Transportation Nation

Senate Backs FAA Deal, Sends to President

Monday, February 06, 2012

(Washington, D.C) Twenty-four times a charm.

The Senate gave final approval Monday evening to a four-year authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, breaking a sorry streak of 23 temporary authorizations going back to 2007.

The 75 to 20 vote sends the bill to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. It authorizes about $16 billion in spending each year on the agency. The bill governs significant parts of airport and runway programs, air traffic control, airline safety, and navigation regulations.

Lawmakers reached a deal in January that included a compromise on federal union rules. Democrats agreed to increase from 35% to 50% the proportion of workers at a company who must petition for unionization before a shop can vote to organize. While the deal paved the way for the FAA bill to enter final negotiations, it also enraged several unions. They've been letting Democrats know about their displeasure with the deal, and it helps explain why 14 Senate Democrats, many of them with heavy union backing, voted against the final package. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal Vermont Independent, also voted against the bill.

The deal also continues the controversial Essential Air Service, a subsidy program designed to encourage airlines to fly to out-of-the-way and unprofitable airports. House Republicans had tried to kill the subsidy, but some Senate Democrats representing rural states, kept it on board.

Passage of FAA's authorization represents a detente from partisan clashes over the summer. One even lead to a partial shutdown of the agency lasting more than a week. But it is unclear whether bipartisanship will reign over other, larger transportation issues in Congress. The Senate is now moving toward taking up a 2-year, $109 billion Highway Bill reauthorization. If it passes it will go up against a 5-year, $260 House GOP alternative slated for floor action next week.

The House bill contains many controversial provisions, including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It's also likely to include an attempt to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

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The Takeaway

American Airlines Seeks to Lay Off 13,000

Thursday, February 02, 2012

On Wednesday, American Airlines declared that it would lay off 13,000 workers or 15 percent of its workforce. The company is attempting to emerge from bankruptcy, which it filed last November. Along with the layoffs, the company is seeking to cut employee pensions and some health benefits. AA CEO Tom Horton called the decisions "painful" but said in the end, the moves would preserve tens of thousands of jobs that would have otherwise been lost.


The Brian Lehrer Show

Crosscheck: The Future of the Industry

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In the final installment of our weekly series on the airline industry, Jad Mouawad, airline correspondent for The New York Times, looks ahead at what's in store for 2012 and beyond.   

Comments [1]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Crosscheck: Airports and Security

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jad Mouawad, airline correspondent for the New York Times, talks about how capacity and security have altered the experience of flying, and how the procedures change customer service.  

Comments [29]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Crosscheck: The Worsening Customer Experience

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jad Mouawad, airline correspondent for The New York Times, discusses how passengers have been squeezed as a result of the airline industry's success, and what consumer protection groups are doing.

Comments [26]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Crosscheck: Restructuring the Airline Industry

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Jad Mouawad, airline correspondent for The New York Times, kicks off the January series on flying and the airline industry with a discussion on how the industry has restructured over the past decade.

Comments [13]

The Takeaway

EU Court to Rule on Carbon Emissions

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Wednesday, the European Union's highest court will rule on a lawsuit filed two years ago by two U.S. airlines and a industry trade association attempting to halt the E.U.'s plan to charge for carbon emissions pollution. It would include the industry in the worldwide cap and trade market. If the court decides to uphold the 2008 European law, on January 1, airlines will be forced to reduce their carbon emissions to an historic low, or buy emission credits from companies that pollute less than the base rate.  

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Transportation Nation

Delta's Big New York Expansion

Friday, December 16, 2011

Photo (cc) by Flickr user caribb.

Delta Air Lines will be the largest carrier from New York area airports by summer 2012. The airline announced a major expansion of service from New York's LaGuardia airport Friday, with the addition of more than 100 daily flights to 29 new cities.

The new routes target American Airlines and put Delta in a better position to compete against United, the current top airline by passenger seats in the region.

