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Entries in Airlines (22)

Friday
Feb012013

Airlines Face $6M Lawsuit for Wrongful Death of 'Morbidly Obese' Woman

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A $6 million lawsuit has been filed in New York City after an obese woman died while waiting for a flight to bring her from Hungary to her home in New York.

The three airlines named are Delta Airlines, KLM and Lufthansa.  They are being charged with wrongful death, among other things.  The deceased woman's husband is the plaintiff on the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Vilma Soltesz and her husband Janos Soltesz flew from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in mid-September to Budapest, Hungary, connecting through Amsterdam.  They purchased three seats -- two for Vilma and one for Janos.  That portion of the trip was completed without incident.

In early October, Vilma began to feel ill.  Her doctor in the United States said to come see him as soon as she returned to New York.  The lawsuit calls Vilma "morbidly obese."  She also had an amputated leg and was wheelchair-bound.  ABC News previously reported that Vilma weighed 407 pounds.

The couple was to return from Hungary to the U.S. on a KLM flight departing from Budapest on Oct. 15, 2012.  The lawsuit states that the couple was issued boarding passes and boarded their flight, but once on the plane, found the seatbacks of two seats in their row were broken, preventing Vilma from maneuvering her wheelchair into her assigned seats.  They were not offered new seats.  Instead, the captain told them they must disembark, the suit claims.

Five hours later, the lawsuit states, KLM employees told the couple the airline had made arrangements for them to take a Delta flight to New York from Prague the following day.  The couple said in court papers that they drove 4.5 hours to Prague that night and were issued boarding passes for the flight to New York.  They confirmed with the airline that proper arrangements had been made concerning Vilma's weight and medical condition.

They attempted to board the aircraft, but the airline did not have the proper wheelchair to transport Vilma.  They were forced to get off the plane, the lawsuit claims.  Janos said the airline told him it "did not have access to a skylift" to transport his wife and there was nothing more they could do.

Delta said the airline was physically unable to board Vilma on the aircraft.

The couple then returned to their vacation home in Hungary and contacted their travel agent in New York.  The travel agent made arrangements for the couple to return to New York on a Lufthansa flight from Budapest with a connection in Frankfurt on Oct. 22.  On that day, the lawsuit states, the couple arrived at the airport and were issued boarding passes for all legs of their journey.  On this flight, as for all prior flights, the couple had purchased three seats.

Lufthansa medics and local EMS/firefighters helped Vilma into her row of seats.  When the embarkation was nearly complete, the lawsuit states, the captain came out of the cockpit and ordered the couple to disembark the plane, because "other passengers needed to catch a connecting flight and cannot be delayed further."  The disembarkation process took another 25 to 30 minutes, the suit claims.

The couple again returned to Hungary and called their travel agent to make arrangements to get home to New York, but Vilma died of kidney failure before arrangements could be made.

The lawsuit states that at every instance, the airlines were told and reminded of Vilma's condition by both the travel agent and the couple.  It states that the defendants acted in "willful, wanton and reckless disregard" for Vilma.

"We believe the suit is entirely without merit.  After the operating carrier in Budapest was physically unable to board Mrs. Soltesz on its flight, and despite a determined good-faith effort by Delta in Prague, we were also physically unable to board her on our aircraft on Oct. 16.," Delta said in a statement.  "Delta employees did everything possible to assist the Soltesz family with their travel, but unfortunately Mrs. Soltesz' physical condition was such that she was unable to be boarded on the aircraft."

KLM and Lufthansa did not return ABC News' request for comment

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec132012

Packed Planes and High Fares for Christmas Travelers

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Planes are full and that means even higher prices for holiday travel. A new report from airline trade group Airlines for America released Thursday shows demand strong and planes flying at 85 to 90 percent capacity over the 21-day holiday travel period.

About 42 million passengers will fly between Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, and Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2013.

Translation: The time for holiday airfare bargains is up. Non-stop ticket prices Christmas week are nearly double what they were at the beginning of the month, and rising by the day.

"Every day you wait for your virtual airline ticket, add about $7 to $8 ... and if you wait until the second week in December you could start adding about $15 a day," said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.

The average domestic air fare is now $414, according to Travelocity, nine percent more expensive than last year's holiday season. The most expensive days to fly, up to $500 or more a ticket, are Dec. 21 and 22 and on the return Dec. 30 and 31, and New Years Day.

The cheaper days to fly? Christmas Day, and the three days following. Flying on those days can save as much as $330.

"You're going to sacrifice price for convenience, but you'll also encounter fewer crowds at the airport," said Genevieve Shaw Brown, ABC News Travel and Lifestyle Editor.

