Business

Airlines call for better laws to deal with unruly passengers

Air Transportation IndustryInternational RelationsLaws and LegislationSouthwest AirlinesCrime, Law and JusticeAmerican AirlinesUS Airways

A drunken man gets tackled by a group of off-duty cops in November while trying to storm the cockpit on a flight from Warsaw to Toronto.

An inebriated passenger on a January flight from Iceland to New York tries to grope and choke fellow travelers until crew and passengers bind him with duct tape.

Such incidents are no longer flukes but rather a trend that has prompted airlines to call for new laws to deal with unruly passengers and other mayhem on international flights.

The number of incidents of unruly passengers has jumped from fewer than 500 in 2007 to more than 6,000 in 2011, according to the International Air Transport Assn., the trade group for world airlines, which has been keeping track of the incidents.

In 1963, representatives from 185 countries met in Tokyo to adopt a set of laws that focused on onboard crimes related to hijacking. But the laws are outdated and do not address the kind of bedlam that some passengers provoke, delaying flights and fraying nerves, said Perry Flint, a spokesman for IATA.

"Lots of changes have taken place over the past 50 years," he said. "The old rules no longer do a good job of addressing this problem."

For example, under the 1963 laws, the country where the plane is registered has legal jurisdiction over offenses on a plane. But today about 40% of commercial planes are leased, meaning the country where the plane is registered is not always the country where the airline is based, according to IATA.

A meeting has been scheduled for March by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a branch of the United Nations, to discuss new rules on how to deal with unruly passengers. A location for the meeting has not been set.

Competition may cause delays

Conventional wisdom says that when competition increases, prices go down.

In the airline industry, something unexpected also happens when a low-cost carrier enters a market to challenge big network airlines.

According to a new study from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, increased competition from low-cost airlines seems to lower the on-time performance of the big airlines.

"As much as more competition means lower prices, it is not as clear that the same is true with quality," said Jeff Prince, coauthor of the report and associate professor of business economics at the school.

The report looked at what happened after low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines either entered or threatened to enter a market. The authors looked at 275 such examples from 1993 to 2005.

They found that Southwest's competitors had a higher percentage of flights at least 15 minutes late, Prince said. The rate of late flights jumped 3.2 percentage points.

Why? The study did not focus on finding a reason for the drop, but Prince guessed that Southwest's competitors had to cut back on other aspects of their service — such as on-time performance — in order to compete with Southwest on price.

Airline workers voting on tail design

A month before American Airlines announced that it would merge with US Airways to form the world's largest carrier, American unveiled a new logo and color scheme for its fleet of planes.

The decision to paint red, white and blue stripes on the planes' tails was made when Tom Horton was chief executive of the Fort Worth airline. But now Doug Parker, former CEO of US Airways, is in charge of the new American Airlines.

Instead of living with Horton's ruling, Parker announced last week that he is going to let employees vote on the design of the planes.

But to avoid repainting every plane from top to bottom — at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 — Parker told workers that they can vote only on the tail design: either the red, white and blue stripes or the old red-and-blue "AA" logo with a blue eagle.

Employees have until Jan. 2 to vote.

Which design does Parker prefer? "The answer is I honestly do not care," he wrote to his employees. "I think both look fantastic."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Air Transportation IndustryInternational RelationsLaws and LegislationSouthwest AirlinesCrime, Law and JusticeAmerican AirlinesUS Airways
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