Delta says it plans to add four million passenger seats per year, in large part by using larger planes on the new flights. If the airline reaches that figure and competitors hold their passenger numbers steady, that would push Delta above Continental for the top stop in the New York Area. See current airline and passenger statistics at the Port Authority website.

Gail Grimmett, senior vice president for Delta in New York, wouldn't comment on the potential impact on fares. "We can't talk about future pricing, but I will tell you, this is a very competitive market and we do want to be... the carrier of choice for the people of New York."

United and Continental's merger into the world's largest airline puts Delta in second-place by traffic.

"It's about increasing Delta's overall appeal and utility to the high-yield business traveler," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "Delta is going for scope of service, rather than always having the largest number of flights to a smaller network of cities."

The expansion came about from a swap of airport slots with U.S. Airways. Delta gave up flights from Washington, D.C. National Airport and U.S. Airways ceded 117 LaGuardia slots. The U.S. DOT required the airlines to divest an additional 48 slots at the two airports as part of the deal. Those went to JetBlue and West Jet.

Delta will renovate two terminals at LaGuardia and begin the new flights in the summer of 2012.

With AP and with reporting from Claudia Morell.

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Delta Announces Big LaGuardia Expansion

Friday, December 16, 2011

Delta Air Lines Inc. is boosting its flying out of New York's LaGuardia airport, adding routes that target American Airlines and put it in a better position to compete against United.


Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NYC Officials Worried About Fracking, Amtrak Sets Thanksgiving Ridership Record

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Top stories on TN:

NYC On Track to Have Lowest Traffic Fatalities in a Century (Link)
Extreme Weather Events in 2011 Costing Federal Highway Officials Hundreds of Millions (Link)
Cuomo: Private Pension Funds Could Invest in Tappan Zee Bridge (Link)
New Jersey Adds GPS to Snowplows (Link)

(Photo: (cc) Flickr user JPMueller99)

Now House transpo leaders are now saying that a drilling-for-infrastructure bill won't make it to the floor until next year. (Politico MT)

Los Angeles is adding 95 new buses to its fleet that run on compressed natural gas and provide commuters with adjustable seats and climate control. (Los Angeles Times)

New York City officials say upstate fracking could damage the tunnels that channel millions of gallons of water to city taps every day. (WNYC)

The House turned away all four Democratic amendments to a bill aimed at overriding a National Labor Relations Board rule that would allow for faster union elections. (The Hill)

The federal government says it's making changes to prevent lengthy tarmac delays, especially around the holiday travel season. (Washington Post)

Amtrak set a Thanksgiving ridership record. (Washington Post)

Can higher fares save public transit? (Atlantic Cities)

The U.S. is set to become a net fuel exporter for the first time in 62 years. (The Takeaway)

NYC officials want to sell ad space on the back of taxi receipts. (NY Post)

The New York MTA quickly restored a depressing poem to its original condition in the Times Square subway station after a Bronx student papered over it to make it peppier. (New York Times)

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The Takeaway

American Airlines Files For Bankruptcy

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American Airlines' parent company, Texas-based AMR, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday morning, making it the last major airline in the U.S. to do so. American, the nation's third largest airline, will continue operations during the restructuring, which it hopes will reduce labor costs and $29.6 billion in debts. AMR has lost $982 million since the beginning of the year, and has posted annual losses for the last three years. In recent years, American has struggled to compete against United and Delta, both of which merged with other airlines after going through their own reorganizations.

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The Takeaway

Angry With An Airline? Try Tweeting

Thursday, September 01, 2011

In the days after Hurricane Irene, many travelers find themselves stranded after cancelled flights or suspended train service kept them from going where they wanted to go. Even without extreme weather conditions complicating travel, most travelers have an an airline horror story or two, and many times the source of the problem is not the cancelled trip or lost bag, but inadequate customer service or lack of information from the airline. Several airlines are seeking to remedy this problem by using social networking for customer relations — a tactic many different types of companies are employing nowadays.