Adding injury to the already insulting high holiday fares this season: Baggage. It, too, increases the cost for travelers this holiday season. Airlines charge excess baggage surcharges that start at $90 on top of the now-normal checked bag fee, and the scales at the airport are not always accurate. Use a home scale to make sure your bags aren't overweight., experts advise. "Fees can range wildly from as low as $100 for bags over 50 pounds to over $275 depending on the airline," said Seaney. "It can cost really more than your airline ticket on a short-haul airline flight. The checked bag starts out as $50 round-trip, this [excess bag fee] is on top of that... The only exception to that is JetBlue and Southwest where your first checked bag is free."

An ABC News investigation last year at this time showed five percent of airport scales checked nationwide were off by at least half an ounce, enough to add costs. New York had the highest rates of inaccuracy with 48 troubled scales at JFK alone. San Francisco had 13 off; at Dallas, seven were faulty.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov012012

Travel Industry Begins to Move Again After Sandy's Mess

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It's been one of the most difficult weeks in memory for travelers. Nearly 20,000 flight cancellations, hotels that are flooded and shuttered, cruise ships stranded at sea. But a few days after Hurricane Sandy, travelers are beginning to travel once again.

While air travel is by no means back to normal (600-plus flights were cancelled Thursday, but that's far from the nearly 8,000 cancelled Tuesday and Wednesday), all three New York metropolitan airports -- JFK, LaGuardia and Newark -- are open. Other previously shuttered airports in the Northeast are also open to flights.

"Barring any unforeseen airport damage or operational issues like staff getting to the airport, road warriors should pretty much be back in business on Monday," said Rick Seaney, CEO of Fare Compare. "The trend in cancellations since Oct. 29 is a hockey stick in the downward direction."

Amtrak, too, is beginning to move. Starting Thursday, there is modified Northeast Regional service between Boston and New Haven, Conn., and between Newark, N.J., and points south. Amtrak will also operate shuttle service trains between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven; Keystone Service trains between Harrisburg, Penn., and Philadelphia; and Downeaster service trains between Boston and Portland, Maine, along with additional overnight services to and from the Northeast.

Amtrak is also taking reservations for modified service between New York City and points south, including Trenton and Philadelphia.

And the cruisers aboard the Norwegian Gem who were forced to stay at sea when the Port of New York closed the day they were scheduled to return from a nine-day cruise? They were given the option to leave the ship in Boston on Wednesday. Vanessa Lane, a Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson, said 50 percent opted to leave. The others returned to sea and will wait until New York's port re-opens to end their trips. The cruise line thinks that could be on Friday, Nov. 2.

Ericka Nelson, general manager of The Muse New York, said the hotel's been completely sold out since Saturday. Only now are guests starting to travel home. "In some cases they're renting cars, a few are getting on flights." But, she noted, "now we're focused on getting those rooms to locals who need a place to stay."

Orbitz, the travel booking website, reported a 15 percent increase in hotel bookings in New York City this week as compared with last week. In Washington, D.C., bookings were up a whopping 68 percent.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep262012

Baggage Fees Cost Passengers a Record $1.7B

Matthew Peyton/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. airlines rang up more than $1.7 billion in baggage fees in the first six months of the year, the most ever collected in that period.

Delta Airlines collected the most in baggage fees with nearly $430 million from January to June, according to a report the Bureau of Transportation released Tuesday. United Airlines came in second with $351 million in baggage fees.

[ CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL REPORT ]

From carry-on to oversized items, U.S. airliners are raking in record revenues, a rare bright spot in an industry now suffering turbulence from soaring oil prices and rising labor costs.

The hardest hit has been American Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011.  American is locked in a bitter labor dispute with pilots, which has contributed to delays, cancellations and fury among passengers.  Earlier this month, American was forced to cancel 300 flights in one week.

But American’s $25 luggage fee has helped the ailing airline rake in more than $288 million so far this year, according to the Bureau of Transportation, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“The travelers who haven’t gotten used to these fees need to get used to them quickly because this is a huge stream of revenue for the airline industry and it is not going anywhere,” says Genevieve Shaw Brown, ABC News’ travel and lifestyle editor.  “If anything, there will be more fees in the future.”

While most passengers find baggage fees costly, there is one airline that is taking customer concerns to heart.  Southwest Airlines is promoting its “bags fly free” policy as a way to gain business.  Southwest will allow customers to check two bags per passenger for free.  JetBlue allows one free bag per passenger.

U.S. airlines also collected an additional $1.3 billion in fees for canceling or changing a reservation during the first six months of the year, according to the Bureau of Transportation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug092012

New Fees: Are Cruise Lines and Hotels Taking Cues from Charge-Happy Airlines?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Carnival Cruise Line is testing out a new fee, one that would, among other things, allow priority seating at dinner.

