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How to Improve Boarding, Baggage Handling & DOT Rules

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Airlines continually update policies, but do their changes ever make real improvements. George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, and Peter debate the merits of the airlines’ latest attempts to streamline the passenger experience.

Peter Greenberg: One of my pet peeves is the current way we board planes. I was recently flying on United Airlines and they announced they were about to board the plane and they said the following, “We’re going to begin our boarding with our Global Services Members followed by our Premiere Executives followed by our 1K followed by our Premiere followed by our Gold followed by our Silver followed by Group 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.”

It’s time for this to stop. It’s not like we’re boarding the Titanic. Now everybody has a classification and a status. And here’s what’s interesting, the people who they board first should really be the people who they board last. If I am an elite traveler why would I want to get on the plane early just to watch everybody board the plane. I’d rather stay outside until the very last minute since I know I have a first class seat. But no, they board the first class people and they clog up the aisle and then everybody else clogs up the aisle behind them, and chaos ensues.

George Hobica: Those premiere flyers are clogging up the aisles for the people in the back of the plane.

PG: The airlines decided a couple of years ago to board the planes based on the people who have window seats first, then middle seats, then aisle seats. Well, that would have worked except for baggage crowding in the overhead compartment.

GH: I think we should board people with no carry-on bags first. Then those with a smaller carry-on bag. How’s that for an idea?

There was a physicist, who did an experiment and he found that alternating rows is the fastest way to board the plane. In other words, board at random from row 21 then row 23 and then row 25. But of course the airlines are never going to do this. They’re just going to do what they’ve always done.

PG: For the last 25 years, the airlines have always been obsessed with jetways. Yet if you go to the Burbank Airport, there are no jetways. Southwest planes board from the tarmac in both the front and rear doors and guess what? Their plane boards like a charm.

GH: Same thing with Long Beach. I just flew into Las Vegas through Long Beach on JetBlue and we boarded in the rear and the front of the plane from the tarmac.

PG: Moving on, give me three real rules that you’d like to see enacted right now.

GH: I want to see Rule 240 brought back. Rule 240 says if your flight is cancelled you get to go on another airline. Your ticketed airline has to put you on another airline if it’s going to get you there any faster.

For rule 2, we have to pay $150 when we change our schedule with the airline. I want the airline to pay me $150 when they change their schedule, especially if it costs me money due to an extra hotel stay.

I also think the DOT should require a full refund if a check bag is delayed not just lost. There should be an immediate full refund on the check-bag fee.

PG: I agree with that. Rule 240 was an original rule under the days of the Civil Aeronautics Board. It made the transition to the Department of Transportation. It’s still on file there from many of the legacy carriers. Today, they will tell you it’s not really Rule 240 but Rule 120.20―but everybody knows it colloquially as Rule 240.

I got to tell you, George, it still works. I was in Denver the other day and I had to get to L.A. and my flight was cancelled. It was a United flight and I just went to the gate guy and said 240 me to Frontier. And he knew exactly what I was talking about and he did it.

GH: United and Alaska are the two airlines that still have Rule 240.

PG: Yeah they still have it. A lot of the other airlines modified it to the point of it being meaningless. Other airlines never had it. Southwest never had it; JetBlue never had it; AirTran never had it. But, if you say 240 to the original carriers you have a 90 percent chance of getting yourself on another flight. The key is not to check bags because if you can’t get them off, you’re get stuck.

GH: Right, we all know there are two types of bags: checked and lost. That’s one of your favorite expressions.

By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio

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