TIME National Security

Passengers Arriving in the U.S. Are Profiled by Nationality, TSA Head Says

John Pistole
Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 14, 2014 Molly Riley—AP

People from Yemen, Syria and certain other countries are subject to greater checks

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) profiles airline travelers based on national origin, screening passengers from Syria, Yemen and other nations with extra attention, the agency’s outgoing head said Tuesday.

John Pistole told the Associated Press that a passenger’s Yemeni or Syrian citizenship might be relevant to the TSA, just as a person’s citizenship of a South or Central American country might be relevant to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Though the Justice Department last week barred federal law-enforcement agencies from profiling based on religion and national origin, it gave an exception to the TSA, as well as to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other security-related agencies.

Pistole, who is leaving the agency at the end of the month, oversaw a reversal in the TSA’s screening practices to shift resources toward chiefly monitoring travelers designated as high or unknown risk. Most passengers are classified as “no known risk” and are now swiftly moved through the security process.

[AP]

MONEY Travel

Delta Airlines to Offer Five Seat Classes

Delta Air Lines will soon slice the cabin into five seating classes, ranging from no-frills economy to premium flat-bed seats.

MONEY Airlines

New ‘Basic’ Airline Ticket Is Worse Than Any Low-Fare Carrier Option

Economy class
Bart Sadowski—Getty Images

Delta recently introduced a new five-tier airfare scheme, including a revamped low-price "Basic Economy" ticket that's the riskiest, most restrictive, and least comfortable option in the sky.

Earlier this week, Delta announced that it is “redefining the products it offers customers to further distinguish the choices available to them,” with the 2015 rollout of a five different categories of service (and pricing) that passengers must choose from when buying flights.

Essentially, the more you pay, the better service and amenities you can expect. This is more or less the way things have always been with airline pricing. Yet the introduction of five flight categories—including “First Class” and an even higher class dubbed “Delta One,” as well as something called “Delta Comfort+” and “Main Cabin,” which used to be known as “Economy” or just coach—is unnecessarily confusing, and it certainly raises the bar in terms of instituting an onboard caste system. More importantly, Delta is flying into new territory at the low end of pricing, with the cheapest category providing the least flexible and least comfortable product of any American carrier.

“We’re providing Delta customers with a thoughtful, well-defined spectrum of options as they make decisions about travel,” Glen Hauenstein, the airline’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, said in a press release. “Whether a customer prioritizes the perks of Delta One or the value of Basic Economy, every seat comes with impeccable service and unmatched reliability.”

Still, some travelers will be very surprised to find out what a Basic Economy seat comes without. Delta first began testing its low-price Basic Economy fare back in 2012 on a couple of flights. What stood out then about this low-fare option—and what remains unusual even in today’s profit-first, customers-last atmosphere—is how rigid and cruel it is. Neither advanced seat selection nor itinerary changes are allowed, not even for an extra fee. So this low-cost option is out of the question for couples or families who want to be assured they’ll sit together when flying. Also, because anyone not flying on a Basic Economy ticket has the right to arrange a seating assignment in advance, in all likelihood the passengers traveling on the cheapest tickets will be stuck in the worst seats on the plane. What’s more, because changes and cancellations are not possible under any circumstances, if an emergency arises and you must miss a scheduled flight, you’ll eat the entire cost of the ticket.

Today, Delta’s Basic Economy category is available from four Delta hubs (Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City) and 33 gateways, and it’s about to get more restrictive. Delta explained that as of February 1, several services that are currently available to Basic Economy ticketholders will be eliminated. These services include complimentary or paid upgrades, same-day standby, and priority boarding for a purchase.

It’s well understood that Delta introduced and expanded its Basic Economy category as a way to compete with Spirit Airlines, the much-maligned carrier that’s known for low fares followed by high fees for anything above the cost of a seat. Yet even the cheapest seats sold by Spirit Airlines, as well as low-fare, high-fee imitators such as Frontier Airlines, allow customers to pay extra for seating assignments and the right to change flight dates and itineraries. Frontier and Spirit also offer passengers the option of paying extra for upgrades, in the form of seats that may be larger or just come with more legroom.