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Transportation Nation

New Rules Protecting U.S. Airline Passengers Start Today

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Airplanes wait to take off fro JFK Airport (photo by ATIS547 via Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation's latest set of "flier protection" rules go into effect today.

The department can now impose large fines on international flights that wait on the tarmac more than four hours. Airlines will also have to clearly display fees charged on everything from checking a bag to reserving a seat to buying food. And a passenger can expect higher compensation from an airline that loses his luggage or involuntarily bumps her from a flight.

New York's airports, in particular, played a dubious role as a catalyst to the crack-down on long delays before take-off. In 2007, 154 flights were stuck on a runway at JFK Airport for more than three hours. Two-thirds of all long waits in the country happened at one of the metropolitan area's three major airports.

Then, in 2010, the U.S. DOT began fining domestic airlines for those delays and the numbers plummeted. Now the department will do the same for international flights.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, applauded the change. He also agreed with airlines being forced to clearly display all their charges to online ticket buyers. His is one of several consumer groups that say buying a ticket online means digging deep into an airline's website to understand what fees it charges.

"They've had their fees buried on screen four, five and six, or just before you get ready to take your credit card out," Mitchell said.

Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association (an airline trade association), said airlines strive to communicate clearly with passengers. "Airlines already have made many service improvements and many of the regulations going into affect formalize procedures already in place," Lott said.

In January, airlines will face even more rules, including notifying passengers at the boarding gate if their flight is delayed or cancelled.

To listen to this story, go to Marketplace.


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New Rules Protecting Airline Passengers Go Into Effect

Monday, August 22, 2011


The U.S. Department of Transportation's latest set of "flier protection" rules go into effect Tuesday. The department can now impose large fines on international flights that wait on the tarmac for more than four hours.

Comments [1]

The Takeaway

How the FAA Shutdown Impacts Consumers

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Earlier this morning, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) told The Takeaway the Democrats were to blame for partial shutdown at the Federal Aviation Agency, after Congress failed to pas a funding extension last weekend. But what does this shutdown mean for consumers at the airport? Barbara Peterson, senior aviation correspondent for Conde Nast Traveler, talks about how airfare has changed since the government can no longer collect taxes on airline tickets.


The Takeaway

Rep. John Mica on the Politics Behind the FAA Shutdown

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Partisan fighting over the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill has affected more than just the markets. Over the weekend, Congress failed to pass a funding extension for the Federal Aviation Administration, following a disagreement over cuts in subsidies. As a result, the U.S. government was forced to suspend collection of federal airline taxes, at a loss of approximately $200 million per week. The F.A.A had to furlough 4,000 employees, and airport modernization projects worth billions of dollars are now on hold.

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Transportation Nation

Airlines Raise Fares to Profit from FAA Tax Holiday

Monday, July 25, 2011

So much for the silver lining to the FAA partial shutdown. When the agency's authority expired at midnight on Saturday airlines were no longer required to collect federal taxes, creating a tax holiday for fliers. But then the airlines moved in.

Nearly all the major carriers have raised fares to capture what could have been a price break for consumers. According to other airlines, US Airways and American Airlines each raised fares on Friday even before FAA authority expired.

"American adjusted its prices so the bottom line price of a ticket remains the same as it was before -- prior to the expiration of federal excise taxes, etc.," Ed Martelle of American Airlines said in an emailed statement to Transportation Nation.  He added, "I am told by our pricing department that all major airlines ... have done the same thing, with the exception of Alaska Airlines (current as of Monday morning)."

Airlines do not discuss pricing decisions typically. When asked for an explanation, Martelle wrote, "American cannot discuss the “why” of this situation, nor discuss any future pricing actions that may, or may not, happen.  The Department of Justice considers that possible price signaling to competitors."

SouthWest told Transportation Nation,"We did implement a system wide fare increase of $4 each-way and we will keep the 7.5% excise tax as part of the ticket price — our Customers will not see an increase or decrease in fares. These decisions were made in light of the recent industry change in aviation tax collections and will help offset industry cost pressures — such as the rising expense of fuel."

