United Yields to Military Families!
United Reverses Their Unpopular Pet Travel Policy
Cruise Line Passengers in Mexico Robbed
TSA Announces Expanded Screening Program
Privacy Petition for Domestic Drone Program
What Kate's Saying
United Bows to Customer Pressure - Offers Military Waiver
Military families who were outraged at the prospect of paying hundreds of dollars in extra fees to ship their pets back home have been granted a reprieve from United Airlines and will be given waivers for the additional cost.
Military pet owners who are moving due to military orders were facing a daunting prospect: paying anywhere from $1,400 - 2,856 in third-party cargo handling fees due to changes in United's pet handling policy as a result of their merger with Continental Airlines. United's decision to switch to Continental's "PetSafe" program was going to result in exponential increases in the cost that service members were required to pay, in some cases up to 1,300 percent! But an unexpectedly fierce backlash from military personnel and the general flying public made United rethink its policy. "We realized the impact it had on our military families," says United Airlines spokeswoman Mary Ryan in an article for USA Today. "We value our relationship with the military very much and just wanted to see what we could do to help alleviate that burden."
Military families launched petitions and posted hundreds of negative comments on the companies' Facebook page when they learned of the policy change, due to be implemented March 3, 2012. Under the revised policy, pets no longer can be checked as baggage. It previously cost $250 when animals flew as baggage from the U.S. to most foreign countries. But instead of the planned cost increase, United announced a new special process that will allow their pets to be shipped without their owners having to pay those extra fees, Ryan says.
Kate Hanni of FlyersRights.org, which had received many complaints from military families, says she's glad to hear that United decided to listen to its customers, especially its military families. "FlyersRights.org is so grateful that United Airlines heard the pleas of thousands of military families who did not want to abandon their pets," she says.
Mexico Tourists Robbed after State Department Warning
Twenty-two Carnival Cruise Lines tourists were robbed during a shore excursion tour in the Mexico resort town of Puerto Vallarta last Saturday, reported cruise officials in a statement released by the cruise line. This comes just two weeks after the US State Department released a travel warning to Americans to avoid all but essential travel to all or parts of 14 Mexican states, including the state of Jalisco. Puerto Vallarta is the sixth-largest city in Jalisco. Flyersrights.org just last week posted a story in our newsletter about the State Department warning and cautioned our members about taking extra precautions if traveling to Mexico.
Details surrounding the robbery were sketchy, but the cruise line stated that there were no injuries and the tour was suspended on future sailings until further notice. The statement went on to say that they were working with guests to reimburse them for their lost valuables and assist them with lost passports or other forms of identification. Many other tourists to Mexico have not been so lucky.
The travel warnings and reports of continuing violence throughout Mexico comes as it continues to battle the drug cartels and have caused many cruise lines to change their itineraries, either eliminating or severely curtailing activities in many ports of call. Mazatlan has been dropped from several cruise schedules after a dramatic increase in violent crimes against tourists. Puerto Vallarta has remained a popular destination for American tourists, especially college students on Spring Break. This recent robbery may reduce travel to the troubled area, in spite of Mexican officials' insistence that the tourist destinations remain safe for visitors. The deadly internal drug war that began in 2006 has claimed more than 50,000 lives.
Again, FlyersRights.org does not want to discourage anyone from traveling to Mexico, but we strongly encourage our members to take precautions when traveling there. Make use of the State Department's web site and other travel advisory tools prior to departing for Mexico to assure you have the latest information available. Travel in organized groups and stay close to the busier commerce districts. Use traveler's checks and only carry the minimum number of credit cards you need. Also be sure to make multiple copies of your travel documents like passports and keep them handy. It's a very good idea to program the phone number of the nearest American Consulate office into your cell phone or have it readily available in the event of problems. Have fun and please stay safe!
TSA Announces Expansion of Streamlined Screening Program
The TSA has announced an expansion of a trial program designed to expedite the pre-flight screening process for "select" passengers - those that are among the highest-status elite customers for the participating airlines. The "PreCheck" Expedited Security Program began testing last fall with eight US airports and is now expanding to three more, including Kennedy, O'Hare and Reagan National airports. The TSA is planning to add 27 more airports to the program by the end of the year.
According to an article published recently in the New York Times, Participation in the program can be achieved in one of two ways: either by invitation from one of the airlines now working with the program, including American, Delta, United, US Airways and Alaska Airlines, or through a Global Entry program operated by the Customs and Border Protection agency. The Global Entry program will provide expedited entry into the US for international travelers who enroll and are designated as low-risk passengers after passing background checks. The program currently has over 260,000 participants.
Travelers in the PreCheck program will be able to traverse security lines much more easily and will not be required to remove their shoes prior to screening. However, John Pistole, the TSA Administrator, noted that all participants are still subject to random full-security checks. "There is clear public support for moving away from the one-size-fits-all concept in checkpoint security, toward a multilayered approach partly based on intelligence," Mr. Pistole said. "Just from a policy standpoint, we wanted to validate that."
For the general traveling public, who do not typically fly more than 100,000 miles annually, it is unlikely that they will benefit from the new program, at least for the near future. "As it relates to the entire traveling population, the 1.7 or 1.8 million who go through our checkpoints every day, I'd like to see more improvement in technology before we would make that kind of policy decision," Mr. Pistole said. "We're not ready to open it up across the board at this point, but I think there will be some technology developments that might in the future allow for a relaxation of rules on shoes and laptops, for example."
This program is similar to a privately-run program called 'Clear' that ran special access lanes in about 20 airports before going out of business in 2009. The company now has new ownership, but currently only operates at two airports, although there are plans to expand it if the business model is more successful.
Drone on! Petition for Privacy Rules for Domestic Drone Program
Recently passed legislation that gives the FAA the green light to open American domestic airspace to drones has many privacy advocates gravely concerned. The FAA has been given a deadline of September 30, 2015 to open the nation's skies to drone use and has announced a public rulemaking hearing on the impact to public safety. The Electronic Privacy Information Center [EPIC] is circulating a petition that would compel the FAA to also include a hearing to evaluate the impact on privacy interests.
Ninety days from now, police, firefighters and other civilian first responders will be allowed to fly UAV's weighing no more than 4.4 pounds, assuming they meet requirements that are still under development, such as ground operators being required to be within line-of-sight of the drone and flying it at least 400 feet above ground. By 2013, drones weighing up to 55 pounds can fly in American airspace according to the recently passed FAA bill. The deadline for full integration of drones into US airspace is September, 30, 2015.
Privacy advocates are seriously concerned about the potential for abuse. "Right now, under current US laws, there are very few restrictions on our ability to take pictures or videos of individuals outside," said Harley Geiger, a policy attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington DC in comments to Discovery News. "Some of the privacy issues that we see with drones are very different than the sort of surveillance that can be conducted with a helicopter. Drones can quietly watch an entire town without refueling. It can conduct a pervasive and secret surveillance that helicopters cannot match."
Amie Stepanovich, Legal Counsel for EPIC, also expressed concern about the proposed changes. "The proliferation of drones in our skies is an imminent threat to privacy and something should be addressed now." The petition states, "The use of drones in US airspace poses a real threat to important privacy interests, and the agency has the authority to regulate the use of drones."
The impact of this legislation is obvious and although we certainly see the advantages of leveraging this new technology, we also see the frightening potential for abuse if it is not carefully managed and controlled. We urge our members to please view the petition and evaluate this complex and important issue. We will continue to keep our readers informed.
What Kate's Saying
As Flyersrights.org continues to celebrate its hard fought victory in Congress for airline passengers, many of our members have recently contacted us to ask a very sensible question: "What Now?!" What will the goals and objectives of this organization be now that we have achieved our primary objective of protecting passengers from excessive imprisonment aboard delayed aircraft? Kate Hanni wants to assure our members that our primary mission remains the same: to protect the rights and privileges of the flying public. But we want to focus on the issues that concern our members the most and with that in mind, we will soon be conducting a survey to determine how to best prioritize the many problems that continue to plague modern air travel. Please watch your e-mail in the coming weeks and take a few minutes to participate in the survey and let us hear your thoughts about what should be our most critical priorities as we go forward working for you!