Hidden Airline Fees Spark Online Petition

The angst for hidden airline fees became more vociferous on Tuesday when three advocacy groups for travelers and travel agencies grabbed headlines by making an online petition called madashellabouthiddenfees.com.

The American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition and the Consumer Travel Alliance made the site in hopes of forcing airlines to be more transparent on fees. They also want to allow travel booking companies access to free schedules.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation is examining this growing problem,” the site read. “They want your views on whether airlines should make their fees clear on their own websites and make them available to all travel agents so that travelers can compare the total cost of travel.”

The petition will be taken to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood on Sept. 23, hoping the government will force airlines to present fees through global distribution systems and online travel agencies.

According to “Mad as Hell About Hidden Fees,” ancillary fees can add up to 30 percent more on to travelers’ airfare tickets.

In 2009 fees such as checked bag, Wi-FI, and seat upgrades accounted for $7.8 billion in revenues for U.S. airlines, and many of these fees are hard to track because the airlines have unbundled them and don’t charge them until after the initial booking.

The airline industry disagrees, saying fees are readily viewable on all sites and flyers have the option of sticking to base fares so long as they don’t want to add extras such as Wi-Fi, upgraded seats, or check bags.

David Castelveter, the Air Transport Association spokesman, told the Dallas Morning News yesterday that fees are only incurred when passengers go for more options.

“I went to the websites of all our members, and there isn’t one of our carriers that didn’t have bag fees prominently displayed when you book,” he told the Dallas Morning News.

Federal Court Allows Warrantless Cell Tracking

A federal court ruled on Tuesday that the FBI and other police agencies don’t need a search warrant to track the locations of Americans’ cell phones, a decision that sets a new precedent in the privacy versus security conundrum.

A Philadelphia appeals court ruled that officers needn’t get a judge’s signature to obtain logs tracking a user’s phone location, arguing that these types of records are not protected by the fourth amendment, which shields citizens from “unreasonable” searches.

The court still said judges may require investigators to obtain a search warrant, though it’s an option they recommended to be “used sparingly.”

The argument is in accordance with the Obama’s administrations assertion that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their whereabouts; meaning we shouldn’t expect where we have been to be a secret.

The decision is not an outright victory for the Obama administration, however, because lower courts can still require the government to show probable cause, which is the same standard as warrants.

According to Wired.com, historical cell-site information is retained for about 18 months by cell companies, and this identifies the cell tower that customers were connected to at the beginning and end of each call. The decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia allows the release of this information to law enforcement to be determined by district court judges—meaning the statute puts the issue in a sort-of limbo.

Also, the court admitted that it left the statute open for interpretation, so it remains that there is no clear nationwide standard for government access to this information.

FTC Subpoenas Chuck E. Cheese

Remember the old days when commercials featured laughing and smiling parents in the foreground, holding up a bottle of vitamins or canned food, while their kids played in the background.  These commercials would always end the same, with the parents being attacked with hugs and everyone giggling.  The advertising message here was geared towards parents, presumably hard working folks, who wanted to spend more time with their children.  The other night, I caught a commercial featuring a “homestyle” tasting macaroni and cheese product, and it wasn’t the mother who wanted to spend more time with her kids instead of cooking that was selling the product.  It was her child, holding up the bag and speaking right into the camera.

The message here is simple; kids have a lot of power as to where the money in a household goes. Marketing strategies are being focused towards children, and even though they don’t hold the purse strings, they can pester and nag their way to getting what they want.

There is no better example of this than in the marketing of food and snacks to children.  Fast food advertisers have done this for a long time, using things like toys, kids clubs, and slogans to entice the average youth to prefer their company to another. There are laws on the books that prohibit the advertisement of certain substances (like tobacco and alcohol) to children, but aside from that, the regulations are pretty much “self” induced.

Last week, the FTC issued to subpoenas to some of the biggest names in brands out there, including Yum Brands!, (Owners of the KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut chains), IHOP, and even Chuck E. Cheese. Spokeswoman for the FTC states that it’s simply a follow up for the 2008 report urging certain companies who market to children and teens to be more responsible for the advertising message they are sending. Those who disagree with the ruling speculate this is the first step to Congressional hearings and federal regulations.

