Does the DOT Tarmac Delay Fine Help Consumers?
The first penalty under the tarmac delay rule was issued this week by the The U.S. Department of Transportation, the agency fining American Eagle a whopping $900,000. The move promptly launched a debate on whether such fines might actually hurt consumers.
At issue is whether airlines will cancel more flights to delay large tarmac delay penalties.
The rule, which took effect in April 2010, allows the DOT to fine carriers as much as $27,500 per passenger for delays on the tarmac of more than three hours. In the case of American Eagle, 608 passengers on 15 planes arriving at Chicago's O'Hare, amid thunderstorms on May 29, were cooped up beyond the limit—45 minutes beyond in one case.
The fine reflects a settlement between the carrier and DOT. "A total of $650,000 must be paid within 30 days, and up to $250,000 can be credited for refunds, vouchers, and frequent flyer mile awards provided to the passengers on the 15 flights on May 29, as well as to passengers on future flights that experience lengthy tarmac delays of less than three hours," the DOT said.
For its part, American Eagle said it apologized to passengers on the delayed Chicago flights and provided either travel vouchers or frequent flyer program mileage credit. The carrier also said it had a new plan in place to avoid such tarmac delays in the future.
The sizeable fine—the largest penalty to be paid by an airline in a civil protection case not involving civil rights — would appear a victory for consumers, and that's what DOT officials are touting.
“We put the tarmac rule in place to protect passengers, and we take any violation very seriously,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in announcing the fine. "We will work to ensure that airlines and airports coordinate their resources and plans to avoid keeping passengers delayed on the tarmac.”
Transportation officials have credited the threat of fines with dramatically reducing tarmac delays—from 693 delays of more than three hours during the 12 months before the new rule took effect to just 20 between May 2010 and April 2011.
Except analysts and some in the airline industry are saying cancellations are one reason for the reduction, and that airlines will only cancel more flights under threat of big fines.
"If there's a 20 percent chance of this happening, an airline will cancel," airline analyst Michael Boyd told the Associated Press.
Ken Quinn, a former Federal Aviation Administration chief counsel who now represents airlines, told AP the tarmac rule will turn out to be inadvertently "anti-consumer," for the cancelation reason.
But in a press release issued yesterday, the consumer group FlyerRights charged the airline industry was resorting to "scare tactics" in an attempt to thwart the reforms.
"The purpose for the new passenger protections, including the fines, is to create incentives for the airlines to treat passengers more fairly, not give them an excuse to punish their customers further," said Kate Hanni, Kate Hanni, FlyersRights founder and Executive Director. "Hopefully the airlines focus their energy to comply with the new DOT rules, rather than thwart them."
The DOT is completing a comprehensive study regarding the impact of the passenger protections, Hanni added. The passenger-focused group also called the $900,000 fine a "slap on the wrist."
Meanwhile, all this comes as the feds are also looking into possible fines for tarmac delays last month during a freak Northeast snowstorm. Passengers on JetBlue and American flights sat for hours on the tarmac at snow-covered Bradley International Airport in Connecticut—those on one flight trapped on the plane for more than seven hours despite pleas by the captain to airport officials.
More from Budget Travel:
How Far Should the DOT Go to Protect Travelers?
Southeast Asia Battles With Surging Floodwaters
Some of the worst flooding in decades has gripped Southeast Asia, raising concerns about travel to the region as waters continued to surge on Wednesday, threatening Bangkok and other popular destinations. The severe flooding caused by an abnormally heavy rainy season has already left more than 700 dead in Cambodia and Thailand, according to the United Nations. Additionally, in Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam, homes, crops and vital infrastructure have been destroyed and millions of people living in low-lying areas remain vulnerable to further destruction, Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs at the UN Development Programme, Valerie Amos, said on Tuesday. While the Tourism Authority of Thailand is reporting that major tourist destinations such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampang, and southern provinces in Thailand are experiencing normal weather conditions, The New York Times on Wednesday reported that "thousands of volunteers and soldiers battled to strengthen Bangkok's flood defenses as water surged to the edges of the city." Indeed, Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra acknowledged Wednesday that the country's flood crisis has overwhelmed her government, the Associated Press reported. The historic city of Ayutthaya, a Unesco World Heritage site about 62 miles north of Bangkok, one of the hardest hit areas, has now been submerged for two weeks, according to news reports. "It's been a tough last month here in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia," said Andrea Ross of Journeys Within. Journeys Within is a Siem Reap, Cambodia-based tour operator that specializes in travel throughout Southeast Asia. "Here in Cambodia the temples have stayed above the flooding and we have been able to keep touring as planned for most of our tours," said Ross. "In Thailand we have had to make some adjustments, especially with the flooding of Ayutthaya. With that said, we have only adjusted tours and have not cancelled any tours or received any cancellations." According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the floods are mainly affecting the provinces in central Thailand and a few provinces in the north and northeast. All airports in Thailand, including Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, are still open and are operating as per usual. "We are hoping that as November draws closer and rainy season comes to an end, we will see the waters receding and things returning to normal," said Ross. "With that said, we know that the toll on families and communities has been huge and the loss of crops will mean that the following harvest could mean a lack of food in the region." More from Budget Travel: Metered moto-taxis Cambodia's Comeback A flood of new ships to sail the Mekong
