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Entries in Airlines (9)

Friday
Sep282012

US Airline Passengers Claim TSA Ignoring Their Theft Reports

TSA(NEW YORK) -- Hundreds of air passengers reacted following an ABC News investigation into theft by uniformed employees of the federal agency in charge of airport security, some saying they were victims of theft and were ignored by Transportation Security Administration officials.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called Friday for "a total reform and complete overhaul" of the TSA.

The ABC News report, which included footage of a TSA officer who appeared to have taken an iPad left behind on purpose at the Orlando airport, "is another eye-opening example of how this bloated security agency cannot properly recruit, train and oversee a ballooning 65,000 person workforce," said Mica.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., a member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, said the report showed that the TSA had more than just an image problem.

"The bloated agency is so overwhelmed with managing its workforce that it has lost track of its real security mission," Rogers told ABC News. "It needs to become leaner and smarter."

Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards said the case of the Orlando TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, has been referred to the U.S. attorney's office for criminal prosecution and that any theft involving TSA personnel is "a key concern."

"Our investigators have dealt with a number of theft cases while our auditors are currently examining the root causes and recommending deterrents to TSA management," Edwards said.

The TSA said Ramirez was fired Wednesday, one day in advance of the ABC News broadcast, in keeping with its "zero-tolerance" policy for theft from passengers. Ramirez was the 381st TSA officer to be fired for theft, according to the TSA, and one of eleven this year alone.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

Since the original report aired, ABC News has been flooded with hundreds of comments on its website and on Facebook from passengers, many of whom claimed they had personal belongings taken from their luggage.

Echoing similar stories, one woman wrote that she had a laptop stolen after TSA officers went through her checked bags at JFK airport in New York and said "the airlines and TSA have been zero help" in getting her things back.

Several said they opened their carry-on or checked luggage after a trip in the U.S. to discover their laptop, iPad or cameras were missing. One woman said that her 10-year-old daughter had all of her jewelry stolen.

Talon Windwalker told ABC News that after his Kindle went missing, no officials seemed to care.

"They were no help and basically just shrugged their shoulders. Didn't even offer to take a complaint," he said via Skype.

Dallas businessman Dirk Wenzlaff said he got the cold shoulder from TSA after his iPad disappeared from his checked luggage.

Using the Find Me app, Wenzlaff tracked the homing beacon on the iPad to TSA officer Clayton Dovel, who authorities said was found with at least five other stolen iPads when he was arrested.

The director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, Charlie Leocha, said the thefts in terms of dollar amounts are often minor, but still an irritation to passengers.

"It's less the value, it's the factor of being violated in some way," he said. "It's like you've got someone going through your underwear, for Christ's sake."

The Consumer Travel Alliance works closely with TSA, he said, and he urges travelers to always file a report with TSA and their airline when something goes missing.

"They are going to study it, and check into it. But you are not necessarily going to get any reimbursement from TSA" because it is often difficult to determine whether it was an airline or a TSA problem, Leocha said.

"In some way, passengers are kind of stuck, they really don't have any specific rights when it comes to TSA or the airlines," Leocha said.

For the ABC News investigation, iPads were purposefully left behind on 10 different occasions at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners. TSA officers at nine of the ten airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case.

But when one iPad wasn't returned from an Orlando airport, ABC News filed a missing property report but no other action was taken. It was only when ABC News tracked the iPad to TSA officer Ramirez's home that it was recovered two weeks later. Ramirez claimed at the time that his wife had taken the iPad but was later fired.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan112012

Non-Stop Atlantic Flights Keep Stopping, Blaming Headwinds

John Foxx/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of passengers on non-stop flights from Europe to the U.S. over the past month have found themselves with an unexpected stop -- an unplanned landing to take on more fuel.

Pilots have had to put down in Canada or elsewhere to top off their tanks after running into record headwinds that have slowed the flights, using up more fuel than expected.