 This is happening on the heels of nutrition watch dog group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, threatening a lawsuit against McDonald’s over Happy Meal toys. The CSPI alleges that the toys violate consumer protection acts and as of June 22, 2010, issued a letter to the McDonald’s Corporation threatening suit if they did not pull the toys within 30 days. 

The CSPI issued this call to action in July 2010 urging the end of “junk food marketing to kids”. In the call to action, the group states that they worked with Senator Tom Harking (D-Iowa) to set up meetings with the FTC, the CDC, and the Department of Agriculture to “develop model nutrition standards for food marketing to children”. The FTC “naughty list” was issued at the end of August. Doesn’t that time line seem a little off to you?

The question is – can the government tell you who you can and cannot market to without regulating the entire industry. Could the FTC subpoena be a step towards the regulation of fast food advertisers to limit the manner in which they market to children? Is this the first step towards Ronald McDonald and Chuck E. Cheese suffering a similar fate as Joe the Camel and Spuds MacKenzie?

How do you feel about the possible regulation of advertisements towards children and does it set a larger precedent for similar regulations in other industries? 

US Airways Pilots Picket Against Low Wages

The pilots of US Airways picketed today at the Philadelphia International Airport to bring attention to the airline’s refusal to renegotiate contracts since 2005.

The stalemate has festered over time, and US Airways pilots now receive the lowest wages among all the major airlines.

According to a press release issued by The US Airlines Pilots Association (USAPA) the pilots have tried to reason with the airline and have recognized the burdens of the recession and the terror attacks of Sept. 11. Now, however, the pilots have had enough.

“The pilots of US Airways have made significant concessions to help the airline successfully navigate multiple bankruptcies and the economic challenges that resulted from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,” USAPA President Mike Cleary said in the release. “Now that those difficult times are behind us, US Airways is not stepping up at the bargaining table.”

The release goes on to explain that US Airways pilots as a whole have found the ongoing merger between US Airways and America West Airlines, which began in 2005 and has not closed, to be untenable.

The pilots complain that they are held under obsolete contracts that were brokered even before the merger took place. Pilots under the former America West contracts abide by different rules than those who signed contracts under US Airways prior to the merger.

In 2009, the pilots requested a hearing before the National Mediation Board, but US Airways turned them down. In November of the same year, the pilots circumvented permission by US Airways and applied for a mediator directly. They were granted that request in January 2010, but US Airways management has been putting off negotiations, according to the release.

“After five years of management’s stalling tactics—while we work for substantially less than our industry peers—we have to consider what’s best for our membership,” Cleary said in the release.

If the situation continues unanswered by US Airways, the USAPA may reach the self-help stage of mediation, in which the Union could strike or take other measures to obtain their desires in full and temporarily cease the airline’s operations.

The picketing event was held today between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm at Philadelphia International Airport.

Google Instant Search Instantly Makes Google Money

Google Instant Search rolled out this morning and while some, like me, have already gone into their preferences and turned it off, many others will leave their Google setting as is and continue to use the instant search feature. 

The purpose of instant search, according to Google, is to save 2-5 seconds per search and to get smarter predictions on what you’re searching for. As you enter your search words, Google will populate your results for you.  It seems like a pretty sweet deal – as you get to do less thinking and more clicking. If you’re a business using AdWords, it could mean something different for you.

More clicks could be exactly what Google wants. Think about this – when it comes to AdWords, you’re paying per click based off the search terms entered into Google. What Instant Search has done is create a search engine that will give more results to short tailed keywords (cell phone vs. cell phone provider in Texas) and stop the need for you to search further.

Let’s say you’re doing a search for “cell phone providers”. Once you get to “cell phone”, Google displays results for you, and if you keep typing what you’re looking for, you’ll get a different set of results for the longer search term.  Basically, what this boils down to is the companies listed will pay more when you click on a result for “cell phone” than you will for “cell phone provider in Texas”.

What Google has essentially done here is put businesses in the position where customers will be clicking on results spanned from short tailed keywords, costing business more money, and lining Google’s pockets with instant cash. Now, when our results are instantly populated we could keep typing exactly what we set out to search for, but why would we when Google has laid out a nice set of results for us to click through?


