The airline boarding process, for want of a more family-friendly word, stinks. But on Feb. 15, it will stink a little less for families.
Is it time to ban carry-on luggage on planes? Would that speed up the boarding process?
Some say the answer to both questions is “yes.”
John Dunlop’s daughter, Francine, was supposed to fly from Copenhagen to Washington with her four children, including six-month old twins, last Friday. All by herself.
Talk about an impossible trip.
But then KLM made it even more impossible when it denied her boarding four times.
“A tough but doable trip has turned into a nightmare,” says Dunlop, a foreign service officer stationed in Iraq.
Priscilla Specht and her daughter Dana booked a trip from Chicago to Bangkok through United Airlines to spend some time volunteering and traveling in Thailand during the younger Specht’s summer vacation from her job as a teacher. Continue reading…
Question: We were recently scheduled to sail on a seven-day Carnival cruise to Mexico. A few minutes after we boarded in Long Beach, Calif., I had horrible kidney pains. I couldn’t walk, and felt as if I was going to pass out.
My husband immediately took me to the medical doctor on board. He performed an ultrasound and I asked for something for the pain. All of a sudden he said you need to get off the ship because you have a kidney infection. Within two minutes we had three Carnival employees rushing us to get our bags and they escorted us off the ship.
All the while, I could barely walk. One of the employees told me not to worry, that I could cruise at a “later date.” Everything happened so fast. I was never given a choice of whether to stay on board or not.
Tom Posch missed a weekend trip to Cleveland last summer after United Airlines overbooked his flight. Normally, travelers in Posch’s shoes would quietly accept the flight vouchers the airline offered as compensation.
But Posch is an Air Force attorney, and he decided to dig into federal regulations to see what the law requires of United.
What he found led him to file a lawsuit in a Virginia district court last month and it reveals that passenger rights are never a sure thing — even when it comes to something as seemingly certain as involuntarily denied boarding compensation.
Answer: This cruise just wasn’t meant to be. But it might have been — if you’d gotten a passport instead of a passport card.
Editor’s note: This is part six in a series about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. You can read the entire document here (.DOC). Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at Regulationroom.org. The future of air travel depends on it.
The problem with proposed rulemakings is that they often run on forever, and the journalists who are supposed to review them and report back gloss over the really important material.
Result? You get the headline: “Government to raise denied boarding compensation.” And that’s it.
But there’s more — so much more — when it comes to the proposed overbooking rules.
Timing is everything when you pull a bait-and-switch. Most of them happen just before or after the purchase – an “oops-the-price-isn’t-available” or a “sorry-did-we-forget-to-mention-a-fee” stunt. But for Mary Hoefs’ Royal Caribbean cruise, she didn’t find out until she tried to board.
Here’s what happened she tried to embark on the Liberty of the Seas with her family recently:
While checking in, our son and his family from Texas were pulled out of line and taken to another room. There they were told: “Pay an additional $800, or they you can’t board the ship.”
They were in a state of panic, and two little grandsons were in tears because they could not get on the ship. Not really understanding the reason, we had to come up with the extra cash for them to board. (Had we not had the money, what would have happened?)
The cruise was paid in full by us, at the time of booking. They had all this information far enough in advance that should there have been a problem, had plenty of time to let us or our travel consultant know so that it could have been taken care of before the date we were to set sail. Under no circumstance should this have been thrown in our face while standing in line to board the ship!
We feel that the full $800 should be refunded by Royal Caribbean. They only refunded $400, and sent that to the travel agent, with no reason or apology to us as to why our family from Texas was singled out like this.
Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? I figured there must be another side to this story, so I asked RCCL. Here’s its response.
Our records indicate that this booking was not created in-house, rather, through a travel agent. During the booking process, the guests from Texas were booked as being residents of West Virginia – with a promotional discount that was being provided to residents of West Virginia at that time. When the guests were unable to provide government issued ID that showed they were residents of West Virginia, the discount had to be removed, thus, the additional charges.
In other words, Hoefs’ family had used a discount that can only be used by West Virginia residents. When they couldn’t prove they lived in West Virginia, they had to pay a fare difference.
I shared this information with Hoefs.
I paid for the two from West Virginia $1,787, which was the “special rate.” The family from Texas, I paid $3,275. And from here in Arizona, the price was $3,275. So the Texas family did NOT have a special rate. Regardless, I booked and paid in full on December 16th, 2008, the cruise was not until March 14th 2009. If there was a discrepancy, they had plenty of time to notify me before rather then wait till we were standing in line to board the ship. If they did not feel they were in the wrong, then why did they return half of the $800?
Hoefs is correct. She didn’t create the confusing pricing system that led to this problem. RCCL had ample time to check the IDs of the travelers. And yes, the $400 refund doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Lesson learned? If you’re booking a cruise through a travel agent, make sure you qualify for any discounts, and can prove it. At a time like this, cruise lines are trying to collect every extra penny from their passengers — even if they have to do it at the dock.
What’s the fastest way to board a plane?
If you answered “none of the above,” you’re probably right. Fermilab’s Jason Steffen just published a research paper in the Journal of Air Transport Management that concluded loading smaller groups of passengers in every other row could accelerate the process by up to 10 times.
And if you said “who cares?” — well, I’m with you on that, too.