Sound familiar? It should. While it may seem the airlines have cornered the market on fees, they may have a little competition from hotels and at least one cruise line.

Carnival's $49.95 Faster to the Fun fee is being tested on two ships starting later this month -- the Imagination and the Liberty. The program is an industry first, according to cruise experts.

"We've never seen anything like this," said Dan Askin, senior editor at CruiseCritic.com. "There are a couple tangentially related fee-for-perks programs, but they focus on late debarkation."

The charge is per cabin, regardless of the number of passengers. It includes the aforementioned priority dinner seating, plus early embarkation and choice of debarkation time, cabin availability and access to the ships' guest services desk during the cruise.

"If the trials are successful, it wouldn't surprise me to see others experimenting with similar programs," said Dan Askin, senior editor at CruiseCritic.com. "Lines have shown time and again their penchant for sharing ideas."

Opinion on the site's popular message boards is mixed. Many wonder how Carnival will execute the plan and how it will impact tendering (how you board or leave the ship if it's too big to dock), embarkation and guest services for the rest of the passengers. Others seem to think it's much ado about nothing and will have no impact on the vast majority of cruisers' experiences.

The cruise line has not disclosed how many packages it will sell, possibly a key component, Askin said, in the impact on cruisers who choose not to pay the fee.

Hotels, on the other hand, have charged resort fees for ages, but those, while not included in the base price of your stay, are not optional. But there are small signs that change is in the air.

EasyHotel, a London-based budget hotel chain with 12 properties across Europe and the United Arab Emirates, offers no-frills hotel rooms where travelers can opt to pay extra for everything from a remote control to early arrival to room cleaning to bag storage.

Starwood, which owns such brands as W, St Regis, Westin and Sheraton, gives a discount for every day a person opts out of maid service. The Make a Green Choice program gives guests a $5 voucher for food and beverage or 500 Starwood Preferred Guest points for every night they decline housekeeping services.

While Starwood's discount plan seems to be dipping a toe into the pool of hotel fees, the question is whether travelers will actually pay for them. Travelocity's 2012 Traveler Confidence Report found that travelers are highly unlikely to pay for services like cleaning, towels, concierge service or personal check in.

If hotels and cruise lines are indeed trying to mimic the airlines, it's a no-brainer from a financial perspective: The airlines raked in $22.6 billion in fees in 2011, according to a study by IdeaWorks, an airline ancillary revenue consultant, and Amadeus, a transaction processor for the travel industry.

But at what expense? "Public opinion of the airlines is at an all-time low. People feel completely nickeled and dimed, and many are limiting the times they fly or are foregoing flying all together," said Anne Banas, executive editor of Smarter Travel.

But, she points out, flying is sometimes necessary, and there are far fewer airlines to pick from than there are hotels and cruise lines. "Hotels and cruise lines potentially run a greater risk of losing business since customers have more choice. In other words, there are many more cruise lines and hotels to pick from than there are airlines. If a given hotel charges fees, consumers can more easily give their dollars to another down the street."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug032012

Is an Adults-Only Flight Worth the Money?

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  What is it, exactly, that the traveling public seems to have against kids? After all, we were all kids at some point. But in the latest online, unscientific survey on whether people would pay extra for adult-only flights, one-third responded they would.

The latest stat comes from TripAdvisor UK, and was a survey of 2,000 Brits. But the results closely reflect a recent survey by ABC News (also online and unscientific). One-third said they would be willing to shell out money for a flight guaranteed to be free of children.

Kids are such a problem in flight, it seems, that an entire company has been created to help keep them quiet. NannyintheClouds.com was created to help flying parents keep their kids in check while in-flight.

But the question no one seems to be asking: Exactly how much would a person be willing to pay? How much is the guarantee worth? Now this is something airline executives would want to know. If they believed there was actually a market for this service, they would find a way to monetize it.

Only one airline, Malaysia Airlines, has a child-free seating zone, and it's just on one route, from Kuala Lumpur to London. And they don't charge for it.  Families who are traveling with children under 12 are automatically directed to seats in the lower all-economy deck.

While many appreciate a quiet flying environment, it's easy to opt for pay for kid-free flights when asked in a survey. One could bet, however, that the number of people who actually would pay for the service, if it were even offered, would come in at far less than 30 percent.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jun152012

Delayed Bags Could Result in Airline Reimbursements, Study Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Domestic airlines collectively made $3.36 billion in baggage fees in 2011, a slight decline from the year prior, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

And according to Thursday's release of the Department of Transportation's April 2012 data, the most recent available, the instances of "mishandled baggage" are at the lowest levels they've been since data started being collected in 1987.

