Washington Post: Airlines and “circumstances beyond their control”

Author: admin  |  Category: Other Events

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Today on the InjuredOnFlight blog, we’ll consider how passengers can protect themselves against airlines placing blame on circumstances beyond their control. The following piece by Christopher Elliott, a travel columnist for the Washington Post, was originally published here on February 12, 2015.

The excuse had a familiar ring to it. Craig Zimmett’s daughter, Alissa, was supposed to fly from Miami to Gainesville, Fla., but she didn’t. Instead, her commuter flight took an unexpected detour to Jacksonville, Fla., after pilots were erroneously notified that some airport communication systems in Gainesville had stopped working. The airline said these circumstances were beyond its control.

In travel, those three words — “beyond our control” — are being thrown around with greater frequency than ever. The reason they’re so popular? They let a travel company off the hook, often without any meaningful obligation to the customer. And they usually work, too, although there are ways to make sure they don’t with you.

Zimmett, a lawyer from Miami, says American used the excuse to terminate Alissa’s flight in Jacksonville at midnight, leaving her with no way to get to the University of Florida, where she’s a student, in time for classes the next day. He asked the airline to refund her return fare; after all, it didn’t transport her to Gainesville, as promised.

“I sent two e-mails to American but received no response,” he says. “Customer service is apparently not in their company’s handbook.”

Or maybe it is. American, which is not exactly known for its speedy refunds, eventually paid back his daughter’s $144, but only after after I contacted the airline asking about the case, and after Zimmett threatened to take the company to small-claims court.

Here’s the fascinating thing: American’s ‘conditions of carriage’ — the legal agreement between Zimmett’s daughter and the airline — says it may cancel, terminate, divert, postpone or delay any flight “without liability,” except issuing a refund. All it has to do is claim what’s called a “force majeure” event, which is airline-speak for something beyond its control, and American can land anywhere it wants to. It doesn’t even have to prove there was an event. It just has to say one occurred.

But “beyond our control” is a travel favorite, and the “force majeure” clause is an industry standard. Hotels and car rental companies use it for everything from bad weather to late vendor deliveries. Tour operators invoke the “circumstances” excuse to deny refunds. Airlines play the “circumstances” card to cover delayed staff and strikes and, of course, everyone loves to blame the TSA.

It’s one of the most glaring double standards in the industry, because travelers aren’t allowed to use it in kind. Can’t make a flight because Mom is sick? Too bad, you still have to pay a change fee. Need to reschedule your hotel visit because your daughter is playing in a soccer tournament? Sorry, you’re still on the hook for the night.

More often than not, “beyond our control” is a cop-out for companies who don’t want to take responsibility for their products or services, says security expert Thomas Boyce, who runs the Center for Behavioral Safety, a safety consulting firm in San Carlos, Calif.

“For example, in the recent [Indonesia AirAsia] airline crash, it could be argued that weather contributed to the disaster,” he says. “One could argue infinite regression, but if you chase back far enough, you can usually find a point at which a decision could have been made that would have prevented an incident.”

He wonders, “Are there really any circumstances beyond our control?”

In other industries, the “circumstances” excuse is used sparingly, if at all. Why? It’s bad for business.

“It’s only appropriate when all of the circumstances are outside of the entire organization,” says Matthew Storm, a director at NICE Systems, which develops customer-service software. “If the issue is between departments, sites or employees, then this statement is just an ill-fated step toward empathy.”

At least one court agrees that the excuse is a cop-out, and it’s an influential one. A British court of appeal recently ruled against discount carrier Jet2, which tried to invoke an exception to a European consumer protection law for airline passengers. Under the law, called EU 261, an airline isn’t liable for compensating passengers when “extraordinary circumstances” prevent it from operating a flight.

Ronald Huzar, a passenger flying from Malaga, Spain, to Manchester, England, was on a flight delayed by 27 hours. He had filed for 400 euro in compensation. Jet2 refused, citing “extraordinary circumstances” because of mechanical problems. The high court sided with Huzar last year.

