Passenger Rights

For Better or Worse, These Canadian Air Rights Changes Could Affect You

New airline passenger protections have passed for our neighbor to the north, offering increased Canadian air rights for travelers impacted by delays and other air travel inconveniences. But advocates on both sides—the airlines and some consumer groups—are not happy with the new rules.

What Changes, and When

The protections cover a wide range of issues, from overbooked flights to lost bags to tarmac delays. Here are a few highlights of the changing Canadian air rights:

  • Up to $1,000 compensation for delayed or cancelled flights (within the airline’s control)
  • Up to $2,100 for lost luggage
  • Up to $2,400 for being bumped from a flight
  • Reasonable food and drink during flight delays, plus accommodations for overnight delays
  • Mandatory rebookings when delays pass three hours
  • Planes must return to the gate and allow passenger to de-board when a tarmac delay exceeds three hours

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Some of these rules take effect now, but others—notably the rules focused on delays, cancellations, and rebookings—won’t go into effect until December 15. The new rules apply to all flights to, from, and within Canada, including connecting flights. That means Americans, or anyone else flying through Canada, can expect increased rights.

Why Some Are Unhappy

Despite appearing comprehensive and rather reasonable, the new rules aren’t exactly going over well with airlines or consumer advocates, according to the CBC.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), and international airline trade group, contends that the new rules violate international agreements, and a federal court to invalidate the regulations. But while it isn’t necessarily surprising that the airlines would be displeased with strict new regulations on their industry, it is a bit surprising that airline consumer groups are criticizing the rules as well.

In particular, some disability rights group say the tarmac delay rules don’t go far enough to protect passengers who can’t sit for prolonged lengths of time. In those cases, the three-hour tarmac delay allotment can extend a long but manageable flight into an unmanageable ordeal.

Overall, however, these new regulations bring a measure of reassurance and protection to travelers flying through Canadian airspace, including American travelers flying to or connecting through Canada.

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It’s Not Just You – Air Travel Really Has Gotten Worse

Just how bad has travel become? According to a new Morning Consult survey conducted on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association, it’s so bad that Americans avoided 32 million airline trips during the past year, resulting in $24 billion in foregone spending.

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[st_content_ad]A majority (51 percent) of survey respondents reported that air travel has become more of a hassle in the past five years; only 9 percent felt the travel experience had improved. Among the specific gripes cited were the following:

  • Airline fees
  • Overall cost of flying
  • Airport hassles (long lines, crowded terminals, etc.)
  • Government taxes on airline tickets
  • Security screening
  • Delays and cancellations
  • Onboard comfort

While airline fees and the overall cost of flying were by far the most complained about, the survey chose to drill down into travelers’ dissatisfaction with the airport experience instead. Among the airport-related findings:

  • 53% of frequent business travelers would have taken more trips if airport hassles were reduced or eliminated.
  • 55% of frequent leisure travelers would have taken more trips if airport hassles were reduced or eliminated.
  • 60% of respondents want Congress to “modernize airport and traffic control infrastructure to make flying more efficient.”

Apparently reluctant to implicate the airlines in the travel mess, the following received scant attention:

  • 55% want Congress to “prioritize the needs of passengers.”
  • 54% want Congress to regulate how airlines treat their passengers.

The survey seems to have been designed with certain preconceptions in mind, specifically that the root of the current dissatisfaction with travel is primarily a reflection of a degraded airport experience. In fact, the results suggest that airline fees and fares are the prime irritants.

Whether it’s airlines or airports or some combination of the two, the takeaway is that the travel experience is worsening rather than improving.

Reader Reality Check

What say you: Is travel getting better or worse?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


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Atlanta Airport’s Big Meltdown: The Takeaway

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest, is back in business after being completely shut down for almost 11 hours between 1:00 p.m. and 11:55 p.m. on Sunday.

“Back in business” in this case includes the business of reaccommodating the thousands of travelers whose flights were canceled last night.

The cause of the electrical outage was a fire at one of the three Georgia Power substations at the airport. The entire airport was left without power.

Passengers on inbound flights were stranded on the tarmac for hours, as jetways couldn’t be deployed to transfer them to the terminal. Departing passengers were ushered this way and that by airline and airport workers whose efforts were uncoordinated and whose advice was often contradictory. There were no lights in the terminals. Elevators, escalators, and moving walkways were immobilized. Airport shops were unable to sell food or beverages to affected travelers. It was a mess.