The Battle for Your TV Viewership – The Contenders

Do you remember the now defunct WebTV? A friend of mine had it a long time ago and I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing ever. When the service was bought out, renamed MSN TV, and stopped being sold, I was sort of sad. I thought it was a really great concept and could have a lot of potential, given that the consumer had the right choices for what could be viewed and what couldn’t. Since the 90s, TV on the Web has come a long way, with services like Netflix and Hulu offering streaming to your console devices and your mobile phones.

It was to be expected that someone would see the potential in the WebTV-like service and run with it. Just over the weekend, the three big contenders for your business have emerged. AppleTV and GoogleTV have stepped out as the main contenders, squaring off in a head to head showdown. With Google TV launching this fall and AppleTV announcing a cheaper 99.00 set, here’s a quick rundown of what the two will bring to your living room.


  • Support for Netflix
  • HD Rentals for TV/Movies.
  • Streaming content to your iPhone, iPad, or Mac devices.
  • Share content with AP I.


  • Partnering with TV manufacturers to install boxes onto new televisions.
  • Basic service will be free.
  • Control TV from Android supported mobile devices.
  • Eventual integration into PS3.

The implications of a popular television on the web service would be the million other things that you do through your internet connection. The future could bring video conferencing to your TV and your gaming consoles. Are these announcements another sign that cable TV is starting to be considered obsolete?

New Rulings May Alleviate Airline Travelers’ Burdens

Airline travelers may finally catch some breaks as a few regulators are making moves to curb airline actions that have stoked passengers’ frustration.

One of these newly passed rules, called Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections, is meant to alleviate some of the burdens on passengers who have been increasingly stuck on tarmacs—often without air conditioning and beverages.

The DOT implemented the rule in April and capped tarmac wait times at three hours. The legislation included several other rules which are still pending: passengers may soon be permitted to exit the aircraft if delays exceed three hours, airlines may have to provide food and water within two hours of delayed flights, and airlines may have to disclose and take effort to reduce chronically delayed flights.

In the first two months of implementation, tarmac wait times exceeding three hours dropped to eight instances from 302 instances during the same two months in 2009, according the USA Today. However, the results may be skewed because flight schedule reductions have been more numerous this year, meaning fewer flights to clog up tarmacs.

Beyond the tarmac wait-time portions of the rule, the DOT also aims to increase the compensation paid to passengers who are involuntarily bumped off overbooked airlines.

Another piece of legislation that will help consumers if passed is a new bill by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia called the Airline Baggage and Accountability Act.

This bill is a response to the unpopular baggage fees that airlines have implemented en masse since the recession. An uprising of complaints from travelers, corporate travel managers and consumer advocacy groups have pointed out that muggy wording has served to hide fees and has abridged travelers from making informed airline choices.

The bill obligates airlines to disclose all fees at the point of sale, so fees can no longer be buried to surprise travelers afterward.       

Controversially, the bill also aims to tax airlines on charges for baggage fees. Some say this additional tax will adversely affect travelers as they will ultimately subsidize it because the airlines will simply charge more in baggage fees to cover it. Others say the revenues from the tax will go to building airline industry infrastructure, which ultimately benefits travelers by making smoother-running airport experiences.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has likewise recognized travelers’ needs for better treatment on the tarmac and transparency for unbundled fees, and they include language in their massive Reauthorization plan to extend these rights to passengers. The FAA version requires airlines to give passengers water and let them go to the bathroom at any time on the tarmac, not only at some point within the first two hours.

Google-ITA Deal Reinvestigated by Justice Dept.

The U.S. Justice department is investigating the Google takeover of airline ticketing software firm ITA Software Inc, to see whether the deal would give Google too much influence over the online travel industry.

The DOJ investigation is at an early stage, but antitrust authorities are looking at whether travel industry rivals would still be able to access ITA’s data and whether Google would unfairly route searchers to its own travel services, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Google bought ITA, a flight information software company, in July for $700 million. ITA is a price aggregation service that has served sites like Kayak, Orbitz and Hotwire for 17 years, but in Google’s hands the software could cut those online travel booking sites out of the deal. Google plans to use the software to display fares, times, dates and flight plans on the actual Google page, so searchers using Google will no longer have to navigate to sites that traditionally provide this information.