The court’s actions have opened a floodgate of claims from consumers. “Thousands of cases from up to six years ago and worth hundreds of millions of euros are validated thanks to this ruling,” says Eve Buechner, the chief executive of Refund.me, which helps process EU 261 claims. (Disclosure: Refund.me is also a sponsor of my consumer advocacy Web site.)

Travelers don’t have to take their complaints to court for a company to drop its “circumstances” excuse, say people who work behind the counter. Often, all you have to do is ask for a more detailed explanation. Why is the flight canceled? Why is the hotel closed? Why are there no rental cars available?

Employees are often powerless against the simple strategy of asking “Why?,” a trick you probably discovered when you were 3. For the toughest cases, you may need to study the contract, such as your rental agreement or the terms of your reservation, for a remedy.

The bottom line: The “circumstances” excuse is overused — and you don’t have to settle for it.

For information about Brodkowitz Law and the and our work representing injured passengers and flight crew worldwide, visit our website or contact us.

FAA temporarily clears grounded Southwest planes

Author: admin  |  Category: Other Events, Safety

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Original story by Chip Reid on CBSNews.com on February 25, 2015.

WASHINGTON — One day after Southwest Airlines grounded 128 planes for missing inspections, the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the planes to fly before the inspections are completed.

The planes were grounded on Tuesday after Southwest Airlines says it inadvertently missed the periodic deadline for inspecting the system that backs up the hydraulic rudder. The equipment allows pilots to steer if the main system fails.

Nearly 100 flights were cancelled - leaving some passengers angry.

“That’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked right,” said one passenger. “It’s just negligence.”

But the FAA has now allowed the planes to fly, while inspections continue over the next five days.

In a statement the FAA said it had “evaluated the risk and agreed the airline could continue to operate the planes during the short interim.”

It’s not the first time Southwest has made headlines over safety and inspections.

Last summer the FAA proposed a $12 million fine for Southwest’s alleged failure to comply with regulations on aircraft repairs; in 2011 the FAA ordered inspections of dozens of older Southwest planes after a 5-foot hole opened up on a plane mid-flight; and in 2009 Southwest was fined $7.5 million for failing to inspect planes for cracks in the fuselage.

In this photo provided by passenger Christine Ziegler, shows an apparent hole in the cabin on a Southwest Airlines aircraft Friday, April 1, 2011 in Yuma, Ariz. Authorities say the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif., was diverted to Yuma due to rap

In this photo provided by passenger Christine Ziegler, shows an apparent hole in the cabin on a Southwest Airlines aircraft Friday, April 1, 2011 in Yuma, Ariz. Authorities say the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif., was diverted to Yuma due to rapid decompression in the plane. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor says the cause of the decompression isn’t immediately known. But passengers aboard the plane say there was a hole in the cabin and that forced an emergency landing.
AP Photo/Christine Ziegler

“The safety of customers and employees remains our highest priority and we are working quickly to resolve the situation,” Southwest said in a statement.

Southwest said late Wednesday that two-thirds of the 128 planes had now been inspected. During the company’s 50 years of operation, only one person has died as a result of an accident.

Read the original story on CBS News here.

For more information on Brodkowitz Law and our work representing injured passengers and flight crew worldwide, visit our website or contact us.

Flight attendant badly injured on United Flight, February 15th, 2015

Author: admin  |  Category: Other Events, Safety

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Original story by Simon Hradecky on The Aviation Herald.

A United Boeing 737-900, registration N69816 performing flight UA-1654 from Seattle,WA (USA) to Chicago O’Hare,IL (USA), was enroute at FL330 about 270nm east of Seattle when a flight attendant suffered a serious leg injury. About 10 minutes later the crew decided to turn around, descended the aircraft to FL280 and FL220 and returned to Seattle for a safe landing about one hour after the flight attendant received the injury.

The FAA reported: “WHILE ENROUTE 1 FLIGHT ATTENDANT SUSTAINED A SERIOUS LEG INJURY”, the aircraft returned to Seattle. The occurrence was rated an accident.