Delta said simply, "we are competitive with other airlines on fares following the FAA expiration."

United, now merged with Continental, made the move out as an industry standard, "United Airlines and Continental Airlines matched fare changes initiated by other carriers  over the weekend."

Not all airlines followed suit though. Spirit Airlines issued this press release (which actually does a solid job explaining FAA tax structure) chiding competitors for their lack of generosity:

Since the partial shutdown began, "effective immediately, Spirit is passing along all of these tax rollback savings to its customers. Some carriers have not been so generous and have pocketed the difference in taxes in the form of higher fares."

Hawaiian, Alaska, Frontier had also not raised fares as of Monday, while Virgin America was taking the occasion to post on Facebook about lower fares.

The taxes in question are a 7.5 percent ticket tax, a separate excise tax of $3.70 per domestic takeoff and landing, and a $16.70 international . Those add up to about $32 on a round-trip itinerary with base fare of $240 and one stop in each direction according to the AP. The FAA will lose approximately $200 million a week in taxes that would have gone into an air travel trust fund, according to figures from FAA administrator Randy Babbitt.

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Transportation Nation

House Gives FAA Authorization a 21-Punt Salute

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

(Washington, DC) The House extended Federal Aviation Administration authorization on Wednesday. For the 21st time.

House lawmakers backed a  two month extension of current FAA law, 243 to 177, as a long-term extension bill waits in negotiations with the Senate. It was the 21st short-term FAA extension since Congress last succeeded on a longer-term bill in 2007.

“We hope there won’t be another one,” said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fl.)

Temporary extensions like this one normally pass Congress with little notice. But today there’s a twist. Mica added a bit of language to Wednesday’s bill paring back the controversial Essential Air Service program, which for years has subsidized smaller regional airports serving areas far from big hubs. Mica’s bill excludes from the program any airport getting more than $1,000 per passenger in federal aid. That would cut off three airports, according to congressional aides. This comes at a time when private airlines are looking to scale back US subsidized service and after a long term trend of fewer short haul flights.

The move drew annoyed responses from Democrats, who accuse Mica of going back on previous agreements on EAS.

Now it will be up to the Senate to accept the tweaked House bill or refuse to act and force the House to send it a “clean” extension. The latter is far more likely.

The Department of Transportation has urged Congress to pass a "clean" version, saying that without a full year extension furloughs will begin on July 23 and $600 million in airport construction projects compromised.

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Transportation Nation

New U.S. Statistics: 4th Quarter Airfare Up 5.2 percent, Newark Has Highest Fares

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The US DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics release is just out:

"Average domestic air fares rose to $337 in the fourth quarter of 2010, up 5.2 percent from the average fare of $320 in the fourth quarter of 2009 (Table 1), the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported today. Newark-Liberty, NJ, had the highest average fare, $461, while Atlantic City, NJ, had the lowest, $156.

"Fourth-quarter fares decreased 0.9 percent from the third quarter, the second consecutive quarterly decline after four increases.

"BTS, a part of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, reports average fares based on domestic itinerary fares, round-trip or one-way for which no return is purchased. Fares are based on the total ticket value which consists of the price charged by the airlines plus any additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at the time of purchase. Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include other fees, such as baggage fees, paid at the airport or onboard the aircraft. Averages do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares” or a few abnormally high reported fares.

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The Takeaway

Reassessing Airline Maintenance

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Sacramento bound Southwest Airlines flight declared an in flight emergency on Friday when five feet of paneling ripped out of the 737's ceiling. Flight 812 made a rapid descent from its cruising altitude of 36,000 feet down to 11,000 feet and later landed safely at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station.  

In the recent past, airlines have been caught being lax in their adherence to maintenance inspections. In 2008, the FAA levied a $7.5 million penalty against Southwest for its failure to do mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue on some of its planes. Southwest wasn't the only airline.

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