The fare structures of Delta, Spirit, and all other airlines are meant to simultaneously attract customers and boost revenues. It’s just that some airlines go about seeking these goals in different ways. Spirit and Frontier are working the a la carte model, in which customers are wooed with a low upfront price, and then hopefully they’re upsold on a bunch of services later in the game. Delta’s new five-tiered model instead wants to get most of the upselling accomplished during the ticket purchase phase. The hope is that customers are so scared off by the absence of getting an advance seat, upgrade, or the option to change a flight that they’ll readily pay more upfront.

One way or another, there’s some upselling going on, and it’ll be difficult, uncomfortable, and often just plain impossible for travelers to actually complete a flight without paying above the base fare. A Delta spokesperson told Businessweek that the Basic Economy category could expand to more cities next year. And judging by the way that Spirit Airlines and its fee-crazed equivalent in Europe, Ryanair, have proven to be not only highly profitable operations but also industry trendsetters, more and more airlines are likely to follow in its a la carte, fees-for-everything footsteps. So, one way or another, when buying a ticket, when checking in, or during the flight itself, travelers should expect to pay more.

MONEY Airlines

Will Higher Airline Profits Lead to Lower Airfares?

Airline industry earnings are jumping, but much of that money may go into service and terminal upgrades — not toward lowering ticket prices.

TIME Aviation

Airline Profits Are About to Surge Thanks to Falling Oil Prices

Aerial view of airplane
Stephan Zirwes—Brand X/Getty Images

Could hit a record $25 billion in 2015

Airlines will start to see a bump in profit thanks to dropping oil prices and improved economic growth, an industry group said Wednesday.

Profits could increase 26% to a record $25 billion in 2015, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents most global airlines. One primary factor in the upward trend is the failing price of oil. Airlines are major consumers in the fuel market.

IATA said profits won’t improve overnight since it takes time to change buying behavior, but flyers may eventually see a drop in airfares.

Other factors could still slow this growth. “The industry story is largely positive, but there are a number of risks in today’s global environment—political unrest, conflicts, and some weak regional economies- among them,” Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO, said in a statement.

Read the IATA report here.

TIME Airlines

‘Seat Kickers’ Voted Worst Passengers on Airplanes

airplane passenger
Jason Hetherington—Getty Images

Inattentive parents are almost as awful

Kicking the seat of the passenger in front of you is the gravest transgression off of a long list of things people can do to annoy others during flights, a new survey found.

When 1,000 people were asked by Expedia and research firm GfK what they thought was the most annoying plane habit, 67% of respondents ranked “rear seat kickers” as the worst passengers on a flight. The battle over leg room garnered intense debate this year after the Knee Defender, a controversial device that passengers were using stop the seat in front of them from reclining, was banned by major airlines.

Besides intrusively long legs, there are plenty of other mid-air activities that passengers hate. Inattentive parents who let their annoying kids scream or run through the aisles ranked second, with 64% of respondents calling that annoying airplane behavior. Overly fragrant passengers, who either have too much perfume or body odor, ranked third. Notably, “Seat-Back Guy,” the person who reclines his seat back into another passenger’s leg space, ranked all the day down at ninth, implying that kicking the seat in front of you is a graver sin than reclining your chair into the vicinity of someone else’s legs.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Be an Airplane Aggravation)

Check out the complete ranking, and try your hardest to not be one of these people as you’re traveling this holiday season:

  1. Rear-Seat Kicker – 67%
  2. Inattentive Parents – 64%
  3. Aromatic (smelly passengers) – 56%
  4. Audio Insensitive (plays music too loud) – 51%
  5. Boozer – 50%
  6. Chatty Cathy – 43%
  7. Carry-On Baggage Offenders – 39%
  8. Armrest Hog – 38%
  9. Seat-Back Guy – 37%
  10. Queue Jumper – 35%
  11. Pungent Foodies – 32%
  12. Seat-Back Grabbers – 31%
  13. Playboy Readers – 30%
  14. Amorous Couple – 29%
TIME Bizarre

Airline Executive’s Daughter Who Complained About Nuts Apologizes

A flight attendant served macadamia nuts without asking

The daughter of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang Ho resigned from a management position at the airline in the face of widespread criticism over her order that a pursuer on a recent flight deplane because a crew member had violated the airline’s procedures for serving nuts.

