Stuck on the tarmac: How long is too long?
I've been quiet on the topic of the "passenger's bill of rights," because I'm a cynic about it passing in any worthwhile form; the airline lobby is pretty strong. But I've come to believe in one part, and am ready to shout about it: The federal government MUST declare a maximum time that passengers can be held on the tarmac. How long should that be? I say three hours. At which point, the pilot should be obliged to drive the plane back to the gate, where passengers can get off if they choose. Just because you pay for a ticket doesn't mean that you can be held against your will for time on end. It's unfortunate that the government has to get involved, but if the airlines had behaved better, we never would have reached this point.
EARLIER: In June, Delta kept passengers of flight 6499 on the tarmac for seven hours. How bad was this experience? You can get a sense by watching this seven-minute video, filmed and edited by a passenger.
Security for travelers
Peter Tarlow is a Texas rabbi and religion professor who, decades ago, became fascinated by security issues facing the tourism industry. His main impulse has been to bring together the best minds in the field to think about how to improve security for travelers. Every year, in larger and larger conferences, he has brought together hotel owners, airline owners, law enforcement officials, and other travel groups, prompting them to trade ideas on how security can be improved. This week, he's running the XVI International Tourism Security and Safety Conference in Las Vegas. Along the way, Tarlow has become one of the nation's acknowledged thought leaders on the topic, and president of the Tourism & More consulting company. Tarlow is currently taking questions from readers like yourself. (Click here to submit a question.) He will respond with answers in an online chat tomorrow (Tuesday) at BudgetTravel.com between noon and 1 p.m. Eastern time. Tarlow and I recently talked about today's top security issues. He unnerved me with the following thought: Many famous hotels are in denial about the safety of their buildings... Currently, he says, many hotels have no truly effective plans for emergencies. For example, many hotels have unrealistic ideas about how quickly their guests would be able to evacuate. They also lack plans for rescuing guests who are severely overweight and physically impaired. These folks may struggle to step down stairwells when elevators aren't working. Tarlow hopes that several hotels will do more to improve their security. But he says that pressure from the public and from law enforcement will be needed. Resort areas, such as the coastal beaches of Hawaii, also need to improve security for guests, he says. For instance, many travelers injure themselves or lose their lives when they attempt to surf and swim in the Pacific Ocean. One innovative program Tarlow is touting is that resort areas should partner with local universities to tap into the knowledge and manpower of students enrolled in kinesiology classes. These students would come up with creative ways to get the word out about ocean safety. If you have any questions about tourism safety, broadly defined, please submit your question to Tarlow now.
Calling all moms!
Is a stay at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando your idea of a perfect family vacation? Have you been there so many times that you can plan a Disney vacation in your sleep? If so, then Mickey and company want to hear from you ASAP! As part of a year-long promotion, Disney is searching for a few good moms--twelve in fact--who, according to the folks at Disney, "have mastered the art of planning a Walt Disney World vacation." Once selected, the lucky dozen will be part of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, an online forum where future guests can request advice about planning a Disney vacation. Even better, the dozen winners will receive a five-night vacation for four to the Orlando resort. Disney will be accepting submissions from Sept. 6, 2007 through Oct. 5, 2007, and interested applicants can visit disneyworldmoms.com for more information. Do you have what it takes? [Photo by Ms. Jessie Barber. See her portfolio at Flickr.]
Our readers tell off the airlines
We recently asked readers of this blog: "Which airline do you refuse to fly, and why?" We received about 40 responses. Nearly every airline got zinged. (Click here to join the fracas.) The top gripe? Rude airline employees. Roughly half of the 40 readers cited rudeness by flight attendants and gate agents as something that would cause them never to fly an airline again. In other words, these travelers would rather pay more to fly another airline than give business to an airline that has treated them rudely. Yes, they may be willing to skimp on other services in exchange for a cheaper fare, but rudeness is intolerable. This is not a breakthrough revelation, of course. Other more comprehensive and scientific surveys of customer satisfaction have no doubt found the same result. You might think that the airlines would respond to such complaints by setting up systems for 1) collecting data from passengers about any incidents in which they felt they were rudely treated; 2) if there are a lot of complaints about a particular flight, identifying which flight crew or gate agents were serving that flight; 3) rewarding employees who receive favorable comments and insisting on re-training for employees who are criticized by passengers. After all, the airlines track data on everything else. Why not track data on this major customer concern? A second major issue among our readers is a repeated failure by airline staff to communicate accurate information to passengers when a problem (such as a flight delay) happens. Misinformation compounded with more misinformation will sometimes make passengers mad enough that they're ready to break some furniture. Consider the following story from a reader: I refuse to fly Alitalia - It's too bad the national airline of Italy is such a disgrace. My parents were stuck in Milan for 3 days because the flight crew just didn't show up for the Pisa - Milan flight. There was a near-riot in the Milan airport as security was called in to control the crowds. The most angry travelers? The Italians! We saw a man reach across the desk of an Alitalia employee and throw a monitor across the floor.--Laura Beckett Perhaps the most poignant story from our readers was this one: I refuse to ever fly Northwest again. I got news that my grandmother was dying in Athens,Greece and I rushed to find ANY ticket I could in order to see her in her last moments. My flight was supposed to leave Newark at 6:00pm on Wednesday. Once at the gate, we were told there was a slight delay until finally at 10pm we were told that the plane "broke" and a crew was being flown in from Detroit to "fix" the plane. Supposedly we would be leaving at 6am the next morning. We finally left at noon the next day and flew into Amsterdam, which was part of my original itinerary in order to change planes and fly onto Athens. We landed in Amsterdam at 11:00pm Thursday night and it was too late for a flight onto Athens so we were put up in a hotel until the next morning. I made it to the airport by shuttle the next morning, where I was told that all flights to Athens on the plane I was supposed to take, were booked. I ended up in Paris. I finally ended up in Athens on Friday evening which by then it was too late to see my Grandmother. I will never ever fly Northwest again.--Posted by: Marina See the full list of comments--and feel free to post your own. Update: Our most popular blog posts lately. Photo by Benoutram. Find their portfolio at Flickr.
Stuck in an airport line? Spread the word!
Hundreds of Orbitz.com customers pass through national airports on an hourly basis and, as of today, the online travel agency is putting them to work. The cool new application OrbitzTLC Traveler Update allows travelers to access and share real-time information from a laptop or from a mobile device at mobile.orbitz.com. (Note that you don't have to be a customer to view the information or even to submit an update.) Posts, tagged with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon, can alert travelers to which security lines to avoid, which local highways are clogged, which taxi station is speediest, which flights are delayed and which are calling for bumped passengers…what isn't there to sound off about lately? There are dedicated pages for more than 40 major U.S. airports, each with the just-launched traveler updates as well as traffic information from Yahoo, Google maps, security wait times as averaged monthly by the TSA, delays reported by the FAA, and tips on weather, parking, and where to find WiFi access. Travelers' comments are fed through a spam filter to weed out the vulgar or irrelevant, but Orbitz has no way of verifying that a user is, in fact, at the airport that they are posting about. Like many other sites relying on user-generated content, Orbitz counts on users to rate tips for their quality and plans to offer discounts on future bookings to the most frequent and highest-ranked Traveler Update contributors. One more perk: if you've signed up for Orbitz's travel alerts, you'll now automatically be receiving these traveler updates, too. Related: Sign Up For Those Flight Alerts