3 New Boutique Hotels Where a Niche Theme Dictates Design
Countless hotels around the world open every year, and some, it seems, will go to great lengths to stand out from the pack. This year, as we put together our annual story on the best new boutique hotels in the world—all with rooms for $150 or less a night—we noticed that a few shared one thing in common. They took the idea of a specific, niche theme and ran with it. Here are three of our favorites: El Acebo de Casa Muria, in Spain’s Pyrenees Mountains: From India to China to Kenya, mountaineers Jennifer Ayllón and José Luis Bengoa have conquered some of the world’s major peaks. So when the pair decided to open El Acebo de Casa Muria guesthouse (from $78) in Spain’s Pyrenees Mountains last fall, they naturally looked to the summits for inspiration. In this converted 1806 stone farmhouse, each of the six rooms pays homage to a favorite destination: minimalism in the Japanese-inspired Room Fujiyama, muted earth tones in Suite Kilimanjaro, pink-and-ocher silk accents in the Moroccan-themed Room Toubkal. Behind the house, guests can take in views of the Benasque Valley from a three-tiered garden, which is filled with prayer flags and rock sculptures. The Cheshire, in St. Louis, Missouri This Tudor-inspired St. Louis hotel may have a strong British accent on the outside, but the Cheshire (from $139) slips into Medieval Times–style kitsch, too. The traditional inn, which dates to the 1920s, reopened in August with fixtures fit for a queen: leaded windows, brocaded drapes, paisley carpets. The Cheshire’s six “novelty” suites subtly honor British literary icons, including the country manor vibe of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, the nautical trappings of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the mod ’60s vibe from Ian Fleming’s James Bond, and the colonial decor of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Each room includes a framed author biography and a hardcover copy of their novel. Crystal Hotel, in Portland, Oregon Sure, Portland has become a Northwest beacon of cool in the past decade. But the folks at the newly opened Crystal Hotel (from $85) might tell you that their city has been rocking for ages. Located in a century-old former bathhouse, the hotel’s 51 guest rooms are each inspired by an iconic song performed at the 97-year-old Crystal Ballroom just across the street. Hand-painted lyrics circle the walls, and headboards are decked out in trippy murals by local painters, such as a fantastical green triplane (for Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”). Calmer amenities include a saltwater soaking pool in the bamboo-lined basement and the first-floor Zeus Café. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: World's Weirdest Hotels World's Weirdest Hotels, Part Deux World's Weirdest Hotels 3.0
Google is Mapping the Amazon
The Google Street View team has landed in the Amazon, visually mapping the river and rain forest to provide an on-the-ground look at this endangered habitat. In an effort to help promote awareness of the Amazon as one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, Google has partnered with the Sustainable Amazon Foundation to map the region by boat and by bicycle. In addition to its core team members, Google has also employed local indigenous people to pedal around their communities, snapping photos of some of the 350 indigenous and ethnic groups that reside here. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('7f4ab78d-84a1-4135-830c-67b148ce2530');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) It's a big undertaking with no known timeline as of yet—after all, the Amazon is two-thirds the size of the U.S.! In the meantime, take our poll and vote for the next location you think Street View should tackle. Don't see it on the list? Add your vote in the comments below. Have you used Google Street View when planning a trip? If so, how did a virtual poke-around-town help you? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Google Street View Travels Inside Museums Finding a hotel is as easy as pointing to a [Google] map Little-Known Travel Tricks With Google Maps
Establishing a Greater New York-Seoul Connection
New Yorkers are being encouraged to visit Seoul, and Seoul's city dwellers to come to New York as part of a new joint marketing agreement between the two cities. This week, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and NYC & Company, New York's tourism marketing arm, signed a one-year agreement to engage in a reciprocal marketing effort. Thus, in Seoul, 133 posters promoting New York will start to appear in Jongno (the South Korean capital's downtown area), Gangnam (a higher income neighbor south of the city), and at the main train station, Seoul Station. In New York, 70 posters promoting Seoul will pop up around the city, and digital ads will appear on the Clear Channel Spectacular screen in Times Square. The cites also partnered with Korean Air to offer a limited-time airfare deal, starting from 1,310,000 South Korean Won ($1,094, based on current exchange rates) from Seoul to New York, and starting from $1,295 for flights from New York to Seoul. The flights from Seoul to New York must be purchased by Oct. 31 for travel between Nov. 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012 (restrictions apply; prices exclude fuel surcharges and taxes). Flights from New York to Seoul must be purchased by Oct. 28, for travel between Nov. 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012 (restrictions apply; price includes fuel surcharges, but not taxes). To book, go to Nycgo.com. In 2010, New York welcomed 223,000 visitors from South Korea, a 10 percent increase over 2009, according to NYC & Co. Seoul, on the other hand, welcomed 653,000 visitors from the U.S. in 2010, a 7 percent increase over the year before. "There’s outstanding potential to further grow the volume of travel between two of the world's great cities," NYC & Co. CEO George Fertitta said at a meeting in Seoul on Tuesday with Young-Gyu Kwon, the acting mayor of Seoul, and Korean Air Managing Vice President Kee-Hong Woo. The deal marks the first time New York has partnered with a city in Asia, having done similar swaps in the past with London, Madrid and Sao Paulo, as well as stateside with Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. On Tuesday, NYC & Co. also launched a new Facebook page promoting New York to South Koreans at facebook.com/nycgo.kr. More from Budget Travel: Seoul Connection And the winner of the 2018 Winter Olympics is... South Korea New York's Best-Kept Secrets