The flight was cancelled.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/UAL1654/history/20150216/0651Z/KSEA/KORD

Read the original post here on the AV Herald.

For more information on Brodkowitz Law and our work representing injured passengers and flight crew worldwide, visit our website or contact us.

United flight near Honolulu experiences turbulence, 7 injured

Author: admin  |  Category: Other Events, Safety, Turbulence

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Original story by Simon Hradecky on The Aviation Herald.

A United Boeing 767-400, registration N59053 performing flight UA-15 from Newark,NJ to Honolulu,HI (USA) with 230 passengers and 11 crew, was descending towards Honolulu when the aircraft encountered turbulence causing injuries to 6 cabin crew and a passenger. The aircraft continued to Honolulu for a safe landing. 4 cabin crew and the passenger were taken to a hospital, the other 2 cabin crew declined hospital care.

Haiwaii’s Department of Transport reported there were 7 injuries, 6 cabin crew and a teenage girl amongst the passengers, the girl receiving head injuries, when the aircraft encountered sudden turbulence enroute to Honolulu.

At the time of arrival a storm system was battering the Hawaiian Islands.

On Feb 17th 2015 the FAA reported one flight attendant received serious injuries, 3 flight attendants received minor injuries and a passenger received injuries of unknown degree when the aircraft ancountered turbulence on descent towards Honolulu.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/UAL15/history/20150214/1410Z/KEWR/PHNL

Find the entire story on the AVHerald here.

For more information on Brodkowitz Law and our work representing injured passengers and flight crew worldwide, visit our website or contact us.

Smoke onboard diverts plane to Tulsa on February 9th, 2015

Author: admin  |  Category: Fumes, Other Events, Safety

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Original story by Simon Hradecky on The Aviation Herald.

An Envoy Canadair CRJ-700, registration N532EA performing flight MQ-3235/AA-3235 from Dallas Ft. Worth,TX to Cedar Rapids,IA (USA) with 65 passengers and 4 crew, was enroute at FL330 about 25nm south of Tulsa,OK (USA) when the crew donned their oxygen masks reporting smoke in the cockpit and a medical emergency on board, requesting medical personnel at the gate, and diverted to Tulsa. Upon checking in with tower the crew advised they would vacate the runway, stop on the taxiway and pop the doors open, medical personnel requested the meet the aircraft on the taxiway. The aircraft landed safely on runway 36R about 20 minutes after leaving FL330, vacated the runway and stopped on the adjacent taxiway. Emergency services responded, took care of the medical emergency and checked the aircraft. The passengers disembarked onto the taxiway and were bussed to the terminal.

The remainder of the flight as well as the return flight was cancelled.

The source of the smoke is being investigated.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/ENY3235/history/20150209/2035Z/KDFW/KCID

Read the full story here on AVHerald.com.

For more information about Brodkowitz Law and our work representing plane and or helicopter crash victims and their families, commercial airline passengers, pilots, and flight attendants, visit our website or contact us for more information.

US Airways flight lands at Houston without nose gear on February 9th, 2015

Author: admin  |  Category: Crashes, Other Events, Safety

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Original story by Simon Hradecky on The Aviation Herald.

A US Airways Embraer ERJ-190, registration N953UW performing flight US-1825 from Philadelphia,PA to Houston Intercontinental,TX (USA) with 53 passengers and 4 crew, was on approach to Houston’s runway 27 when upon being handed off to tower the crew requested to maintain 2000 feet to “troubleshoot this”. The approach clearance was cancelled, the aircraft overflew the runway. About 5 minutes later the crew reported they had done the alternate gear extension but weren’t sure whether all gear was down and requested to perform a low approach to have the gear inspected from the ground. The crew reported that they briefly had a green nose and green main but the nose turned red afterwards, now they had all red, but some of the gear was down, there was quite some drag. On the first low approach to runway 27, about 1300 feet, tower was unable to sight the nose gear, crew and tower decided to a low approach to 500 feet runway 27 might be better. Five airport vehicles were dispatched to the parallel taxiway to have a look at the aircraft during the low approach, subsequently tower reported he did not see any nose gear down, so did the airport vehicles. The crew declared emergency at that point. The crew worked another couple of checklists then positioned for approach to runway 27 and landed the aircraft on runway 27 coming to a stop on the main gear and aircraft nose. The crew advised so far everything looked good, they were evacuating. One person received injuries, the damage to the aircraft is being assessed.