This story was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which said Continental Airlines has had the most problems. The airline, which has merged with United to form the world’s largest carrier, had nearly 60 diversions for fuel on flights from Europe since early December.  The airline confirmed the number to ABC News.

Airlines are required to carry enough fuel to reach their destination, and an extra amount in order to land at an alternate airport if necessary.

It’s not just the headwinds that are to blame.  Continental has switched to smaller twin-engine Boeing 757s on these routes to save money, and those planes can’t travel as far or hold as much fuel as wide-body planes.  The Wall Street Journal notes that that’s not a problem if winds are calm, but strong headwinds can cause havoc with schedules.

United/Continental spokesperson Megan McCarthy told ABC News that the headwinds have been a “once in 10 year extreme.”  McCarthy said the headwinds in December usually average 35 mph. This past December they’ve hit 54 mph, and on the worst days have been up to 69 mph – twice as strong as usual.

McCarthy noted that most of their 757 flights from Europe – 97 percent of them — did not have to divert. Diversions for fuel, or any reason, are a headache for customers, and cost airlines money.  McCarthy said, “We are looking at it very closely, it is an inconvenience to our customers, to determine if there are other options.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is also checking to make sure there are no safety issues.   In a statement, the agency said, “The FAA is aware that United Airlines aircraft have made more unscheduled fuel stops this year than last year and we are looking into the issue.”

US Airways and American Airlines also fly 737s across the Atlantic, but they’ve had only a few diversions due to the winds.  According to The Wall Street Journal, Delta Airlines has had none.

There have been allegations in the past that both Continental and US Airways had skimped on fuel, as fuel costs have skyrocketed.  Both airlines denied the charges, and no safety fines were levied.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec212011

Rep. on New FAA Rules: Gov't Won't Tuck Pilots In

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two years after 50 people perished in an airplane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., the Federal Aviation Administration issued a new rule Wednesday to combat pilot fatigue, but placed the final responsibility with the pilots to say when they're too tired to fly and, as one Congressman put it, to "tuck [themselves] in at night."

"While the final rule provides improvement for aviation safety, pilots must take personal responsibility for coming to work rested and fit for duty," Rep. John Mica, R.-Florida, said after the FAA's announcement. "The government cannot put a chocolate on every one of their pillows and tuck them in at night."

Under what the FAA said was a "sweeping final rule," pilots will be subject to new flight time limits and a mandatory ten-hour rest period between duty time, but the rule did not directly address the problem uncovered in an ABC News investigation of commuting pilots who have to travel from their home bases to duty elsewhere, often getting little sleep in difficult conditions before takeoff.

Rather, the new rules simply say pilots must report themselves unfit for duty to the airlines if they're too exhausted, something aviators told ABC News previously they're wary of doing for fear of reprisals.

"The FAA expects pilots and airlines to take joint responsibility when considering if a pilot is fit for duty, including fatigue resulting from pre-duty activities such as commuting," the new rules say, according to the FAA. "At the beginning of each flight segment, a pilot is required to affirmatively state his or her fitness for duty. If a pilot reports he or she is fatigued and unfit for duty, the airline must remove that pilot from duty immediately."

Scott Maurer, who lost his 30-year-old daughter Lorin in the Buffalo crash, told ABC News Wednesday he and the other victims' families are "frustrated" with the FAA.

"The families are frustrated that commuting has not been an issue that has been addressed from a regulatory standpoint at this time," Maurer said. "We requested that this is an item that is brought back up on their agenda and are awaiting some response to that."

An ABC News investigation in February revealed commuting pilots across the country pilots were struggling just to get sleep in crew lounges and so-called "crash pads" before taking commercial aircraft into the skies, sometimes with hundreds of passengers aboard. Undercover video of crew lounges taken by pilots and provided to ABC News during the investigation showed pilots asleep overnight in chairs and on sofas. Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep mid-flight.

The new rules also do not specifically address the use of crash pads and sleep in crew lounges, which are already contrary to airline rules. At the time of ABC News' investigation, then-FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said industry representatives told him the use of such stopgap fixes, "simply isn't going on."