But, what are air travelers' rights when a bag is delayed for days? The U.S. government is looking into it.

A June 14 report from the United States Government Accountability Office suggests exploring options for reimbursing airline passengers for bags that are "unreasonably" delayed.

However, DOT data, which the report relies on for its suggestions, does not distinguish in types of mishandled bags. So, a bag that is lost is lumped in with a bag that is delayed or damaged. Because of these limitations, the report reads, "an assessment of baggage delays ... cannot be conducted."

Currently, the DOT requires airlines to reimburse checked bag fees for lost bags, but not delayed bags. However, some airlines, such as Delta, reimburse fees in the form of a travel voucher for checked bags delayed more than 12 hours.

Option 1: Keep Current Regulations

The DOT requires airlines to "make every reasonable effort to return mishandled baggage within 24 hours." Airlines also must compensate $3,300 on domestic flights for reasonable expenses related to delayed baggage. (International compensation varies.) They also must inform customers how to file a complaint, acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 30 days and provide a "substantive response" within 60 days.

Option 2: Reimburse Checked Baggage Fee If Bag Is Delayed

Currently, a checked-bag fee is required to be reimbursed if a checked bag is lost, but not if the bag is delayed. The report referenced the DOT as stating that a delayed bag is similar to a delayed flight: Inconvenient for sure, but the service the passenger paid for -- in this case, transport of baggage -- was ultimately performed.

Option 3: Implement Compensation Standards Based on Length of Delay

This option would require a standardized compensation system based on the length of time it takes to deliver a delayed bag. It would also require the DOT to define what constitutes an "unreasonable delay" and would include the cause of delay and traveler circumstances.

This could be complicated because of a number of factors. Suppose the passenger checked in late, causing the bag to not make the flight? Other circumstances, such a mistagged baggage or a bag that was loaded onto a first flight but not a connecting flight would also need to be addressed.

In the section of the report that deals with implications of implementing minimum compensation standards, it's pointed out that this would require an administrative structure -- the cost of which would likely be passed onto customers.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun112012

Airline to Auction Class Upgrades

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The opportunity to purchase upgrades has been around for a while now, letting airlines squeeze a few extra dollars from passengers at check-in while giving non-elite status fliers a chance for a more comfortable flight. What is new, however, is auctioning off those upgrades to the highest bidder, which is exactly what Etihad Airways is doing.

BoardingArea.com reports that the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates is the first to offer upgrades for auction.

“With our newly launched online upgrade system, guests holding confirmed tickets on Etihad can now determine the amount they are willing to pay for an upgrade to the next higher cabin – Diamond First Class or Pearl Business Class respectively,” reads Etihad’s website.

The process for bidding seems straightforward. Ticketed passengers will be notified via email about potential upgrades. They then make an offer (offers are made per flight segment), enter credit card information and submit. There’s no charge for unsuccessful bids. You’ll be notified two days prior to your flight about the status of your bid.

“The success of an offer will depend on the amount offered for an upgrade, other competing offers as well as the guest’s status within the Etihad Guest program. As always, the higher the offer, the greater the chances,” reads the Etihad website.

Fliers with successful bids will earn an additional 10 percent miles bonus.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
May252012

Airline Fees: Charges for Carry-Ons, Pillows, Water, Once Included, Now New Revenue

ICHIRO/Digital Vision(NEW YORK) -- The doors to a Boeing 777 used to be the gateway to adventure.  Now, when you get on a plane, it's more like the moment of truth -- for your wallet.

Airlines are adding on fees for almost everything, including amenities that were once complimentary.  So just how much is that flight you thought you paid for already really going to cost you?  By the end of your trip, you could spend hundreds more than you expected to.

Delta and other airlines are now charging around $6 to watch an in-flight movie.  Spirit Airways charges $3 for a bottle of water.  Allegiant Air charges between $4.99 and $24.99 for passengers to choose their own seat and between $17 and $25 for a pillow and a blanket.  And just last month, Allegiant announced it will start charging between $10 and $30 for passengers to have the privilege of storing carry-on bags in the overhead compartments.

But that cost is not quite as high as Spirit's carry-on price of $20 to $40.  The carrier has been charging for carry-on bags since 2010.  So which airline is going to be next?

"We're probably a few years away from other airlines following what Allegiant has done, but honestly, we're probably not that far off," said Sean Williams of Motley Fool, a financial services company.  "I think a lot of the airlines aren't going to have much of a choice to do this.  Many of them are losing money hand-over-fist if these fees aren't there."