The chaos overwhelmed airport authorities, Georgia Power, Delta, and local government officials, all of whom were left dissembling and prevaricating, if they could be bothered to comment at all. (Even in the middle of the shutdown, Georgia Power issued a news release assuring the public that “Georgia Power has many redundant systems in place to ensure reliability for the Airport and its millions of travelers—power outages affecting the Airport are very rare.”)

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If one of the world’s largest, busiest airports is susceptible to such an outage, then any airport is. And while electrical outages are indeed rare, as Georgia Power suggests, weather and mechanical incidents are more frequent, and can cause similar travel disruptions.

What (if Anything) to Do

So, is there anything you can do to prevent such disruptions? No; they’re beyond your control.

Is there anything you can do to mitigate the effects of such disruptions, when they do occur? Not much.

While stuff happens, it doesn’t happen often enough to justify travel insurance. If you happen to have a credit card that comes bundled with flight-delay or cancellation insurance, fine. But extra-cost insurance isn’t worth it.

You can be prepared by having airline reservations and local hotel numbers available on your phone’s speed dial—although in the case of the Atlanta meltdown, there was apparently limited cell service.

In some cases, it behooves stranded flyers to leave the airport and check into a local hotel until the airline can confirm a seat on a departing flight. But in the Atlanta case, travelers had no idea whether they were facing temporary delays or outright cancellations.

In short, there’s little travelers can do to minimize the frustration and stress of flight disruptions, other than be mentally prepared for them (to minimize the initial shock), and remain calm and courteous when they do occur (to help keep the general level of air rage from escalating).

Reader Reality Check

Are you prepared for the next air-travel meltdown?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


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Good News for Flyers – Less Bumping, Fewer Lost Bags

A good-news travel story? Yes!

There’s been precious little for U.S. air travelers to celebrate in recent years, as the airlines have squeezed passengers into ever-smaller seats and imposed ever-more niggling fees for everything under the sun.

The latest report from the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, therefore, is a rare glimmer of good news against a decidedly bad-news backdrop.

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According to the November “Air Travel Consumer Report,” released today, third-quarter incidents of involuntary denied boarding—bumping, in other words—reached their lowest level since 1995, at 0.15 incidents per 10,000 passengers.

The bumping rate was also the lowest since 1995 for the first nine months of 2017, at 0.39 incidents per 10,000 passengers.

The airlines’ mishandled-bag performance was also significantly improved. For September, the mishandled-bag rate was 1.99 reports per 1,000 passengers, the lowest monthly rate since DOT started collecting mishandled baggage report data in September 1987.

The news wasn’t all good, of course. September 2017 complaints about airline service spiked 21.0 percent over the September 2016 levels, and complaints for the first nine months of 2017 were up 3.8 percent over the same period last year.

Reader Reality Check

Is the overall flight experience improving or getting worse?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.



Could Runway Construction Ruin Your Trip? Here’s How to Find Out

You might plan to take a different route on your road trip if Google Maps alerts you to road construction. With airport runway construction you don’t exactly have that option, but, like highways, airport runways need repairs on occasion.

[st_content_ad]If your arrival or departure airport is undergoing runway construction, you may see an increase in flight delays. There’s no such thing as an alternative take-off or landing route at an airport, so even if just one runway is closed due to repairs, more airlines will likely be fighting for runway space—creating delays. But there is a way to find out about this issue before it happens.

How to Check for Runway Construction

Concerned that your next flight could be affected by runway construction? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) keeps an updated, online list of which airports in the United States are currently undergoing “construction related activity.” You can check it here.

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If you’re worried about a tight connection, make sure that your departure and connecting airports aren’t on the list before booking anything, and definitely check before heading out for your flight so you can anticipate any potential delays. Note that this list shows all airport construction, which could mean the work is being done inside the terminal and might not affect your flight, so it’s best to consult your airport (or its website) directly.

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Caroline Morse is a Senior Editor with SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelwithCaroline and Twitter @CarolineMorse1 to see her adventures around the world.

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The 10 Best and Worst Airports in America (2017 Edition)

As any road warrior worth his or her rollaboard will tell you, the country’s airports are no friendlier than its skies. Ancient terminal buildings, threadbare carpets, stinky restrooms, poorly designed crowd control, sparse seating, unappetizing food concessions… the list of travelers’ gripes is a long one.