In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Former Continental Express pilot Josh Reikes told ABC News at the time of the investigation that one captain jokingly warned him, "Don't you ever let me wake up and find you sleeping."

One of the most vocal groups pushing for new rules are the family members of some of the 50 victims of the 2009 Colgan Air crash in Buffalo. In that case, the pilot of the plane, who commuted to his Newark base from Florida, had spent the night before sleeping in a crew lounge at Newark airport, raising concerns about the role of fatigue with safety investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board. The co-pilot had commuted to work on overnight flights from Seattle and also tried to sleep in the crew lounge, unable to afford a hotel room. Later, internal Colgan emails reportedly raised questions about the pilot's training and capabilities: pilot error was ultimately found to be the cause of the crash.

"We did recognize that they were likely impaired by fatigue," Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said after the NTSB's initial investigation.

The NTSB also found that about 70 percent of the Colgan Air pilots based at Newark were commuters, many coming from long distances to work. Approximately 20 percent commuted from more than 1,000 miles away.

The FAA missed two deadlines for implementing the new rules before Wednesday's announcement and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-New York, previously said the airline industry was possibly stalling them on purpose. A representative for Airlines for America, the major trade group for airlines formerly known as the Air Transport Association, told ABC News earlier this month, "We believe the rules need to be changed and [we] continue to advocate for rules that are based on science and are proven to improve safety."

According to the FAA, the new rules are expected to cost the aviation industry nearly $300 million.

"We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue," Transportation Secretary LaHood said Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec072011

Fired Baggage Handler Offered Job Back

Hemera/Thinkstock(RENO, Nev.) -- A Reno, Nev., airline baggage handler was offered her job back with missed pay after she was fired for refusing to load an emaciated dog onto a flight.

Lynn Jones, 56, told the Reno Gazette Journal that she was still undecided and worried about potential retaliation from other employees if she decided to return.

“I loved my job at the airport,” she said.  “...But I just couldn’t turn my back on that dog. ... My supervisor said it wasn’t my concern, but animal abuse is everyone’s concern who sees it.”

Jones was fired Nov. 12 after she refused to load the sickly dog onto a flight bound for Corpus Christi, Texas.

The hunting dog’s paws were also covered with sores and bleeding, witnesses told the Reno Gazette Journal. The dog was taken away by animal control officers and was nursed back to health before being sent to its owner in Texas.

Sally Leible, president of Airport Terminal Services, Jones’ employer, called the incident “regrettable” and said it would be used as a teachable moment for the company.

Leible said Airport Terminal Services would also make a $5,000 donation to the Nevada Humane Society.

Jones is a long-time canine lover. She has three dogs and once owned a dog-grooming business.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov032011

Airlines Will Be Stuffed for Thanksgiving

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Don’t count on an empty seat next to you if you are flying over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the majority of domestic airlines, says it expects 23.2 million passengers to fly over the holiday. While that is a 2 percent decline over last year, planes will still be packed.

“While demand is down from last year and remains well below the 2006 peak, passengers still should expect full flights during the Thanksgiving holiday travel season as airlines have begun to reduce capacity and limit the number of seats available for sale due in part to rising cost pressures,” said ATA vice president and chief economist John Heimlich in a press release.

“Based on published airline schedules, these cuts are expected to continue through the winter,” he added.

The crunch comes as airlines have reduced capacity in the face of higher operating costs. In particular, Heimlich says that fuel costs for airlines are up more than 38 percent over the past year. For fliers, this all means there are fewer seats available.

If you are flying for Thanksgiving, the ATA says the busiest days will be Friday, Nov. 18, Sunday, Nov. 27, and Monday, Nov. 28.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep062011

Napolitano's Future: Airline Passengers Can Keep Shoes On

Digital Vision/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sees the future of American air travel, and it is full of passengers who are allowed to keep their shoes on through security.

