one job--was causing the problem.

Young air traffic controllers who make up almost a third of the workforce have had to work two or three jobs to compensate for a 30 percent wage cut imposed during the Bush administration, the head of their union told a Senate committee Tuesday.

Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told the subcommittee on aviation that wages have improved under a new contract signed 18 months ago, but many young controllers continue to hold more than one job.

Salon's "Ask a Pilot" columnist has recently written about the dangers of pilot fatigue, particularly on short-haul flights, and about GOP efforts to block legislation (in the name of the free market) that would seriously help combat this problem.

5. TSA Theater

The humiliating experience of wading through the security line -- taking off our shoes, getting barked at by agents, passing through scanners or metal detectors and having pat-downs -- doesn't actually make us safer. Jeffrey Goldberg has long been on the case of these procedures, and he described one particularly personal search recently:

During this pat-down, the TSA agent, while running his hands carefully up my leg, came across a small bump near my left knee. He asked me to describe the nature of the bump. I told him it was a benign cyst. (I realize I'm oversharing, but there's a purpose to this story.) The agent called over a supervisor. The supervisor questioned me about the cyst. The supervisor and the agent then discussed the cyst. This has happened to me at two other checkpoints. My dermatologist is much less interested in this cyst than is the Department of Homeland Security. Eventually, the supervisor ruled that the cyst (or, I should say, "alleged cyst") was too small to be a threat to a commercial airliner.

Goldberg argues that the money spent on ever-more expensive (and ever more futile) security equipment and personnel should be redirected to actual anti-terrorism intelligence gathering.

6. Mergers and Confusion

Two big mergers: United and Continental and previously Delta and Northwest, have changed the landscape of the industry. These mergers' impact are a hot topic of discussion: on the New York Times' Room for Debate blog, members of the industry debated who, if anyone, benefits. Certainly, the lack of competition brought about by the formation of these supergiant companies can bring prices up--and unions can lose leverage in the ensuing reorganization, even as they historically have pushed for a seat at the negotiating table.

 

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.
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