Just a decade ago some things that were happening on board a scheduled flight seem unimaginable today but were considered totally within the norm at the time. For instance, did you know that a complete ban on using mobile phones – yes, even in flight mode – onboard every Chinese airline was lifted only last year? Not to mention some restrictions which still apply today – such as a ban the Hawaiian Airlines have implied on ‘unusual hairstyles’ such as dreadlocks, mohawks, top-knots, and unnatural colours – for example, purple or green. And since airlines indeed strive to make travel convenient and safe for all passengers equally – even if the progress which they made over the years is undeniable – the air carriers often fail in that, demonstrating that there is still a lot of room to improve. Here we’ll give you a brief overview of how airlines are trying to become more humane over the years and how they still fall flat in doing so.
Every airline in the world takes its pride to make the journey high above the clouds an unforgettable experience – both in terms of safety and comfort – although, it’s obvious that sometimes meeting the needs of every different individual locked in a single cabin seems almost impossible. But air carriers still trying to make their best – while their determination in doing so doesn’t always result in success.
Recently, the disturbing trends from overseas become hard to ignore with the fresh report of alleged airline discrimination against the passengers hitting the news almost every week. Haven’t you heard the story of the black man who sued American Airlines for racial discrimination after being kicked off the plane for refusing to be downgraded to economy class while it was a first-class seat he had paid for? Or the incident with two native Texans – who also happened to be Muslim – claiming to be ‘racially profiled’ when their weekend flight was cancelled by American Airlines crew? Or maybe the account of the Houston physician who made headlines after claiming she was sexually and racially discriminated when airline’s staff threatened to kick her off a plane for what was labelled as ‘inappropriate’ summer outfit? It’s worth to mention that American Airlines again were those involved in the incident. And that is just a few examples of accidents which happened over the last six months with passengers of a single airline – and made it to the big news outlets. Just imagine how many did not and thus went silent and unnoticed by the general public.
Disturbing signals from The Land Of The Free
The United States Government Accountability Office recently presented its review on the subject of passengers rights protection and on how such rights are ensured by the airlines operating in the US – the country which still holds the largest aviation market in the world. The discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, sex, and ancestry – among other factors – which allegedly took place in the last decade was taken into consideration. Among the most important findings report has highlighted that the local the Department of Transportation has received fewer complaints related to discrimination in general over the last ten years, though the numbers of these regarding specifically racial discrimination issues significantly increased.
During the period from November 2018 to August 2019, the Government Accountability Office concluded a series of interviews with the representatives of the US Department of Transportation and made its review of the data related to discrimination complaints which were made by passengers against local air carriers. Of the 8,874 consumer complaints the Department received in 2018, only 77 were filled due to the alleged act of discrimination. Such figures indicate significant reduction from the 108 discrimination complaints that the Department of Transportation received in 2009, particularly when considering the increase in the overall number of people travelling by air transport in the past decade from 51.8 million air travellers in 2009 to 72.9 million in 2018.
There is another thing to consider though: while such data tends to correspond with the trends, represented in mainstream media, it’s worth mentioning that given figures represent only statistics, based on complaints received by the DOT. However, according to the data gathered by the US Government Accountability Office, for every single passenger complaint, received by the Department of Transportation, airlines receive about 50 complaints directly.
Of course, the non-discriminatory laws, which are issued in the United States, require the air carriers to avoid such incidents in the first place. But the truth is that while airlines are expected to adapt their internal policies to the abovementioned laws, they are not expressly required to have, for instance, in-house non-discrimination training programs for their staff. So since every situation is unique, under the pressure of tight timeframes and stressful conditions, when the quick decision of prompt response must be made, the ‘safety first’ rule usually applies by default. That is subsequently reflected in the official airline’s responses to the journalist’s inquiries when another case of alleged discriminatory action comes into the attention of media outlets.
Air passenger rights: beyond the textbook
To avoid such situations – or, more realistically, reduce the scale of unpleasant discriminatory incidents – Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings of the US Department of Transportation issued the official guidance for airline personnel on non-discrimination in air travel. It is about to provide great help in avoiding situations where a passenger is removed from the flight due to security concerns by giving way to common prejudices while a simple fact-based investigation and effective communication with a traveller in question could clarify the situation well enough to dispel any suspicions. Among other affirmations, it states that ‘airline personnel should take steps to conduct an objective, fact-based inquiry to ensure that a decision [to remove the passenger from a flight due to alleged safety threat, concerning the other passengers or the flight itself] is reasonable and rational and follows company policy. If [a crew member] concludes, after a fact-based inquiry, that a passenger may pose a safety or security threat and should be removed from a flight, it is important that the removal be conducted respectfully and with discretion.’