[st_content_ad]But according to J.D. Power’s newly released 2017 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, some relief may be in sight. “Overall passenger satisfaction with North American airports has reached an all-time high, as airports of every size have found creative ways to address the challenges of constant construction projects and increased passenger capacity demand.”

And that’s on top of last year’s results, which showed the average traveler-satisfaction score rising from 725 in 2015 (on a 1,000-point scale) to 731. Even that modest uptick was encouraging, given the 5 percent increase in airport traffic and the sky-high wait times at security checkpoints earlier that year.

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The study scored airports on a combination of six factors: terminal facilities, airport accessibility, security check, baggage claim, check-in/baggage check, and terminal shopping. Based on those criteria, the 10 highest-rated airports were as follows:

  1. Sacramento International Airport
  2. Indianapolis International Airport
  3. Anchorage International Airport
  4. Jacksonville International Airport
  5. Palm Beach International Airport
  6. John Wayne Airport
  7. Tampa International Airport
  8. Southwest Florida International Airport
  9. Raleigh-Durham International Airport
  10. Dallas Love Field

And the bottom 10 (worst first):

  1. LaGuardia Airport
  2. Newark Liberty International Airport
  3. Los Angeles International Airport
  4. Philadelphia International Airport
  5. Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
  6. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  7. Honolulu International Airport
  8. JFK International Airport
  9. Boston Logan International Airport
  10. Lambert-St. Louis International Airport

It’s worth noting that the three lowest-ranked airports are currently undergoing massive construction projects, which can’t help but impede traffic and generally make navigating those airports a frustrating and time-consuming experience.

Of course, when the projects are completed, flying to or from those airports—and indeed most airports—will still be frustrating and time-consuming, just less so.

Reader Reality Check

Do you find that the airport experience has been improving lately?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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24 Things I Learned from a 24-Hour Flight Delay

It recently took me 24 hours to get from Washington, D.C. to Boston, and no, I didn’t drive. Or walk. While stuck in an airport for an entire day, I had plenty of time to think about what lessons a long flight delay had taught me. Here’s what you should know in case you ever get stuck in the same nightmare.


24 Things I Learned from a 24-Hour Flight Delay

1. Airlines don’t have to provide passengers with food, water, or vouchers for the same. I’ve been on flights on different airlines that have been delayed for just a few hours and been offered free snacks and bottles of water, so this surprised me.

2. If your flight keeps getting delayed, consider making alternative plans. The more a flight gets delayed, the less likely it is to actually take off. My 7:00 p.m. flight was first delayed at 6:00 p.m., and didn’t get canceled until 2:00 a.m. I wish I had just given up after the first few delays, rather than hanging in there.

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3. Airline employees may not have the correct information. At around 1:30 a.m., a JetBlue employee told the crowd at our gate that our plane had just taken off from a different airport and once it arrived, we would be taking off for sure. Half an hour later, our flight was canceled.

4. Pack warm clothes and make sure they are accessible, no matter how short your flight is. I was so glad I had packed a few layers even though I was traveling from one warm destination to another, because the airport was freezing. And it got even colder once all the crowds emptied out.

5. Stock up on food and water before the airport closes. Even in a major airport, all of the shops and cafes closed in my terminal before midnight.

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6. Only having carry-on luggage will allow you to jump between flights more easily, if yours gets delayed or canceled.

7. If lots of flights are getting delayed, and you are trying to move to an earlier flight, you may want to go on standby if there is a chance that that flight will also be delayed or canceled–that way, you don’t lose your seat on your original flight if it ends up taking off earlier.

8. Don’t spend your delay at the airport bar. I saw a few very inebriated passengers who were too confused to deal with unexpected flight cancellations get belligerent with the staff.

9. Remember that the staff is working late too and that the delays/cancellations are beyond their control. The staff that stayed with us until 3:00 a.m. was back at the airport before noon the next day, still dealing with angry customers. Be patient!

10. Sign up for flight alert notifications directly through your airline. You’ll be texted or emailed as soon as your flight is delayed or canceled, and you can (hopefully) beat the mad rush of other people trying to get on a new flight.

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11. If the line for customer service is long at the airport, try calling the airline while you are waiting in line, as you might get through sooner. Note that phone staff might not be able to help with some issues though, like going standby on a full flight.