The FAA reported in the afternoon of Feb 9th 2015, that one person received injuries when the aircraft landed with the nose gear retracted.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/AWE1825/history/20150209/2310Z/KPHL/KIAH

The aircraft after landing (Photo: Passenger Carter Ozanus):
The aircraft after landing (Photo: Passenger Carter Ozanus)

Read the full story here on AVHerald.com.

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United flight out of Chicago failed to pressurize

Author: admin  |  Category: Other Events, Safety

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Original story by Simon Hradecky at The Aviation Herald.

A United Boeing 737-900, registration N67815 performing flight UA-1218 from Chicago,IL to Denver,CO (USA) with 175 passengers, was climbing through 15000 feet out of Chicago when the crew stopped the climb and descended to 10,000 feet due to the cabin not properly pressurizing. The aircraft returned to Chicago for a safe landing about 40 minutes after departure.

A replacement Boeing 737-900 registration N66837 reached Denver with a delay of 4.5 hours.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/UAL1218/history/20150203/1409Z/KORD/KDEN

Read the full story here.

For more information on Brodkowitz Law and our work representing injured passengers and flight crew worldwide, visit our website or contact us.

Burning smell onboard United Boeing 757

Author: admin  |  Category: Fumes, Other Events

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Original story by Simon Hradecky on The Aviation Herald.

A United Boeing 757-300, registration N75851 performing flight UA-1181 from Los Angeles,CA to Washington Dulles,DC (USA) with 199 passengers and 7 crew, was climbing through FL280 out of Los Angeles when the crew aborted the climb due to a burning odour on board, turned around and diverted to Ontario,CA (USA) for a safe landing about 16 minutes later.

A replacement Boeing 737-900 registration N37464 reached Washington with a delay of 6 hours.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/UAL1181/history/20150129/1610Z/KLAX/KIAD

Find the original story here.

If you have been exposed to contaminated air on an airplane there is important information that your doctor should know. Click here to obtain the Bleed Air Medical Protocol, a document designed to help doctors treat victims of fume events. Bring this document to your doctor.

At Brodkowitz Law we have experience representing passengers and flight crew injured by contaminated air on airplanes, for more information, visit our website or contact us.

Two injured after tug jackknifed into Skywest plane at Chicago

Author: admin  |  Category: Other Events, Safety

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Original story by Simon Hradecky on The Aviation Herald.

A Skywest Canadair CRJ-700 on behalf of United, registration N784SK performing flight OO-6277/UA-6277 from Monterrey (Mexico) to Chicago,IL (USA), had safely landed in Chicago and was being towed to the gate when the tug “jack-knifed” into the aircraft’s fuselage.

The FAA reported the 2 occupants on the tug received injuries of unknown degree.

Read the original article here.

For more information on Brodkowitz Law and our work representing injured passengers and flight crew worldwide, visit our website or contact us.

Severe turbulence causes injuries on Canadian flight on Jan. 18th 2015

Author: admin  |  Category: Other Events, Safety, Turbulence

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Original story by Simon Hradecky on The Aviation Herald.

An Air Georgian Beech 1900D, registration C-GAAR performing flight ZX-7226 from Cranbrook,BC to Calgary,AB (Canada) with 12 passengers and 2 crew, was descending through 14,000 feet towards Calgary when the aircraft encountered severe turbulence causing minor injuries to one of the flight crew. The aircraft continued for a safe landing in Calgary.

The Canadian TSB reported one flight crew member received minor injuries, the aircraft received damage.

Read the original story on The Aviation Herald.

For more information on Brodkowitz Law and our work representing aviation employees and passengers worldwide, visit our website or contact us.