8:52 PM

Flight Delays, From a
Worldwide Perspective

'Tis the season for pressurized tubes full of humans trying to get to Grandma's house to be delayed, so says the mainstream media. As many across all the Internets reported last week, The Decider has this all figured out, assigning "unused" military routes up and down the Eastern Seaboard to commercial airlines. Sounds good in a sound bite, but the Air Traffic Controllers Union has already said in so many words that the Bush/FAA strategery is all hat and no cattle.

But around this planet, different countries handle their flight delays in vastly different ways. In India, the authorities have a strange way of provide stellar customer service:

Hundreds of passengers including diabetics spent up to 18 hours without food or sleep at India's Delhi Airport as Air India officials “hid” from them after announcing massive delays. Only a few junior officials were present, and they have no information or authority, and the Air India assistance booth at the departure lounge was deserted. Also, the crew of the Qatar-bound flight “went into hiding” after announcing a delay to passengers who were already seated in the aircraft. Passengers deplaned on their own and walked around the high-security apron area and had to be contained for their own safety.
Man, I hope the CEOs of the Big U.S. legacy carriers don't hear about that tactic. And while they run and hide in India, carriers in the European Union have a much stricter set of rules to fly under. From the BBC:
Air passengers who are unable to board their flights because of overbooking, cancellations or flight delays can now demand greater compensation. The passengers won new EU rights in February, 2007 and the new rules will apply to all scheduled and charter flights, including budget airlines. The EU decided to increase passenger compensation in a bid to deter airlines from deliberately overbooking flights. Overbooking can often lead to "bumping" - when a passenger is moved to a later flight. When this happens against a passenger's will, airlines will now have to offer compensation. If a flight is cancelled or delayed for more than two hours through the fault of the airline, all passengers must be compensated. Payments range from 200 euro (293USD) for a flight up to two hours and up to 1,500 km, to 600 euro (880USD) for a flight longer than 4 hours that was routed longer than 3,500 km.
Now THAT has teeth...the kind of teeth the airlines over here should fear. But the EU Regulation doesn't just end there:
Delays of two to four hours will require airlines to serve snacks or full meals, while delays over five hours entitle passengers to a refund and a hotel room if necessary. Refunds for round-trip flights must be offered if the journey is no longer necessary, for example if a business meeting is missed.
So let's review, shall we? In the EU, if XYZ Airlines drops the ball, delays your flight and you miss a critical business meeting, they will refund you the full round-trip fare. If you have to languish in the terminal for hours, they feed you, maybe get you a hotel room, and if in Amsterdam...oh, never mind.

But over here, if a carrier's system comes crashing down and their overbooked tubes full of people get parked on the tarmac for hours until the lavatories overflow, they offer an extra bag of stale pretzels and tell you to come back again some other time and try your luck.

Along with just about everyone else in the aviation industry, I will be watching in the coming weeks to see if either the airlines, The Decider or the FAA can do anything at all to minimize flight delays at this critical time in the travel calendar. But if the Big Airlines over-schedule, over-book and over-promise you an on-time departure, maybe the next administration in Washington might want to think about taking a cue from the Europeans on a pax bill of rights.

And if you really want the truth on what is coming at you this holiday flying season, check out NATCA's avoiddelays.com, a site I am sure the airlines would love to see go away because it offers data on how many planes are actually being delayed. For instance, the NATCA site says that on November 14, 2007, 2,011 flights were delayed according to FAA.

An unbelievable 2,011 flights delayed...in one day! Is that any way to run an airline [system]? Didn't think so.

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