Morning Transportation: Layovers More Popular than United — Blumenthal Bill Would Protect Bumped Passengers
April 18, 2017
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  • LAYOVERS MORE POPULAR THAN UNITED: A new Morning Consult survey exploring the depths of public disgust toward United Airlines following the passenger-dragging incident found that many are willing to endure an unnecessary layover or pay more to fly a different airline rather than fly United. When asked to choose between identical flights on American or United, 70 percent of respondents chose American — and that figure rose to 79 percent among those who had heard about United in the news recently. Some even picked American over United when the American flight had a layover (57 percent vs. 43 percent) or cost $66 more (49 percent vs. 51 percent) — and 44 percent of them even chose American with both the layover and the higher cost. Unfortunately for United, two-thirds of respondents had heard the news.

    Opportunity strikes: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is planning legislation to build on consumer protection efforts he’s championed in the past for fliers. Local news outlets report that Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, while home for recess discussed a wish-list of items he plans to include in his bill. That includes a minimum of $1,350 in compensation for bumped travelers (that figure is currently the cap) and restrictions on when airlines can bump passengers to make way for crewmembers. Blumenthal, who was previously the state’s attorney general, also wants to make it easier for consumers and states to sue airlines on issues ranging from ticket prices to service provided.

    MT CONTEST: When will the Trump administration release an infrastructure proposal? The person whose guess is closest to the actual date will be invited to our office for coffee and donuts with their favorite transportation reporters. (That’s us, jerks.) Place your bets: bgurciullo@politico.com andtsnyder@politico.com, subject line: Infrastructure contest.

    IT’S TUESDAY: Thanks for tuning in to POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

    Brianna and Tanya are your MT drivers the rest of the week, so please send tips, feedback and lyrics to bgurciullo@politico.com or @brigurciullo and tsnyder@politico.com or @TSnyderDC.

    “Look out the left, the captain said / The lights down there that’s where we’ll land / I saw a falling star burn up / Above the Las Vegas sands.” 

    Want to keep up with MT’s song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist.

    IN OTHER UNITED NEWS: United is heading to federal court on Friday (no, not about this or that) to challenge TSA’s rejection of the airline’s request for a refund on Sept. 11 security fees it says it overpaid — by a cool $1.5 million over three years. But a TSA audit of United’s compliance with the fee remittance requirement from 2009 through early 2012 showed that the carrier actually owed “a very small additional fee liability” of $3.07.

    Crunching numbers: The airline is fighting TSA’s finding more than three years after it was finalized based on an internal review the company says shows it overpaid $1 million on behalf of passengers “involuntarily transferred” to their flights from other airlines, which they say were responsible to cover the fees. It says the extra $500,000 was paid “as a result of fluctuations in the foreign exchange rate that occurred between the time United collected fees in a foreign currency and remitted fees to TSA in U.S. dollars.”

    No take-backs?: TSA argues that United accepted its audit findings and had 30 days to appeal it in 2012. But the airline says its refund request has nothing to do with reopening the exam, which they say was focused on underpayments to the government rather than potential overpayments, anyway.

    GETTING THEIR DAY IN COURT: Iranian-American groups go to court today to testify in person against the Trump administration’s visa ban targeting Muslim-majority countries. POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein and Nahal Toosi report : “Leaders of groups fighting the travel restrictions plan to use the opportunity to detail how students, medical researchers and others coming to America from Iran could be disproportionately hurt by Trump’s executive order. The testimony in Washington on Tuesday … is an important moment not just for the fate of one of Trump’s signature initiatives, but also for Iranian Americans stunned by a measure they say is illogical, counterproductive and outsized in its impact on their community.”

    Counterpoint: The White House has argued that the ban is a national security measure based in part on Obama administration visa requirements instituted in 2015 as a compromise with lawmakers. But activists say the move ignores travelers from countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan whose citizens have staged terrorist attacks on Americans and targets a population that generally opposes the Iranian regime.

    WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAYS AND MEANS: Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, are circulating a letter today to other members of Congress, inviting them to sign on to their request to the leaders of the Ways and Means Committee that they include a fix to the Highway Trust Fund in the overhaul of the tax code they plan to undertake.

    A plan to fund the plan: As Tanya reported for Pros, the letter, provided in advance to POLITICO, spelled out that “[a]ny HTF solution should entail a long-term, dedicated, user-based revenue stream that can support the transportation infrastructure investment supported by President Trump and Members of Congress from both parties.”

    TAX REALITY CHECK: The most unsurprising news of the day on Monday came from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who admitted that a tax code overhaul will probably not be done by August, as previously promised. Mnuchin, who had been the first administration official to predict passage in August, told the Financial Times that that timeline was “highly aggressive to not realistic at this point.” As Toby Eckert reports, Mnuchin said he still expects Congress to tackle taxes in 2017.

    IT’S A TAX-AND-SPEND COUNTRY: A new Pew Research Center survey found that Americans are more aligned with Democratic spending priorities than Republican ones by an 8-point margin. That’s a big shift since just after the fiscal-cliff showdown in January 2013, when had a 6-point advantage on the spending question. Democrats currently favor paying for infrastructure with direct public investment, while Republicans prefer that any infrastructure proposal (when will it drop? send your guesses! ) focus on deregulation, public-private partnerships and tax credits, with a much smaller share of taxpayer dollars.

    YOU DON’T NEED A WEATHERMAN … : Pilots’ weather reports, or PIREPs, help other pilots, dispatchers and air traffic controllers plan for weather hazards that might not show up on the radar — but not enough pilots issue these reports. In a new report, the NTSB called for improved training and procedures for pilots and others to make the pilot weather reporting system more effective at preventing weather-related accidents.

    Nothing like an eye witness: “Even with the many advances that have been made in weather modeling and forecasting in recent years, there’s still nothing that can replicate the value of pilots’ reports of the weather conditions they encounter,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. The NTSB found that pilots don’t get enough training on the importance of PIREPs and noted that some pilots were deterred by the fear that “they could be targeted for enforcement action if they report about adverse weather conditions they were or are in for which they or their aircraft are not rated or qualified.”

    PLAYING DOCTOR: New requirements that doctors examining truck drivers be trained and certified in FMCSA medical requirements haven’t increased the amount of time physicians are spending with their patients, but they have driven up costs, according to new research by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry’s nonprofit research organization, and the Mayo Clinic. The study found that since the creation of a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME), almost two-thirds of drivers reported increased exam costs but only 6 percent reported improved exam quality.

    FMCSA doing a check-up: “The study is under review,” said FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne, pointing out that the NRCME was required by federal law and addressed four NTSB recommendations.

    MORE THAN A NAME: Former Vice President Joe Biden honored former Sen. (and Senate Commerce Committee chairman) Fritz Hollings Monday at a ceremony in Charleston, where a statue of the South Carolina Democrat was unveiled, the Charleston Post and Courier writes. The city’s courthouse was named after him until two years ago, when he asked that it be changed to commemorate a federal judge integral to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case.

    MT MAILBAG: Sen. Tammy Duckworth wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Monday about a delayed rule finalized by the Obama administration requiring the type of data airlines must submit to regulators on mishandled baggage — and requiring separate reporting on misplaced or damaged wheelchairs and scooters. Duckworth relayed her own experiences flying with a wheelchair, writing that hers was “mishandled and damaged several times” within the past year.

    “I have spent hours filling out paperwork and working with the carrier to replace damaged parts,” she wrote. “On a recent trip, I retrieved my wheelchair at the end of the jet bridge, but a titanium rod had been damaged during the flight and my chair literally broke apart while I was sitting in it.”