When airline passengers revolt
The near riot at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is just the latest in a string of PR debacles for U.S. airlines
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"Yet again, cellphone video has captured a chaotic slice of air travel — this time, on the ground," said Amy Wang and Luz Lazo at The Washington Post. A near riot broke out this week at Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after Spirit Airlines canceled 11 flights because of a labor dispute with its pilots, stranding hundreds of passengers. Video posted online showed furious would-be flyers "pushing, screaming, and cursing," and at least three people were arrested for disorderly conduct. The incident was just the latest in a string of PR debacles for U.S. airlines, beginning last month when a 69-year-old doctor was dragged off a United flight by police. In just the past few weeks, viral videos have caught onboard brawls, irate flight attendants berating passengers, and families with children being thrown off planes. When Congress summoned airline CEOs for questioning on Capitol Hill last week, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) cut to the chase: "How much," he asked the executives, "do you hate the American people?"
Seemingly every week brings another air-travel fiasco, said Jon Ostrower at CNN. "But are they really happening with greater frequency?" The number of incidents involving unruly passengers has actually steadily declined since its peak in 2004. Complaints from passengers to the Department of Transportation are also down, falling 11 percent from 2015 to 2016. "So why do we care so much more now than before?" Maybe it's because, more than 15 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, passengers "are still running a TSA gauntlet: shoes and belt off, laptop out of the bag, no water bottles." At the same time, airlines are trying to squeeze more people into ever-smaller seats, while ramping up fees and slashing amenities for all but the highest-paying flyers. "There are few places in modern life where the recent emergence of economic class and status differentials are clearer," says Steven Livingston, a professor at George Washington University. "Some people go on American air carriers angry from the start."
Air travel was a "dreadful experience" well before these incidents, but the airlines may have finally "pushed passengers just too far," said David Schaper at NPR. After the United incident, passengers are on hair-trigger alert, "ready to record any stumble the airlines make." Lawmakers sent an unambiguous message to airline executives last week: Be nicer to customers, or we'll force you to be, said The Economist. But rather than regulating legroom and fees, Congress should focus on undoing the effects of industry consolidation, which has given huge market share to a few airlines and allowed them "to care little for the flyers they should be nurturing." Perhaps it's time to relax strict foreign ownership rules. "Imagine how long United and American would last in their current, disdainful guise if Emirates, Singapore Airlines, or even Ryanair were allowed to compete against them."