12. Gate agents can usually put you on a standby list, so try them if the line is shorter.

13. Know that you might not be able to go standby on a flight that’s more than one ahead of yours. For example, my new flight, at 3:00 p.m. the next day, was delayed, so I tried to go standby on a flight that was leaving at 1:00 p.m., but JetBlue’s policy wouldn’t allow me to swap to that flight, only to a 2:00 p.m. one (which was also severely delayed), even though my original flight was the night before.

14. Keep your toiletries. Sometimes at the end of a trip, I will toss travel-sized toiletries with just a tiny bit of product left in them to make a little more space in my suitcase for the flight home. I was glad that I didn’t on this trip, when I was grateful to have a little bit of toothpaste after 24 hours!

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15. If your flight is canceled, airlines may offer you a hotel room for the night. However, this may be far away from the airport (mine was 20 minutes away).

16. Try to be one of the first people from a canceled flight to get help–I was offered a hotel room, but they mentioned that there were only two left for the night, so I’m not sure what other people on my flight did.

17. If you are offered a taxi voucher by the airline to get to a hotel (or back home), know that it’s hard to find a taxi company that will accept them.

18. Turn to other airlines for help getting home. I ended up having to buy a ticket on another airline in order to get home, just because JetBlue was having so many cancellations.

19. If you have to cancel your ticket because your flight is canceled, the airline will refund your money. A last-minute, one-way ticket will be expensive, but after my refund, I only wound up paying about $60 out of pocket.

20. Look for other options–some passengers on my flight ended up renting a car or taking a train, and they still got back to Boston before I did.

21. Know your rights if your flight is canceled.

22. Be wary of booking a flight itinerary with connections on different airlines–I saw quite a few people who were anxious because they were going to miss an international connection due to the flight cancellations, and JetBlue wouldn’t help them at all with their onward leg.

23. If you complain and are offered compensation, it will likely be in the form of a travel credit from the airline, not cash.

24. Some airport bookstores have a program where you can buy a book, read it, and then return it to the same branch (or another in a different airport) for a half-price refund. Good to know if you’re bored and stuck in an airport!

What’s the longest flight delay you’ve ever had?

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United Airlines Apologizes for Giving a Toddler’s Seat Away

United Airlines or United Apologists? If you were to judge by recent media coverage of the carrier, you might think United’s core business was issuing apologies for blunders and misdeeds made in its secondary business, commercial air transportation.

The latest in a long series of high-profile incidents occurred last week, as Shirley Yamaguchi and her two-year-old son traveled from Hawaii to Boston. As reported by USA Today, on the final leg of the trip, United gave her son’s seat, for which Yamaguchi had paid $1,000, to another passenger. The flight was full, so Yamaguchi was compelled to hold the 25-pound toddler in her lap for the duration of the three-hour flight.

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Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable flight for both mother and son. And the arrangement violated United’s own rules, which require that anyone over the age of two occupy his own seat, and FAA guidelines, which warn against children sitting in adults’ laps on safety grounds.

As it has gotten in the habit of doing lately, United issued an apology, refunded the cost of the ticket, and provided additional undisclosed compensation (likely frequent-flyer miles or a credit toward the price of a future flight). Yamaguchi was unimpressed with both United’s explanation and its idea of adequate compensation. “What happened to my son was unsafe, uncomfortable and unfair.”

United’s apology to Yamaguchi follows hard on the heels of the airline’s apology to Emily France, whose infant son had to be rushed to a local hospital after overheating on a delayed United flight from Denver and El Paso on June 22. As the plane sat on the tarmac, the airline was either unable or unwilling to cool the cabin to bearable levels, in spite of the baby’s visible distress.

Like Yamaguchi, France was unimpressed with United’s initial response, apology included, and has hired an attorney to pursue the matter.

“Unsafe, uncomfortable, unfair.” Not exactly “Fly the friendly skies!”

Reader Reality Check

Is it just United, or are such incidents representative of the airline industry in general?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


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These Potential FAA Changes Could Help (and Hurt) Travelers

The newest FAA reauthorization bills in the House and the Senate include several proposals that could improve air travel for consumers, as well as two terrible ideas and one that could be a blockbuster for travelers fed up with unreasonable airline fees.

House and Senate Agreement

Committees from both houses of Congress generally agree on several measures for the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill, and the final legislation will likely include these provisions.