"We are moving towards an intelligence and risk-based approach to how we screen," Napolitano said Tuesday, according to Politico, at an event sponsored by the news organization. "I think one of the first things you will see over time is the ability to keep your shoes on. One of the last things you will [see] is the reduction or limitation on liquids."

Airports began demanding passengers remove their shoes for a separate scan after convicted terrorist Richard Reid unsuccessfully attempted to set off explosives hidden in his shoes during a transatlantic flight in December 2001.

"[T]he threat posed by shoe bombs didn't end with the so-called shoe bomber," the Transportation Security Administration says on its website. "Government tests have shown how a shoe bomb could easily slice through metal and potentially take down a plane."

Napolitano said "new technology" was the solution to the current "inconveniences" of air travel security -- such as shoe removal -- but did not elaborate on what that technology was. However, she said that technology does not yet exist that is capable of distinguishing harmless liquids from potential bombs in one, quick scan, meaning it could take much longer to ease the restrictions on liquids, according to the Politico report.

Napolitano's comments come less than a week after Germany declared full-body imaging systems currently in use in some U.S. airports too unreliable to use in their airports -- partially due to what the German government said was a high frequency of false alarms, including the system's reported inability to distinguish human sweat from potentially deadly chemicals.

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks approaches, Napolitano joined the chorus of government officials who said there is so far no "specific or credible information" on an impending attack, but Napolitano warned the symbolic date could be a tempting target for a "lone wolf" actor.

"It's also a possibility that we will have...a lone wolf decide, 'This is a great day to get some attention. I'm going to do something,'" she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul062011

Many Airlines Go Radio Silent on Pilot Fatigue: Study

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When a Congress-backed committee attempted to gather data on pilot commutes and dangerous fatigue, dozens of airlines failed to respond, according to a study released Wednesday by the National Research Council.

The report concluded that pilot commutes could contribute to fatigue that may endanger passengers, but there was not enough data to support strict regulation.

Although the report was sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration, when the NRC asked 84 airlines, from major passenger carriers to regional and cargo airlines, to provide data on their pilots' commute and fatigue policies, only 33 airlines responded at all and only some of those answered, or could answer, all of the questions they were asked.

"The problem is that we just don't know what proportion of pilots are commuting in an irresponsible manner," said Clint Oster, chairman of the research committee. "For whatever reason, I don't think [airlines] know the commuting patterns of their pilots because they have never had a reason to collect it."

Six unidentified airlines did directly address the issue of problematic commuting causing fatigue -- three said it "never" significantly affects a pilot's fitness for duty and three others saying it is "not minimal" and can be problematic. Congress requested the report after the fatal 2009 crash in Buffalo, New York, which claimed the lives of 50 people.

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the Department of Transportation, said she was "frustrated" by the lack of airline response for the study.

"That's unacceptable. No wonder we don't have this data. It shows the airlines really don't want to know," she told ABC News.

The study said the "relatively modest" response rate from airlines was due to the "extremely short turnaround" of a few weeks between sending the requests and holding meetings on them, but former Continental Express Jet pilot Josh Verde, said it showed an "unwillingness to help."

"Everyone has something to lose if [pilot commuting] gets regulated and increases costs," Verde told ABC News. "What bothers me about this story is that they're all aware of the safety ramifications but are willing to put it aside because of other motives they have, quality of life and keeping costs down."

An ABC News investigation in February found that large numbers of pilots report to duty every day after getting only a few hours of what fatigue experts call "destructive sleep" in crowded crew lounges and so-called dormitory-style "crash pads."

Over the course of the ABC News investigation, current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep in mid-flight as a result of airline scheduling practices and long-distance commuting. In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Undercover video of crew lounges taken by pilots and provided to ABC News shows pilots sleeping overnight in chairs and on sofas. The practice is contrary to airline rules and also contradicts what the head of the FAA said he was told by industry representatives.

"We're getting a different answer than you're getting, so somewhere there's a gap," FAA administrator Randy Babbitt told ABC News in February. "We asked the carriers themselves -- they're their crew lounges -- is this going on or not? We're not getting the kind of answer you are."

