March 9, 2016

As if air travel wasn't fun enough already, imagine getting the middle seat with four or five strangers on either side of you. It's something to look forward to — United Airlines has confirmed plans to retrofit 19 of its 74 Boeing 777 "widebodies" into high-density sky buses that will utilize 10-abreast seating in economy, USA Today reports.

The 19 planes will all be flying domestic routes, often to and from Hawaii. You've been warned!

Several airlines already use 10-abreast seating, such as American, Emirates, Air New Zealand, and KLM. However, in order to make the expansion, the new United planes will be cramming in an extra 20 seats compared with their regularly configured 777s.

There is this good news, at least: The 10-abreast seating in coach is going to use a 3-4-3 configuration, so at least you don't have to crawl over more than two strangers at a time when making your exit to the lavatory.

Correction: This article originally misstated where the newly reconfigured planes would be flying to. It has since been corrected. We regret the error. Jeva Lange

June 9, 2015

First, they came for our free checked baggage. And now, airlines may be zeroing in on our carry-ons. 

The International Air Transport Association announced a new guideline on Tuesday that recommends smaller carry-on size limits, so that overhead bins will become less crowded.

Under current regulations, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines allow carry-on bags up to 22 inches by 14 inches by nine inches. The new guideline, however, wants to reduce the "optimal" size of carry-on bags to 21.5 inches by 13.5 inches by 7.5 inches. If the new guidelines are implemented, travelers may need to bring smaller bags or pay to check their suitcases.

AP also notes, however, that "details of how the guideline will be implemented are murky," and the guideline isn't binding, so airlines may choose not to follow it. While no U.S. airlines have signed on yet, eight international airlines, including Emirates, Lufthansa, and Air China, said Tuesday they will include the guideline in their operations. Meghan DeMaria

June 8, 2015

A new report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, uncovered by The Daily Beast, found that the TSA's application vetting process for airline workers missed at least 73 people who should have been disqualified and identified under "terrorism-related category codes." But the 73 applications were accepted, because the TSA "is not authorized to receive all terrorism-related categories under current interagency watchlisting policy."

The report explains:

[The] TSA had less effective controls in place for ensuring that aviation workers 1) had not committed crimes that would disqualify them from having unescorted access to secure airport areas and 2) had lawful status and were authorized to work in the United States... [the] TSA lacked assurance that it properly vetted all credential applicants. [Department of Homeland Security]

The report also found that "thousands of records" the TSA used to vet applications may have used incomplete or inaccurate data. The DHS recommended that the TSA "request and review additional watchlist data" and "revoke credentials when the right to work expires." Meghan DeMaria

December 18, 2014

Flying is great when it all goes off without a hitch. Unfortunately, it's still fairly common to land at your destination, only to find out that all of your belongings didn't make the trip with you.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation documents obtained by The Washington Post, there were more than 1.6 million cases of "lost, damaged, delayed, or pilfered baggage" filed in the first nine months of 2014 — and that only accounts for domestic flights. The Post breaks it down by airline below (and note that Envoy Air is the new name of American Eagle):

(The Washington Post)

If these numbers don't seem that bad, just note that they are a bit underestimated: The percentages are calculated by dividing the total number of passengers on the plane by the number of passengers whose bags were mishandled. This means that the government is counting every passenger, despite the fact that many travelers carry on luggage and don't check bags at all — thus diluting these percentages. Samantha Rollins

November 19, 2014

JetBlue Airways announced Wednesday that it will reduce the amount of legroom on its passenger planes. The airline will also introduce fare levels next year, and the base fare price won't include a checked bag.

JetBlue has faced pressure from investors and analysts to improve its profits. By reducing the average amount of legroom from 34.7 to 33.1 inches, the company will be able to add 15 more seats to its A320 planes in 2016.

Before the announcement, JetBlue and Southwest were the only U.S. airlines to offer passengers cost-free checked bags. Meghan DeMaria

September 24, 2014

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses its Secure Flight Program — which sorts passengers into high risk, low risk, or unknown risk categories — to privilege many government employees.

In addition to members of Congress and federal judges, millions of employees of the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies are automatically being considered low risk. As a result, they're able to use the less invasive and more convenient Pre-Check line at the airport.

As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pointed out, this program creates something of a caste system in which government employees get special privileges, while civilians placed in the high or unknown risk categories can't even find out the rationale for their categorization. "Ultimately," the ACLU argues, "when we start rewarding or punishing people because of who they are, as opposed to what they've done, we drift farther from the principles at the heart of our Constitution." Bonnie Kristian

June 2, 2014

Despite the fact that global airlines are on track to produce a record-breaking combined $18 billion net profit this year, they're still expecting dismal returns. At the International Air and Transport Association meeting on Monday, director Tony Taylor told attendees in Doha that net margins average less than $6 per passenger.

The profits "sounds impressive," said Taylor, "but the brutal economic reality is on revenues of $746 billion, we will earn an average net margin of just 2.4 percent." He blames concerns mounting over China's economic growth and "political risks" worldwide in discouraging potential fliers.

Despite this, there's good news for fliers: Airfares are forecasted to drop 3.5 percent this year. Jordan Valinsky

May 21, 2014

Even members of the Department of Transportation are fed up with airline fees. The DOT is proposing new regulations today that would require airlines to disclose additional fees for things like advanced seat assignments and checking bags, so that customers can see the "true" price of a ticket. Currently, some airlines don't disclose the fees until midway through or at the end of the booking process.

The rules would also require third-party bookers like Kayak and Orbitz to declare the additional fees and identify code-share flights up front. The Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 bill expands on previous regulations, which prohibited airlines from stranding people on the tarmac for hours on end and advertising deceptive fares that didn't include mandated taxes.

The airlines' trade organization blasted the new proposals, saying the bill "overreaches and limits how free markets work." The DOT said it will finalize the new rules next year. Jordan Valinsky

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