All of this could be linked to an unanticipated rise in superstitious behaviour – which surprisingly often leads to wide-escalated incidents of unlawful discrimination – and seems to have spread all over the United States. And while according to statistics, the percentage of incidents, related to alleged cases of ancestry or gender-based discrimination is continuously declining, the figures of reported events, involving race or color-related discrimination in the air transportation sector have risen to seemingly unexplainable heights. What is more, the reports regarding highly controversial cases of plane removals and denied boarding given to civil rights organizations burst to a level unrecorded since the 9/11 attacks and the period before their 10-year anniversary.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States, links this trend to the situation which emerged in the late 2015 through the next year and tends to continue ever since, as a spate of terrorist attacks around the world set many passengers on edge, resulting in situations where some of them let themselves mistake their conscious or unconscious prejudices with real danger or risk. Moreover, officials with the civil rights groups think that the campaign-trail rhetoric of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump had encouraged other Americans and enhanced ethnic, racial or religious tensions across the United States. Even a flight attendant’s union stated an obvious rise of political tension – along with increasingly tight and crowded spaces on the passenger jets across the country – as a contributing factor.
There are even more exotic stories from faraway lands
This October seemingly unbelievable case from Argentina hit the headlines when the 20-year-old British trainee teacher was kicked off an Aerolineas Argentinas plane after she informed the cabin crew that she had a severe allergy to peanuts. Meleri Williams was boarding a flight which was about to depart from Buenos Aires to Esquel when she was told she couldn’t continue the journey due to her nut allergy. Instead of assistance the woman expected when she decided to inform the stewards about her allergy – which could lead to anaphylactic shock and even potentially lethal outcome due to any contact with peanuts – the cabin crew notified her it would be a great inconvenience to others for her to board the flight. The incident took place only a few months after the British air carrier EasyJet banned all sales of nuts on their flights.
The airline, whose attitude didn’t quite meet the expectations of the passenger in need, could say that this case demonstrates the obviousness of how difficult it can be to find the balance in different people’s interests. But how about the situations when the ones who could not speak for themselves can be considered as those without almost any demands to meet?
All Nippon Airways, a Japanese airline, commonly known as ANA, recently launched a campaign which intends to make its flights free from… crying babies. Such aim strongly correlates with the common belief that the Japanese society is more intolerant of crying children – along with other noise made by the little ones – than others. During the designated domestic flight, which took off at the beginning of October with 34 families – including 36 infants – on board, the carrier took vitals, such as their pulse, from the children using a device developed by Japanese industrial-products maker Toray. The families were employees of the companies taking part in the study.
This so-called ‘test flight’ was a part of the airline’s project, titled “A plane without crying babies” The device sent heart rate and other information to smartphones, prompting the adults to help their babies sip from a cup or a baby bottle – or else suck on some designated sweets. It is worth mentioning that recommendations to have babies nurse or suck on a pacifier during take-off and landing, when the changes in cabin pressure tend to occur, can cause ear pain, already were routine suggestions to those travelling with children. However, we are still about to find out if those young passengers are about to grow up to be true lovers of air travel.
No less choppy skies of Good Old Europe
Another major aviation market – which is now considered as a ‘Single European Sky’ (it is also an official term, referring to the initiative of developing the united airspace of the European Union member states along with some non-EU countries such as Norway or Switzerland) is facing similar problems – although most of them are much more variegated. An ordinary European newspaper reader may even get the impression that the issues of discrimination, related to air transportation sector – especially those which tend to hit the headlines – are not related to flaws in securing the basic human rights as such problems have been solved long ago and do not appear in modern Europe anymore. What is more, the cases in which a passenger mistreated by an airline believes to be the victim of discrimination more often seems to reveal the actual favouring of the other passenger’s comfort and pace rather than the major security concerns related to air disaster or terrorist threat. But of course, there are cases, widely considered as extraordinary – while still perfectly capable of illustrating the overall temper of the air travel across the Old Continent.