Good idea #1: Remove any airline-generated limits on compensation for volunteers willing to relinquish seats on oversold flights. Delta and United already upped their limits to $10,000, which ought to be high enough to get somebody to take a later flight.


Good idea #2: Continue the Advisory Committee for Airline Consumer Protection. Although the committee also includes industry representatives, it’s the only official avenue for ongoing consumer input into DOT policy.

Good idea #3: No more forcing people off an airplane after they’re onboard and seated. Did we really need this? Unfortunately, maybe we did.

Annoying idea: Ban cell phone calls in flight, but allow VoIP (voice over internet protocol) calls via internet connection. This solves any potential safety issues, since calls via Wi-Fi won’t interfere with airplane navigation systems the way regular cell phone calls would. But it ignores the fact that most passengers don’t really want to listen to noisy fellow flyers phoning their way across the country.

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Senate Bill Ideas

The Senate proposals include several other good ideas that would benefit travelers, plus a blockbuster that was just added June 29.

Blockbuster proposal: The Senate committee, in a bipartisan vote, added an amendment requiring the DOT to “issue regulations prescribing which airline fees are unreasonable and therefore prohibited or limited to a certain amount based on DOT’s assessment of airline costs. Fees to be scrutinized by DOT are flight cancellation fees, checked baggage fees, seat selection fees, and flight change fees,” according to the text of an amendment from Senator Markey (D-MA). DOT will also be able to regulate “any other fee imposed by an air carrier relating to a flight in interstate air transportation,” according to the amendment. This is huge, and it will clearly face serious opposition by airlines. Several of the named fees—and others—have nothing to do with cost; they’re designed to affect the sort of tickets consumers buy. It’s hard to believe that this proposal will survive in the House, but stranger things have happened.

Good idea #4: Airlines must refund fees as well as base airfares when they issue refunds. Apparently, some airlines now keep the fees—a real gouge.

Good idea #5: Conduct rigorous studies to determine whether the airlines should provide a minimum seat pitch for safety reasons and to accommodate passengers with reduced mobility.

The Senate bill also recommends a bunch of improvements in disclosure of fares, fees, and access to the DOT complaint system.

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House Bill Ideas

The House proposals also include some traveler benefits, but there are two terrible ideas that would materially harm travelers.

Good idea #6: Define airline IT problems as the airline’s responsibility with regard to contractual requirements to provide meals, accommodations, and other benefits in cases of extensive delays or cancellations. “The computer done it” should not be an excuse to let airlines off the hook for passenger protections.

Bad idea #1: Allow the Secretary of Transportation to block foreign airlines from serving the U.S. “after finding a carrier would erode labor standards because it was established in a country other than its majority owners to avoid regulations of the home country.” Or, to be more succinct: “Congress to Norwegian: Drop Dead.”

Bad idea #2: The House also decided to try to resurrect an earlier proposal allowing airlines to omit taxes and fees from their advertised airfares—a proposal that would deny travelers the ability to compare total trip prices quickly and accurately. As an example, British Airways currently constructs its $765 round-trip fare from New York to London in mid-August as a base fare of $304, plus $461 in taxes, fees, and carrier charges. Under the House proposal, BA could advertise London fares as $304 round-trip* (*plus taxes and fees), because carrier charges are also fees. Feh! This was a terrible idea when it first surfaced in 2014, and it’s a terrible idea now.

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The World’s 10 Best (and Worst) Airports of 2017

The world’s best and worst airports? The latest attempt at a global ranking comes from AirHelp, an online service that assists airline passengers in securing compensation for delayed, canceled, and overbooked flights.

AirHelp rated the airports according to three factors: on-time performance, quality of service, and passenger sentiment. The three factors were given equal weight, with the final score reflecting their unweighted average.

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In all, the ranking covers 76 of the world’s airports.

The Top 10

Here are the top 10 airports, listed in order from first to tenth:

  1. Singapore Changi
  2. Munich International
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Copenhagen
  5. Helsinki
  6. Cincinnati Northern Kentucky
  7. Barcelona
  8. Madrid
  9. Auckland
  10. Frankfurt

Handily, the site allows users to re-rank the airports according to any of the three rating factors in isolation. So, for example, you could re-sort the list to focus solely on the passenger experience, which it could be argued is what matters most. Doing so yields notably different results, with Sao Paulo topping the list and two Moscow airports landing in the top 10.