A key reason people started to switch to carry-on was to avoid baggage charges that have also crept up in price in recent years.  On United, passengers will pay $100 for a third checked bag on an overseas flight, while Delta is charging $135 and American Airlines is charging $150.

Lately there is even the "book your seat" fee, an extra per seat charge at the time of booking on some section of some airlines to avoid the middle seat, or just to make sure you and your spouse are sitting next to each other.

In total, the airline industry brought in $2.6 billion in revenue during the first three-quarters of 2011 through these add-on fees.  Williams said Delta has brought in $656 million in just baggage fee revenue alone.

"They also are the leading airline when it comes to change-ticket fees," he said.

This seems bad for business, so why do the airlines do it?

"[The airlines] have no choice but to put out all these extra fees because they'd be losing money otherwise," Williams said.  "Between the added cost of planes, which just continue to be more expensive... they really have no choice."

One of the greatest costs to the airlines is the price of fuel.  Delta has considered buying their own refinery so that the airline can make its own fuel.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May072012

Unlimited Travel: Deals Too Costly for Airlines?

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- American Airlines' "unlimited" first-class travel program offered an "all-you-can-fly" lifestyle to 66 AAirpass holders, some of whom lived it up so much that American had to stop the program, igniting a rash of lawsuits. But that's not stopping other airlines from extending unlimited flying offers.

Steven Rothstein was treated like royalty after he bought unlimited first-class travel for two with American Airlines in 1987 for $250,000. But after the airline realized it was losing more than $1 million from Rothstein alone, not to mention the other 65 pass holders, the company revoked his AAirpass, spurring ongoing litigation about whether he and others abused the system or if American Airlines just made a bad business bet.

In 1990, American Airlines raised the price of an unlimited AAirpass with companion to $600,000, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 1993, it was bumped to $1.01 million. The next year, American Airlines stopped selling unlimited lifetime passes altogether.

Rothstein, 61, has accumulated more than 30 million miles. In July 2004, he flew 18 times, visiting cities as far as Nova Scotia, New York, Miami and London, "some of them several times over," the Los Angeles Times reported. The airline claims he sometimes picked out strangers at the airport and gave them surprise first-class upgrades with his companion pass, including a woman he just met in New Delhi for a trip to Chicago, valued at nearly $7,500, the newspaper reported.

A spokesman for American Airlines said the company did not cancel the AAirpass product, though it did discontinue selling the lifetime AAirpass.

American Airlines offers one AAirpass product in the market today, which provides pre-paid, unrestricted travel at a fixed rate.

"Lifetime" offers from airlines or any business are rare these days, as companies run the risk of losing money from customers, now with a life expectancy of 78.5 years in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control, who may be savvy with arbitrage opportunities. Or, customers may have to fight back for their unlimited offer, as one California Bank of America customer successfully did last month after a number of bank acquisitions took place.

Instead, airlines are offering flexible flying within a finite period of time, like months or a year.

Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, said there have been offers in the past that were "somewhat unlimited" in nature.

"These programs were not large enough to make much of a dent when stacked up against rising fuel costs," Seaney said. "Couple that with fewer folks at the airlines and they likely got the chop along with a pack of other programs."

JetBlue has offered "Go Pack" packages between specific locations, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, for 10, 20 or 30 one-way trips unil May 23. Those packages range from $899 to $2099 plus tax. JetBlue is also offering a "Go Pack" for 10 trips between Boston and Washington, D.C. until June 27 for $699 plus taxes.

JetBlue has offered unlimited flying deals for the past three years in the fall -- when the travel season tends to die down -- the "BluePass" last year in Boston and Long Beach and its predecessor, the more liberal "All You Can Jet" pass, which offered unlimited travel among its destinations for about a month. A company spokeswoman said JetBlue cannot comment on future plans, which is considered illegal price signaling.

Alaska Airlines Air Pass program is another "flexible" flying deal which is designed for passengers originating travel outside the U.S. to budget their trip to see multiple destinations.

It's "a popular program for overseas travelers connecting in the U.S. and wanting to see several destinations," said an airline spokeswoman. The prices vary by market or "zone," as described in an Alaska Airlines brochure.

The program is often used by overseas tour companies who market tours to the U.S. and the advance fares allow them to offer a price, and market the tours.

"Individual travelers also use the fares to make it easy to visit multiple destinations in the U.S. as the Air Pass coupons allow more flexibility than published air fares," Marianne Lindsey, an Alaska Airlines spokeswoman, said.

Reservations are required on a predetermined routing, there are some blackout dates, and the travel must be booked ahead of time.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio