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Understanding the Tarmac Delay Rule

by Lux Joseph 18. January 2015

Every day we have nurses, physicians, and patients traveling to different parts of the world via commercial airlines.  We arrange travel for our clients on more than twenty airlines and in a single day we can have more than ten transports occurring simultaneously.  With this data, one can only imagine the number of delays that can occur since we are using commercial airlines. It is one of the challenges CME and other medical escort companies face however; it is one challenge that cannot be avoided. Sky Cap Corp, our in-house travel department, works tirelessly to ensure appropriate connection times for our escorts and patients, but one can never tell what type of delay may occur on daily basis due to weather, mechanical, air traffic, or even a strike by an aviation union. CME is fortunate that Sky Cap Corp is continuously monitoring our flights to ensure seamless transfers and if a delay is going to affect a transport a backup plan is in place.
 
If you are traveling alone or made your own arrangements you may be left out in the cold “figuratively speaking” in an event of a delay or cancelled flight. As a passenger it is important for you to understand your rights and what airlines are and are not responsible for. Recently the Transportation Department fined Southwest Airlines $1.6 million dollars for violations of the tarmac delay rule that occurred during a snowstorm in January 2014. But do you know that the tarmac delay rule is and what rights you have?


The Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings issued an announcement in 2011 that outlined the tarmac delay:
 
A reportable tarmac delay is a tarmac delay at a large, medium, small, or non-hub U.S. airport that lasts for more than three hours. The 3-hour limit begins when passengers no longer have the option to get off of the aircraft, which usually occurs when the doors of the aircraft are closed. However, if an aircraft is at the gate with the doors open, and passengers are not allowed off the aircraft, the time limit would start at the point when passengers were no longer permitted to deplane. If the flight that experienced the reportable tarmac delay is reported under the Airline Service Quality Reports required by 14 CFR Part 234, the data for that flight should be reported under Part 234 instead of Part 244.
 
In the final rule, we state that covered carriers should file Part 244 reports for any reportable tarmac delay of “three hours or more.” This standard is inconsistent with the tarmac delay contingency plan requirements under Part 259 and the existing reporting requirements of the Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), both of which use a “more than three hours” standard. We intend to correct this inconsistency in a future rulemaking to make it clear that carriers do not need to file a report for a tarmac delay of exactly three hours. In the meantime, as a matter of enforcement policy, we will accept reports under Part 244 that meet the “more than three hours” criteria. For additional information, please refer to BTS Accounting and Reporting Directive No. 303A, issued on August 12, 2011.
 
Europe has a similar policy in place in regards to tarmac delays as well. Keep in mind though, delays due to weather does not require the airline to provide any particular compensation to passengers affected by weather related delays. Within the European Union, if a plane is boarded and sits on the tarmac for more than five hours, passengers will have the right to demand to be let off. If the tarmac delay is more than an hour, the airline must provide air conditioning, use of toilets and water.
 
In reference to recent events surrounding the Ebola virus the tarmac rules do not apply. In the event that a passenger on board an aircraft is suspected to have Ebola or another serious contagious virus or illness, passengers may be held on the plane to ensure health and safety policies are followed. No fines will be assessed to the airline. A safety relation or security related reasons are the only incidents that may exempt an airline from the hefty fine.
 
In the recent incident with Southwest, the assessed fine was much higher than previous incidents recorded by the DOT. The DOT advised this was due to the large number of passengers and flights that were affected. Southwest claimed that is was due to a shortage in staff, and the DOT advised there should be an appropriate amount of staff available as a contingency plan in the future to prevent this from happening again. Weather was a factor in this particular incident, but the DOT is making it very clear that they are serious about their rules and regulations. Southwest’s fine was more than the total amount of fines that have been issued since 2009 (5.24 million).
 
As a passenger on a commercial airline it is critical to understand that the tarmac delay rules don't just impact what happens when you're onboard a flight that's stuck at the gate. Airlines are required to post flight delay information on their websites for every domestic flight. You can even visit www.flightaware.com to see the statistics of on time arrival for a particular flight. You can compare delay trends flight-by-flight (and airline by airline) to lessen your chances of a lengthy delay.
 
If you are subject to a tarmac delay, we encourage you to call the airline or check their website to get information on filing a formal complaint. To learn more about the new federal tarmac delay rules, visit http://airconsumer.dot.gov/, the official site of the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings.

Travel Outlook for 2015 from ASTA

by Lux Joseph 11. January 2015

Our in-house travel department has shared with CME some outlook on travel this upcoming year, 2015. CME works closely with our travel department to ensure we are providing on the best travel arrangements for our clients. Our travel department has extensive knowledge on the medical assistance industry as well as travel. As our travel department is partnered with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), he has advised us that ASATA has set an aggressive agenda for 2015 in its mission to be the lead advocate for travel agents who, in turn, are the strongest allies of the traveling public. The agenda includes action at both the federal and state levels, continues work begun in 2014 and adds new initiatives that support free and unfettered world travel.


“ASTA is the only industry organization with the know-how, the staff, the resources and the alliances to effectively defend the interests of travel agencies across the country,” said Sky Cap Corp President and CEO Joseph McNamara. “This was reflected in our work in 2014, a banner year for ASTA advocacy that saw us leverage our unique strength as an association before the U.S. Congress, the White House, federal agencies and all 50 state legislatures in the fight to keep the retail distribution channel strong and thriving for years to come.”

The Association’s advocacy priorities for 2015 include:

  • Ensuring Transparency in the Cost of Air Travel: ASTA will work to ensure that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) landmark rulemaking on airline ancillary fees provides agents and consumers full access to airline ancillary fees and the ability to purchase the complete air transportation product; and will fight airline efforts to insert the so-called Transparent Airfares Act overturning DOT’s full-fare advertising rule into “must-pass” Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation in Congress.
  • Reducing the Regulatory Burden on Travel Agents: ASTA will fight against proposals in Congress and at the DOT that will require agents to make new and unwarranted disclosures to consumers during airline ticketing, such as one in a 2012 law requiring notification that the aircraft their client is flying on may be sprayed with insecticides.
  • Fighting Oppressive Taxation: ASTA will continue to oppose any state proposals to apply new taxes to agency fees and other income, including proposals to subject service industries such as travel agencies to state sales taxes, and to apply state and local hotel taxes to hotel “intermediaries” such as agents. At the same time, ASTA will work with its car rental partners to enact federal legislation to preempt state and local governments from imposing discriminatory taxes on car rentals.
  • Cuba Travel: Building on the recent agreement reached between the U.S. and Cuban governments to ease long-standing restrictions on trade and other interactions between the two countries – including those preventing American citizens from travelling to Cuba – ASTA will work with President Obama, Administration officials and the U.S. Congress to ensure that Americans are free to travel to Cuba without constraint from their own government. While working toward a full repeal of the travel ban, the Association will petition the Administration to expressly permit any travel agent to book travel for Americans lawfully entitled to travel to Cuba under the new regulations called for by the President in late 2014.
  • Travel Facilitation: ASTA will support the expansion of “Trusted Traveler” aviation security programs, such as TSA’s PreCheck and CBP’s Global Entry, and will ensure that agents have a voice and active role in their implementation. On the international side, the Association will support the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, which will streamline visa processes for “inbound” travelers and help the U.S. recapture its historic share of worldwide overseas travel. 

The highlights of ASTA’s advocacy work during 2014 include:

  • White House Meeting: In March, ASTA secured a first-ever meeting in the White House to brief President Obama’s advisors face to face on the value of the travel agency channel to both consumers and to the small business-driven national economy.
  • IATA NDC: The association worked collaboratively with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other aviation stakeholders to ensure that the DOT’s August approval of IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) initiative was subject to a number of consumer protection conditions designed to protect competition and consumer privacy. Going forward, ASTA will work to ensure that agents’ views and business needs are taken into account as NDC is further developed – as a member of several IATA advisory committees as well as a recently-announced initiative to develop understanding of the impact (e.g., from a business, technology and commercial perspective) of NDC for travel agents.
  • Hazmat Notification Regulations: ASTA was successful in its efforts to rework a burdensome DOT regulation that would have required agents to secure their client’s acknowledgement of complex federal hazardous materials restrictions before issuing an airline ticket. Instead, starting in 2016 the disclosure requirement can now be fulfilled any time prior to check-in, such as by automatically providing it on the passenger’s itinerary. This is a big win for agents, as the original requirements would have added to existing passenger notification requirements travel agents have to comply with regarding code-share flights, insecticide spraying and others issues. These requirements would have saddled the industry with more than $58 million in initial training and programming costs and $26 million per year in ongoing compliance costs. 
  • Travel Insurance Reform: Working with a coalition led by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, ASTA and its members have helped reform costly and complex travel insurance licensing in 31 states. Members’ grassroots efforts – including committee testimony in Colorado (Rich Sattizahn), Hawaii (Rachel Shimamoto, Wendy Goodenow) and Maryland (Larry Swerdlin, Jay Ellenby) – were instrumental in moving this initiative forward. Once in place nationwide, these standards will save agencies thousands of dollars in annual licensing costs while reducing the risk of state fines for non-compliance. Counting only the 31 states that have adopted the standards, ASTA estimates the collective savings for the travel agency industry to be $7.5 million per year thanks to this reform.