The Bottom 10

Following are the 10 worst-rated airports, beginning with Kuwait at the very bottom of the 76-airport list:

  1. Kuwait Airport
  2. London Gatwick
  3. Manchester
  4. Newark Liberty
  5. London Stansted
  6. Edinburgh
  7. Mumbai
  8. Dubai
  9. Bangkok
  10. Delhi

Among U.S. airports, Los Angeles International was just outside the worst 10, at number 66, and Boston was ranked 63rd.

Reader Reality Check

What are your picks for the world’s best and worst airports?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.



Delta Fined $90K for Not Providing Snacks During Tarmac Delay

Well, these are some expensive pretzels.

Delta was fined $90,000 for failing to provide snacks during multiple extended tarmac delays last summer. According to USA Today, the delays in question affected flights departing New York and Atlanta in July:

The two flights with the delays at New York’s JFK airport were headed to Madrid on July 1 and to Atlanta on July 8. The two flights with delays at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on July 21 were headed to Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina and to Portland International Jetport in Maine.

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While water was provided during each of the delays, federal investigators found that snacks for the Madrid flight were placed in the galley, but not distributed to all passengers. Snacks were provided on the Atlanta flight while the plane’s door was open, but not during the two hours and 11 minutes when passengers couldn’t get off, investigators said.

Only water was provided during the two-hour delay for the Portland flight and there were inadequate provisions for all passengers on the South Carolina flight, investigators said.

The DOT requires carriers to “provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.”

Delta issued a statement expressing “regret about how snacks were distributed.”

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It’s not clear what happened in these cases, which is interesting considering snacks were physically on (or at least near) the plane. The airline’s statement makes it sound like the problem was distribution, as if the airline staff didn’t realize it was required to hand out the snacks. That would be remarkable, considering the rule is several years old. Either way, $90k is coming out of Delta’s pocket.

It’s worth noting that prolonged tarmac delays are exceedingly rare. Only 2 were reported this past November, the most recent month for which data is available.

Readers, have you ever been stuck in a lengthy tarmac delay?

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85% of Travelers Are Satisfied with Airlines. Really?

How satisfied are you with the current state of commercial air travel?

If I had to guess, based on both my own experience and the feedback I receive from readers, I’d say that the consensus answer would be: Not very.

Flights are full. Seats are packed tighter than ever. Niggling fees are budget-crushers. Lines are long. What’s to like?

Airlines for America, the trade group that represents the interests of most U.S. airlines, begs to differ. According to the organization’s latest Status of Air Travel in the United States report, 85 percent of those surveyed were either “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their overall airline experience. Ten percent were “neutral” on travel, and a mere 6 percent were either “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.”

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How does A4A explain the results, which seem so at odds with my own admittedly unscientific expectations? According to the news release:

Enhanced amenities like gourmet food options, further investments in technology, both at the airport and onboard the aircraft, and collaborative industry-government efforts to expedite screening for travelers at security checkpoints are further enhancing consumers’ positive views of air travel today, resulting in even more satisfaction around their flying experience.

Tell that to the flyer crammed into the middle coach seat of a full flight as he chows down on over-salted peanuts and bitter coffee.

A4A has a vested interest in putting the best face on the airlines’ performance; the organization is paid to do just that. So it’s no surprise that their surveys’ results reliably align with their mission. Educated consumers are savvy enough to consider the source.

But even as travelers will surely take A4A’s findings with a grain of salt, there’s cause for concern. If the organization’s customers, the U.S. airlines, take the positive reviews seriously, they’re unlikely to take the steps necessary to address travelers’ very real needs and complaints. Travelers, then, can only hope the airlines follow their lead when assessing the survey results, and consider the source.

Reader Reality Check

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “very dissatisfied” and 5 being “very satisfied,” how would you rate your overall satisfaction with air travel?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


Booking Strategy In-Flight Experience Travel Trends

On-Time Flights? Sometimes, but There’s Plenty of Room to Improve

What are the odds that your flight will arrive on time? If you’re flying El Al, you can expect to be delayed, arriving more than 15 minutes past the published arrival time, fully 56 percent of the time. That’s significant, and important to factor into your trip planning when traveling on El Al. Or, knowing that, you might want to book your flights on an airline that has a better on-time record.

To be sure, El Al was the worst of the international airlines included in FlightStat’s latest Performance Service Awards survey; most airlines fared better.

