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By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

If unforeseen circumstances force you to re-book an international flight from the U.S., you may face a hefty change fee — as much as $500 per ticket.

But a passenger rights group has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt a $100 cap for such a fee, arguing that the charges are exorbitant for an airline industry that is now collecting record profits because of slumping fuel costs.

Change fees for international flights were as low as $50 to $100 for a nonrefundable ticket only a few years ago, said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, a 50,000-member group that filed a petition with the federal agency this month to adopt the cap.

Instead of dropping or holding steady as airlines have reported higher profits, Hudson said, the fees have increased as demand for air travel has continued to grow.
“They are enormously profitable now, and it appears they are engaging in rampant cartel-like behavior,” he said.

The U.S. airline industry collected $2.8 billion in change fees in 2013 and is expected to report even more revenue from change fees in 2014 when the latest report from the Department of Transportation is released in May.

But airlines say the fees are not excessive and are clearly described to travelers before they book flights, according to Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s airlines.

“FlyersRights’ petition fails to demonstrate that there has been a market failure when it comes to what airlines charge for changed reservations,” said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the trade group. “Airline pricing is extremely transparent, and customers are aware of what they are purchasing and at what price before they buy their air transportation.”

Hudson said the Department of Transportation lost the right to regulate fees on domestic flights when it deregulated the airline industry in 1978 but still has the authority to impose restrictions on international flights.

Airline CEOs In War of Words

A war of words has broken out between the chief executives of Delta Air Lines and Emirates over government subsidies and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Here’s how it all went down:

Delta chief Richard Anderson and other U.S. airline executives have been saying that they can’t compete with Persian Gulf carriers on international flights because the state-owned airlines receive billions of dollars in subsidies from their governments.

The U.S. airline executives have asked federal officials to renegotiate the treaties that allow such carriers to increase flights to the U.S.

The gulf-based airlines shot back, saying U.S. carriers have received government subsidies of their own in the form of government loan guarantees after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and benefits from bankruptcy protections over the last few years.

Anderson got into hot water when he launched a salvo in a televised interview with CNN: “It’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula,” he said.

Of the 19 terrorists involved in hijacking the commercial planes on 9/11, 15 were from Saudi Arabia and two were from the United Arab Emirates. The remaining two hijackers were from Egypt and Lebanon.

Emirates CEO Tim Clark said Anderson “crossed the line” when he seemed to link the terrorist attacks to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the state-owned airlines.

Anderson apologized but Emirates officials are still miffed.

“We believe that the statements made this week by Mr. Anderson were deliberately crafted and delivered for specific effect,” the airline said in a statement.

© 2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Image: Luke Lai, Flickr

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