Controllers, Airlines Question Effectiveness Of
Stating it is the
federal government's job to make holiday airline travel "as
comfortable an experience as possible," on Tuesday President George
W. Bush announced that for a second year military airspace along
the East Coast will be opened to civilian flights... and, that the
program will also expand nationwide.
As ANN reported, the military first opened
airspace along the East Coast to civilian flights during the
Thanksgiving holiday season last year -- "and it worked," Bush
(right) said. For 2008, the military will open so-called
"Thanksgiving Express Lanes" to areas of the Midwest, the
Southwest, and the West Coast, including the skies over Phoenix and
"In other words, we innovated last year to ease the travel; it
worked, and now we're expanding that innovation this year," Bush
said. "We're also working with the FAA, the TSA, and the airlines
to make more staff available to speed check-in and boarding, and to
help passengers affected by cancellations and delays."
The move to increase available airspace for commercial airline
flights follows numerous reports noting a likely drop in holiday
travel by air, due to sky-high fares fueled by soaring fuel
prices... which, ah, have since plummeted. Airlines have also
slashed capacity, meaning there will be fewer planes in the air to
enjoy the expanded airspace.
And then there's the question of just how much the opening of
military airspace last year actually helped reduce congestion.
David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association,
told The Associated Press the move had "marginal impact" in 2007.
"The main reason for the good performance we saw over both holidays
last year was good weather," he added.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association -- locked in a
bitter fight with the FAA over a new contract -- openly criticized
the move. Spokesman Doug Church said opening up military airspace
"is all for show and, frankly, this show is getting quite tiresome
to the American traveling public that has gotten fed up with
mounting delays and FAA mismanagement that has degraded the system
during the current administration."
Bush then addressed
other measures intended to reduce congestion... including the DOT's
controversial plan to implement slot auctions at New York-area
That plan has been derided by commercial
airlines, local airport authorities, and lawmakers... and even deemed illegal by the Government
Then again, such criticism hasn't necessarily stopped
this President before.
"[I]n January, the FAA will start auctioning takeoff and landing
slots at New York airports. This will increase competition for
access to these airports, and we strongly believe increased
competition will help lower fares to consumers," Bush said.
"Airlines need incentives. They need incentives to boost
efficiency. And this incentive that we put out will encourage them
to use larger planes out of the New York area. We believe these
actions will ease our traffic jams in New York, which will help
reduce flight delays all across the country."
The ATA has said it plans to file legal action against the DOT
to stop the slot auction plan.
Bush also said new regulations governing airlines were on the
horizon. "We have just completed new regulations that provide
increased protection for consumers. These include measures that
will require airlines to provide greater compensation for lost
bags, as well as tougher penalties when airlines fail to notify
travelers of hidden fees," Bush said. "I think that's a responsible
role for government. I think it makes sense for us to, through this
department, put regulation in place that stands side by side with
consumers in a reasonable way."
You'll notice Bush fell short of stating the government would
take any steps towards requiring airlines to comply with any
guidelines regarding passenger strandings, and extended delays on
As ANN reported last week, the so-called
"Tarmac Task Force" -- called to action by the Department of
Transportation last December to address how airlines treat their
passengers during such delays -- issued its report on ways airlines
could help make a bad situation better.
Alas, the group -- dominated by airline interests -- voted 34-1
in favor of a disjointed set of measures aimed at better treatment
of passengers during extended flight delays... but it could not
even agree what constituted a "lengthy delay."
Bush said the new rules should take effect next month, in time
for Christmas and New Year's.
"These efforts represent our commitment to making this year's
holiday travel season as smooth as possible," Bush said. "And,
frankly, they are part of this administration's strong record on
improving air travel for American consumers."