DOJ attorneys are in the process of asking travel industry executives if Google could cut off rivals from accessing ITA’s software, the WSJ said, citing sources familiar with the questioning.

In a Google blog post concerning the matter Andrew Silverman, Google’s Senior Product Manager, said the second eyeballing by the DOJ would likely delay the merger, but added that the company was confident that the investigation would close in Google’s favor.

“We’re confident the DOJ will conclude that online travel will remain competitive after this acquisition closes,” he wrote. “In fact, over the past few weeks online travel companies have noted that they have alternatives to ITA’s product.”

Nonetheless, Google controls 63 percent of the American search market, and online booking companies have rolled up their sleeves for a fight. They want to avoid having to pay for their listings to posted alongside Google’s, and since so many people turn to Google for search, preference given by Google to its own travel listings could sound the travel listing companies’ death knell.

In an unrelated but revealing antitrust investigation, Texas attorney general Gregg Abbott, has raised questions about how Google ranks Web sites on the search page. The issue is called search neutrality, and several companies allege that Google unfairly puts their competitors ahead of them.

In response, Google announced that its responsibility is to its users, not to Web sites, and that the company prioritized giving searchers the most relevant and helpful information.

In this light, it is possible that consumers will benefit from Google entering the travel search business. Arthur Frommer, the well known travel expert, points out the massive discrepancies in the current state of travel search. For example, sites like Expedia, Kayak and Orbitz all claim to give unbiased, and holistic travel aggregating services, yet the same inquiry typed into each site yields drastically different fares.

“The current situation is untenable. It needs Google to straighten things out,” Frommer writes.

Still, the main fear is that Google will monopolize the search industry and shake up the travel industry too much in general—by charging airlines to post flights on the main Google page. And although there are alternatives to ITA’s MIT-developed software, it is regarded as the most powerful, and, should Google disallow its competitors to use it, the scale could tilt in Google’s favor to the disadvantage of all.

However, Google has stated that it does not plan to sell airline tickets, whereas the other Web sites do; the search engine is only concerned with optimizing search. Google said they would still drive traffic to other sites for the actual purchasing of tickets.

Make Your Own Hotel Bed for Red Cross


When Marriot’s TownePlace Suites hotels asks you to make your bed, it’s not because they are cutting back on staff, or have been talking to your mom.  From now until November 1st, 2010, every time you make a virtual bed found on the new Facebook app, Make A Bed, Marriot will donate $2 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Make A Bed is the second part of Marriot’s new “real giving” program serving those in need throughout the United States.  The first event was during the program’ inaugural year, ending with 1,000 blankets given away.

Marriot also wants to reward those that participate in the program.  After making a bed, you can register to win a Flip Video Camera.  And if you add the app to your Facebook profile and get four friends to participate, you could win a 7-night stay at any TownePlace Suites location.


Will iOS 4.1 Improve the 3G?

The internet is buzzing after the Apple conference yesterday and while some pretty exciting announcements were made, the announcement of the iOS 4.1 is probably the most exciting. When the 4.1 OS rolls out next week, Steve Jobs has assured iPhone users that many of the bugs that have gotten a lot of coverage lately.  Some of the things that Apple says the 4.1 OS will fix are the proximity sensors, issues with the Bluetooth not staying connected, and performance repairs to the 3G.

For those that updated their 3G to the new 4.0 OS, this may be music to your ears. Many 3G users had to revert their operating systems off the 4.0, simply because the devices responded so poorly to the update. As someone who\ had a 3G, some of the problems I had were slow texting and slow application loading times.

Lifehacker has posted a comparison video in a recent blog, laying out the two operating systems on a 3G and showing you the response time.  While the demonstration and testing was not what one would be considered to be “scientific”, it looks like what they have found is that the 4.1 OS wins, but not by as much as you would think.

They are of the opinion that 4.1 probably isn’t enough to drop iOS 3 completely, but for users who want the new operating system with a little bit better response and performance, the 4.1 is going to be your best bet.

You can check out the full Lifehacker iOS 4.1 video and make your own decision.