A few weeks ago a blind passenger filled a complaint against EasyJet after the flight attendants kicked him out of the plane for alleged drunkenness. While 78-year-old Eric Smylie denies such accusations, witnesses seem to back up his chastity regarding the situation in question. According to the statement, flight attendants drove Mr Smylie along with a fellow traveller Davey Pogue out of the plane, believing that they were drunk. Pogue was arrested, and Smiley ended up at the Holiday Inn Express without medicine or an escort. The Belfast native, who was about to return home from his Paris trip, suffers from diabetes as well as chronic lung disease. As for now, EasyJet justifies its decision as the right one, claiming that both passengers were acting aggressively towards the crew members so they were forced to call the police. Of course, as for every such recent event, the airline states that it has ‘started an investigation’, suggesting that more details are about to be revealed in the near future.
The British controversy
Another story, related to the so-called ‘gender discrimination seating policies’ controversy started in 2001. It was the year when disputable policy of British Airways – which resulted in banning adult male passengers from taking seats next to unaccompanied children – was publicly revealed for the first time. The outrage sparked, as it became known that the policy – due to which BA was accused of treating every its grown-up male passenger as a potential pedophile – was applied even if the parents of such ‘unaccompanied’ children were elsewhere on the plane. After a few notorious incidents that made it to the newspapers at least every couple of years – every time resulting in a short-term public disgust and the verbal justification of such policies by BA – British politician Boris Johnson fell as the victim of the imbroglio, related to this exact policy. The situation he found himself in emphasized all the most absurd aspects of the policy as during Johnson’s family trip to India stewardess made an attempt to separate the politician from his own children. Of course, such a misunderstanding couldn’t go unnoticed when the most eccentric and sharp-tongued British journalist and politician of his time became involved. It was him who then publicly spoke of the ‘terrible damage that is done by this system of presuming guilt in the entire male population just because of the tendencies of a tiny minority’ and accused such practices of having reduced the number of male teachers and therefore lower achievement in schools which presumably caused much broader social and educational crisis. And, according to Johnson, it was crystal-clear who should be blamed for that: ‘I blame the media, I blame the judges, I blame the lobby groups, and in particular I blame the cowardly capitalist airline companies that give in to this sort of loony hysteria. If you happen to be reading this on a British Airways flight and have quite rightly sustained a burst blood vessel, then I think you are entitled to an immediate upgrade.’
Finally, a businessman Mirko Fischer sued British Airways on the basis of gender discrimination after he was separated from his pregnant wife as a result of the policy. The airline lost the case and was forced to pay compensation which Fischer donated to child protection charities. Subsequently, British Airways reviewed its policy and began seating unaccompanied children in a nondiscriminatory manner near the cabin crew.
Air passenger rights in the European Union
A recent audit on passenger rights in the EU, conducted by the European Court of Auditors, introduced its brief by stating that ‘The European Union is the only area in the world with a set of rules designed to ensure a minimum level of protection for passengers in the main modes of transport’ and that ‘Passenger rights are one of the flagship policies that the EU delivers directly to its citizens’. However, the audit concluded that ‘passenger rights are not publicized well, and awareness among EU consumers regarding their passengers’ rights remains low’. Eurobarometer survey on the topic concluded five years ago states that only ‘31 percent of passengers responded that they were aware of the EU’s passenger rights framework and 35 percent of respondents indicated that they had already submitted a complaint after experiencing transport disruption’
The rights of air passengers and the obligations of airlines are set in EU law by Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004. The document details the rules on flight compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or lengthy delays. The compensation for a disrupted flight ranges from €250 to €600 per passenger. The amount depends on the flight distance – the longer the distance, the higher the compensation amount. Rather short hops of up to 1500 km are worth €250 while those ranging from 1500 km to 3500 km are the subject of compensation in the amount of €400. And if the flight distance was over 3500 km in length, the compensation can be up to €600.
However, airlines are trying to avoid paying the compensation relatively often – even if it’s obvious that the passenger is the one who legally deserves it. That is why you could need a flight compensation company if someday your flight is delayed, cancelled or overbooked. Already had a disrupted flight? Contact Skycop – we are dedicated to helping you get the money you deserve. Fill our claim form now to find out if your flight is eligible for compensation – it’s completely free.