Travel Nightmares

After Kate's nine-hour ordeal in an airplane stranded on the tarmac, she was inspired to create the Coalition for Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights. "The airline decided they were going to mitigate the response by keeping everyone out on the tarmac " 138 jets diverted to 24 airports that night " and not one of them was allowed to go into a gate in any of the 24 airports," she says.

"So you couldn't get off the plane," Dr. Phil says. "Ralph, is it reasonable to keep people on airplanes for nine hours?"

"Very unreasonable," Ralph says. "In fact, anything over two hours is really damage to the passengers and should be subject to compensation by the airlines."

"Should there be a passenger bill of rights?"

"Definitely," Ralph says. "Passengers just don't have specific legal rights. The Deregulation Law of 1978 has been interpreted ambiguously to snuff out the state consumer protection laws, which airline passengers should be able to invoke. So we have to clarify the situation, support that bill which Kate and her air passenger coalition is pressing in congress. Every airline passenger should join Kate's group. Without a strong airline passenger's group on congress, you're not going to get that bill through, and it's long overdue."

Peter shares, "Ralph is responsible for a rule I follow every time I fly; it's called denied boarding compensation." Ralph was bumped off a flight in the mid 1970s, and he sued. Now the airlines give compensation if they overbook a flight.

"Is there a worst airline? How do you know who to avoid?" Dr. Phil asks Peter.

"Every airline is the worst airline if that's the flight you're on when you're stuck on the tarmac for nine hours," Peter says.

"I've been a pilot since I was 16, and I know when the weather's bad, my flight instructor taught me early on, ‘There ain't nowhere you've got to be tomorrow that's worth dying for today,' so there are times when you've just got to get out of the air and set down," Dr. Phil says. "But how in the world, in America, can somebody imprison me or somebody else on an airplane?"

"Well, you're talking about bad weather. Let's talk about good weather, because in good weather they mess up," Peter says. "The [Federal Aviation Administration] FAA publishes a schedule that says ‘This is how many planes that your runway can handle in a given hour' in terms of takeoffs. They're delusional. They're saying something like 42 planes an hour can operate this runway. If they were operating combat air operations off an aircraft carrier, they couldn't do that number. It's more like 26. So airlines schedule to the limit of what they're given."


"The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority declined to be on the show but they did say that according to their standards, the officers' behavior in this incident was acceptable behavior. They claim Robin was not cooperating with security procedures and was interfering with the screening process, and they cannot discuss the lawsuit at this time," Dr. Phil reports.

In a recent news clip, one man tells of how he had to take a seat in the bathroom on a JetBlue flight for two hours while the flight attendant, who wasn't comfortable in the jump seat, took his seat.

"Is this just a lack of accountability?" Dr. Phil asks Ralph and Peter.

"It is. I should say that's an outrageous situation and not a usual one," Peter says. "The problem is, on some planes, the bathroom could be the upgrade, so be careful," he jokes. "But the bottom line is it's a violation of FAA policy when you think about it. I mean, the flight attendant was entitled to the jump seat because she was jump seat qualified. He wasn't jump seat qualified. He had a seat. He paid for the reservation. That's what he's entitled to."

"What concerns me is this just seems like you're fighting a giant mountain. What do people do?" Dr. Phil asks.

"You do have redress in the small-claims system in the courts," Peter says, "because in many cases, many states have limits that have been raised, to $10,000 in some cases, $15,000 in some states, so that you have enough there to go into court and represent yourself, if you do your homework. You need names, dates, times, witnesses. You need to do your homework almost as a reporter so you can make your case."

Ralph adds, "You don't need a lawyer in small claims court. In some states, they don't even allow a lawyer in small claims court. It's a really simple procedure we should all learn in elementary school: how to learn our local small claims court."

"And another good thing about that, in many cases, the airlines will not send an attorney to defend them, in which case, you win the judgment," Peter says.

"What do you do if you just want to sit down and put some pressure on them, write a letter? Who do you write? What do you say?" Dr. Phil asks. 

"It's not who you write, it's who you copy," Peter says. "Meaning, you don't just copy the FAA, you copy the U.S. Department of Transportation and guess what else? You copy me, because guess what I do on the Today show? We go on, and we discuss those stories. And the one thing that happens is the power of the press in this situation resonates because everybody in this room travels. We all have figured out we're going to get abused, now how much abuse are we going to take?"

Dr. Phil reviews some tips for writing a complaint about air travel. 

1. Never send an e-mail, letters are taken seriously
2. Write to Vice President level or above
3. Be factual, courteous and authoritative
4. Suggest solutions
5. Promise further action

Peter adds, "Never take a no from someone who's not empowered to give you a yes in the first place." He also recommends never using the word "never." "If you say, ‘I'm never going to fly your airline again,' they don't care about you anymore. Say that you're a loyal member of their frequent flier program, or that you've flown them for years, and you like them. This is a problem you want to alert them to. How can they help you in fixing this problem?"

Dr Phil addresses an interesting point that Peter raised before the show. "You don't ever take bags on an airline, and you say it saves two-and-a-half hours every time you fly."

"It does. There are only two kinds of airline bags: carry-on and lost," Peter says. "So what I do is I courier my bags door to door and everybody says, ‘How much does that cost?' Well you know what? There was a time when the airlines would lose my bag for free. Now they want to charge me for it. They've made my case for me. You'll save two and a half hours if you use any one of the 17 different courier services to door to door your bags, and you won't have to stand in line for anything."

"Southwest Airlines doesn't charge for checking bags, but the other airlines are moving to charge you for everything except the vomit bag and for using the restroom. It's disgraceful," Ralph says.