"They're telling us it simply isn't going on," Babbitt said.

In so-called "crash pads," stacks of triple-decker bunk beds are crammed into apartments within blocks of most major airports, part of an underground world that is secret only to the public. Inside one crash pad near LaGuardia airport in New York, there are 28 beds in all in a three-story row home -- "hot bunks" that rent for $25 a night.

In September 2010, the FAA proposed new rules to help ensure pilots get enough rest before flights, including allowing others to assess whether a pilot is fatigued, but the new study found there was no "valid and reliable" way to do that. Moreover, it said the FAA needs to know more about pilots' commute to effectively combat fatigue.

"Some commutes have the potential to contribute to fatigue in pilots, and fatigue can pose a safety risk, but at this point we simply don't know very much about actual pilots' commuting practices," said NRC committee chair Clint Oster, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, Bloomington. "Airlines and FAA should gather more information on pilots' commutes, and also work with pilots to lower the likelihood that fatigue from commuting will be a safety risk."

Verde said that the suggestion the FAA should gather more information is a "cop out."

"If ABC News can get photos and statements from pilots on what conditions are like, then how is it that this organization doing a scientific study can't get this data?" he said.

"Had we had more information we could have come up with some more helpful insight. We knew going into it was going to be difficult," Oster said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr202011

New Rules for Airlines Increase Penalities for Lost Baggage

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For Americans who have had their baggage lost on flights, or who have spent hours stuck on the tarmac without being allowed to use the bathrooms, a new set of rules the Department of Transportation put in place Wednesday will come as a relief.

The Obama administration has introduced new passenger protection measures that would impose fines on airlines for losing baggage and bumping travelers from overbooked flights.

Under the new guidelines, airlines would have to reimburse baggage fees in the case of a lost bag, in addition to the compensation they already pay.  There will be an additional charge for unreasonable delays in getting passengers their bags, though the DOT hasn't clarified what it considers unreasonable.

For international flights, air carriers will have to use the fee applied at the beginning of a passenger's itinerary, even if it's with a partner flight.

In recent years, airlines have hiked their fees for checked bags -- some charging as much as $35 for the first piece -- but consumer groups complain that service hasn't improved with the increased cost.  Airlines lost more than two million bags in 2010 and more than 2.1 million in 2009, according to the DOT.

Airlines would also be in double trouble for bumping passengers involuntarily off overbooked airlines.  They would have to pay twice what they pay now if they can't get a passenger on another flight between one to two hours of the original flight.  Airlines currently have to pay $400.  That penalty would double to $800 and increase to $1,300 for a longer delay.

More than 65,000 passengers were unwillingly bumped from their flights last year.

Air carriers would also have to include taxes, fees and other costs -- including what they charge for pillows, checked bags and food -- in the price when advertising their fares.  This requirement, the DOT says, would make it easier for passengers to compare prices among airlines.

Passengers could also hold reservations for 24 hours without paying or incurring a cancellation penalty, a practice that some but not all U.S. carriers allow.

International passengers will also get reprieve from long delays on the tarmac.  Foreign carriers and international flights would only be allowed a stay on the tarmac for a maximum of four hours before they have to return to the gate.´╗┐

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb152011

Senate Votes to Make Misuse of TSA Body Scans a Federal Crime

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of last year’s uproar over leaked airport body scan images, the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to make it a federal crime to misuse the images.

The amendment to the $35 billion FAA reauthorization bill would ban the distribution of body scan images taken in airports or other federal buildings. Under the proposal, anyone who records or distributes the images would face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

“This law sends a loud and clear message to the flying public, not only will we do everything we can to protect your safety, we will also do everything we can to protect your privacy,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a paper statement. “As we put in place new technologies to detect and capture those who wish to do us harm, we need to do everything we can to protect the privacy rights of the air travelers.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday night that he hopes to bring the complete FAA bill to a full Senate vote later this week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐







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