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For the eighth year running, FlightStats has compiled data on the on-time performance of the world’s airlines, and ranked the carriers accordingly. Here are the on-time arrival stats for the 10 top-rated North American carriers:

  1. Alaska Airlines – 87%
  2. Delta Air Lines – 85%
  3. WestJet – 83%
  4. Southwest Airlines – 82%
  5. United Airlines – 82%
  6. American Airlines – 80%
  7. Frontier Airlines – 77%
  8. Virgin America – 77%
  9. JetBlue Airways – 76%
  10. Air Canada – 76%

While the airlines’ reliability has been improving steadily, and has become a selling point in the marketing communications strategy of at least some airlines, even the highest-rated carriers fall well short of 100 percent on-time arrivals. Delta, for example, which lately has made on-time performance an operational priority and a marketing selling point, still arrives late 15 percent of the time. And Delta is among the very best; most other airlines’ records are considerably worse.

For schedule-conscious travelers, knowing which airlines are more or less likely to get them to their destinations on time can be a difference-maker when deciding which carriers to book. And for all travelers, the findings are a timely reminder that the published arrival time is anything but assured.

Reader Reality Check

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


Airport Passenger Rights

The Best Airlines for On-Time Performance

OAG, which dubs itself an “air travel intelligence company,” has released its top-10 rankings of the most and least punctual airlines in 2016. The group analyzed 54 million flight records using full-year data from 2016 to compile the list, and for the purposes of the study defined “on-time” as “a flight that arrives or departs within 14 minutes and 59 seconds (under 15 minutes) of its scheduled arrival/departure time.”

For mainline carriers in North America, the top spot was held (as it often is) by Hawaiian Airlines, which has the unfair advantage of flying almost exclusively between destinations with perfect weather. The top five was rounded out by Alaska, Delta, WestJet, and Southwest.

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Virgin America came in 10th out of a list of 10 airlines. Notably absent was JetBlue, which finished just behind Virgin America in on-time performance.

Globally, Hawaiian still took the top spot for mainline carriers, followed by Copa Airlines, KLM, Qantas, and Japan Airlines. No domestic airlines made the top-five among global low-cost carriers, with Southwest coming closest at number seven.

Only two domestic cities made the top five in the ranking of major global airports—Honolulu and Salt Lake City came in at two and three, respectively—but eight ranked the top twenty in that category, including Portland, Oregon; Tampa; San Diego; and, perhaps surprisingly, Chicago Midway.

The full report is here, though you must register to view it.

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Airport Passenger Rights

Frontier Responds to Weather “Meltdown” in Denver: Err, Sorry!

Winter weather caused widespread delays across the western half of the country this past weekend, but Denver, it seems, got the worst of it (and not just from the Patriots).

According to USA Today, more than 5,000 flights have been canceled and nearly 20,000 delayed since Thursday. But the scene at Denver, particularly for Frontier Airlines customers, was especially bad:

“Stranded passengers of that airline took to social media in droves, with many showing pictures of long lines of passengers trying to rebook their flights. Others complained of being stuck at the airport for more than a day. Local media reports showed growing piles of luggage, with Frontier apparently unable to keep bags headed in the right direction as its operation bogged down.”

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Even the pilots’ union got into the Frontier-bashing act, calling the incident a “meltdown” that stems from “the same executive mismanagement and misplaced focus on cost-cutting that has placed Frontier near the very bottom of the industry in operational performance and customer satisfaction.”


So what the heck happened? Frontier spokesperson David Faulkner explained: “We had large numbers of [crewmembers] who were stranded outside of Denver over the weekend, and many were scheduled to operate flights from Denver to somewhere else. In some cases, we had a plane but no crew to fly it because of the weather.”

As of yesterday, operations were still struggling toward normalcy. Faulkner said the focus was on reuniting travelers with their bags.

The airline apologized to affected customers, but that may not enough. The airline’s recently rebranded itself as an ultra low-cost carrier, and the change has led to a (probably predictable) spike in customer complaints and diminished on-time performance, according to USA Today. The pilots’ union noted this specifically, saying, “Frontier’s private investors … must decide whether they want to run a reliable airline or loot it. If it’s the former, they must invest in the infrastructure and frontline employees who are trying to succeed without corporate support.”

Whether this latest incident is a reflection of an airline in transition or a sign of things to come remains to be seen. But as usual, customers are caught, or perhaps stranded, in the middle.

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