You’d assume airlines would just want to get us on the plane as quickly as possible. But nothing could be further from the truth. Generally speaking, airline boarding procedures are as short on logic as they are long.
For example, United’s elite customers are allowed to board first from a red carpet, “while the rest of us poor slobs stand next to them on the black airport carpet,” says Lee Paulson, a manager for a nonprofit organization in Washington. “It’s pompous, elitist snobbery at its finest.” Never mind that it’s also inefficient.
I don’t mean to pick on United, so in the interests of fairness, let me also pick on Delta Air Lines. Its Breezeway — a dedicated lane at each gate that allows elite passengers priority boarding anytime — is equally flawed, to hear passengers talk about it. “It’s a joke,” says Marge Purnell, who works for an employment services provider in Moline, Ill. “And the announcements they make during boarding are even more ridiculous. Just my opinion.”
You don’t have to be an overpaid airline analyst to know that the airline industry would prefer passengers feel good about the boarding process than for it to actually work better.
I mean, come on. Do you really think allowing an elite passenger to board at any time is going to speed up the boarding process? Wait, let me back up a minute. Can anyone tell me why these quadruple-titanium status frequent fliers need to be on the plane first, to begin with? Do they really have to sit there in their oversize leather seats and sip Mimosas while the rest of us shuffle slowly to the back of the plane?
I’m not hopeful that anything I write will change the way in which these chronically unprofitable companies operate. But maybe I can change they way you do, to help you get on the plane faster. Here are five secrets for boarding a plane quickly.
Pack tight and light
No doubt you’ve heard that almost every airline now charges extra for a second checked bag. You might be tempted to cram more into your carry-on, but you’re better off resisting that temptation. I recently made the mistake of bringing a large bag on board and ended up having to gate-check it under less than desirable circumstances. Fact is, the lighter your load, the faster you’ll board. And the faster the passengers standing in line behind you will be able to board, too.
Be first in line
Even if you’re assigned a seat in the last zone to board, you should make every effort to be the first member of your group. Why? Because early boarders are rewarded with more generous overhead compartment space, access to pillows and blankets, and can stake out armrest space (oh, please don’t get me started on the armrest wars). Latecomers, on the other hand, are disadvantaged in many ways. There may not be enough room for their carry-on bags. Pillows and blankets are usually gone as well. The savviest air travelers stand in the boarding area at least one zone before they’re called. As that zone winds down, they move in closer, anticipating their number will be next. And they’re at the gate before it’s their turn.
Don’t hold up the flight
“Nothing’s worse than cruising down that seemingly empty jetway, only to be brought up short by a logjam of 50 people and have to stand around, waiting for people to finish stuffing their oversized carry-on in the overhead compartment,” says Kathryn Morrical, who works for a software company in Silver Spring, Md. How true. You may get to your seat with time to spare, but there are no extra points for winning that race. It’s only when everyone else is seated that the plane can be cleared for takeoff. How do you avoid the jam? Stow your luggage quickly and get out of the aisle immediately so that others can pass you.
Mind your manners
For example, don’t put your luggage in the bin above someone else’s seat. That’s an old trick used by in-the-know passengers on back-to-front boarding airlines. (If you store your bag in the front of the plane, you’re guaranteed a spot for your luggage.) In my experience, most of the altercations between passengers and crewmembers involve luggage disputes during boarding. Debra O’Bryan, a medical claims auditor from Chicago, suggests a little courtesy might cause fewer delays. O’Bryan often travels with a cane, and is “knocked into, shoved, and bypassed rudely” by elite flyers when she tries to preboard. “They are so gimme-gimme rude,” she adds. If they backed off a little, the boarding process might become more orderly — if not faster.
Better yet, bring nothing (or close to it)
Why travel light when you can travel luggage-free? Impossible? No. Today’s laptop computers fit in manila envelopes. Smart travelers ship their luggage directly to their destination. And how quickly we forget the liquid scare from a few summers ago, when carry-ons were banned. “It was absolutely proven that carry-on luggage is the single biggest inhibitor of efficient boarding,” remembers Robert Wing, a software consultant from Penfield, N.Y. “The planes that I was on during that time period, both large and small, boarded in literally half the normal time.” I’ve pondered the elimination of carry-on luggage in the past but Wing doesn’t think an extended ban on carry-ons has a prayer. And I agree with him. Still, you can downsize your carry-ons so that you don’t slow down the process.
Boarding the plane faster is not difficult. Just downsize your luggage, don’t be the last person in line, be considerate of other passengers, and you’ll overcome the bumbling ways in which airlines insist on boarding their flights.
And make no mistake, ultimately it’s up to the airlines to find a boarding system that works instead of making excuses for the schedules they can’t keep or making a select few passengers feel special.
Brian Cohen, a senior information technology specialist based in Costa Mesa, Calif., says airlines need to reform their boarding procedures by strictly controlling which group boards the plane, practicing better crowd control, enforcing carry-on limits and, darn it, at least pretending they care. He told me he’s tired of apathetic gate agents that allow chaos in the boarding area, and understands they think it’s acceptable behavior because they’re “underpaid and mistreated.”
“But as long as they continue to cash their paychecks,” he adds, “I will never accept that as an excuse for not doing their jobs.”