As one can see, having a travel department that has a strong relationship established with the travel industry demonstrates progressive growth and outlook for CME’s operations. CME’s business relies heavily on the travel industry and people traveling around the world. If there is a declining trend in travelers that is something that CME wants to know because it can impact our business significantly. While we do not want people to become ill or injured, we are proactive in demonstrating the importance of travel insurance to travelers around the world.

Stay Calm, Cool, and Collected for Summer Travel

by Lux Joseph 6. July 2014

Recent headlines are full of reports predicting that this summer will be a record-breaker when it comes to airline passengers being bumped from their flights. For many, the prospect of being bumped is frustrating at best, and for those who are unaware of their rights, the results can be maddening, not to mention costly. For Commercial Medical Escorts, this could affect a medical repatriation significantly and is something our travel department watches very closely. Add to that ever-changing security rules and new passport requirements and summer travel can seem daunting. With this in mind, Commercial Medical Escorts has prepared a list of tips to help summer travelers stay calm, cool and collected.

Airline Bumping: What You Need to Know 

To avoid being bumped:

  • Get an advance seat assignment. Passengers with seat assignments are typically only bumped if they arrive late and their seat assignment is released.
  • Check-in online. If you do not have an advance seat assignment, or you want to change your seat assignment, check-in online. Most airlines allow you to do so within 24 hours of departure. Seat assignments that were not available at the time of ticketing may be available when checking in online.
  • Don't be late. If all else fails, get to the airport early. Some airlines reserve a portion of their seat assignment inventory for airport check-in. If you are denied a seat assignment at check-in, put your name on the "standby" seat assignment list. CME advises our medical escorts to arrive to the airport 3 hours in advance for international flights and 2 hours in advance for domestic flights.

If you are bumped or wish to take advantage of airline's request that you give up your seat:

  • Know the lingo. Voluntary bumping occurs when a passenger with a confirmed seat assignment agrees to give up his seat for negotiated compensation. It is not regulated by the DOT. Involuntary bumping occurs when an airline forcibly bumps a paid passenger from a flight because it has been oversold. The DOT regulates compensation for involuntary bumping.
  • Know what questions to ask. If you volunteer to give up your seat in response to an airline offer of a free ticket, it is important passengers ask about restrictions. Ask about expiration and blackout dates, such as holidays.
  • Know your rights. If you are involuntarily denied boarding, and substitute transportation is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare to your final destination, with a $200 maximum. If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (twice the cost of your fare, $400 maximum).

Navigating Security 

  • Remember 3-1-1. New regulations limit the amount of liquids passengers can take through security in their carry-on luggage to travel-size toiletries of three (3) ounces or less that fit comfortably in one (1) quart-size, clear plastic zip-top bag and the one (1) bag per passenger must be placed in the screening bin. Items purchased after clearing security may be brought on-board. (Visit TravelSense.org to learn about restrictions in Canada, the U.K. and the European Union.)
  • Know your limits. Pack light and know baggage limits. Most airlines now charge for a first piece of checked luggage. Southwest Airlines and JetBlue are one of the few carriers that still do not charge for that first piece of checked luggage.

Traveling Internationally? 

  • Better get a passport. Effective Jan. 1, 2007, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires a passport or other accepted document for all air travel from within the Western Hemisphere for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda. U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory (Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) do not need to present a passport.
  • Plan (way) ahead. The U.S. State Department's Passport Services unit is experiencing a major backlog in processing applications. Rather than taking four to six weeks, routine applications or renewals are now taking 12 weeks. Even expedited service takes about three to four weeks. And, because the service uses a centralized system, travelers cannot get their documents faster by submitting applications directly to a regional processing facility.

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