According to a Bloomberg report, a flight attendant served Heather Cho, the chairman’s daughter, macadamia nuts in a package and without asking her. The airline’s policy calls for nuts to be served on a plate with the customer’s permission, a rule that the flight’s pursuer didn’t know when asked by Cho.

“I am sorry for causing trouble to the passengers and the people,” Cho said in a statement, according to the New York Times. “I seek forgiveness from those who were hurt by what I did.”

A South Korean transportation regulator said that it is investigating an incident to see if any laws were violated. The airline says that it took the plane less than two minutes to return to the gate, Bloomberg reports.

Heather Cho, the chairman’s daughter, was traveling from New York to Seoul last Friday. While she quit one leadership role, she remains a vice president at the airline.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Companies

Malaysia Airlines Apologizes for Insensitive Twitter Promotions

MALAYSIA-AUSTRALIA-CHINA-AVIATION-SEARCH
Airport groundstaff walk past Malaysia Airlines planes parked on the tarmac at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on June 17, 2014. Manan Vatsyana—AFP/Getty Images

“Want to go somewhere but don’t know where?”

Malaysia Airlines posted an unfortunate tweet as part of its year-end promotion.

“Want to go somewhere but don’t know where?” read the post on Twitter, part of a promotion of special deals by the national carrier, Yahoo News reports.

Twitter users criticized the national carrier for the tone-deaf tweet, sent out after two major calamities for the company this year: the disappearance of MH370 over the south Indian Ocean and the deadly destruction of MH17 in Ukrainian air space by rebel separatists.

Bookings have dropped due to the two disasters, in which a total of 537 were killed.

Another seemingly oblivious Malaysia Airlines ticket sale promotion asked passengers what places were on their “Bucket List.”

The airline apologized for the tweet on Saturday.

MONEY consumer psychology

Why JetBlue Can Break Your Heart, but Comcast Never Will

JetBlue Planes
Seth Wenig—AP

It hurts to find out that brands like JetBlue want you to love them—but they only love you for your money.

This week, JetBlue announced it’s adding more seats on planes and new fees for checked baggage. The moves are clearly aimed at hiking profits—which is what businesses are supposed to do, right?

So why, then, has JetBlue’s policy change been met with outrage and a sense of betrayal? Isn’t JetBlue just a business that’s, you know, in the business of making money? Shouldn’t we fully expect these kind of profit-first policies? And if this kind of behavior is to be expected, why would there ever be any sense of surprise or disappointment, let alone heartbreak?

The subject brings to mind the old fable “The Farmer and the Viper,” in which a farmer nurses a freezing snake back to health—and is then promptly bitten and killed by the snake as soon as it has the opportunity. The moral is that you shouldn’t be surprised, and you certainly shouldn’t feel betrayed, when a snake behaves like a snake. A similar takeaway comes from the disturbing 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man,” which tells the tale of a man and his girlfriend who were killed, in essence, because a bear behaved like a bear.

The complication is that consumers don’t necessarily view brands that we interact with regularly as animals that will take advantage of us whenever the opportunity arises. We’re encouraged to “like” brands on Facebook, and marketers spend billions to try to get us to love brands, ideally with a cult-like fervor. We tend to view favorite brands as trusted partners or even friends, and we can feel violated and betrayed to the core when the terms of what can be a very warm partnership are exposed as more “strictly business,” to quote The Godfather.

“Some brands are so good at connecting with consumers on an emotional level that the relationship feels incredibly personal, much like a friendship,” explains Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and TIME and MONEY contributor. “In most cases the consumers feel they share the same values as the brand, which they see as manifesting human characteristics.”

This certainly seems the case for JetBlue and its longtime customers. The brand resonated and indeed became beloved because of the perks (free TVs and snacks for everyone) and amenities (leather seats and plenty of legroom all around) as much as because of its overriding ethos that all customers were valued—and valued equally. What helped make JetBlue stand out and become an industry darling is that its competitors in the airline business are notorious for exceptionally poor customer service, especially in regards to passengers who are paying the least for their flights.

Slowly, though, JetBlue tweaked its business model—adding a business class and adding more fees recently—and with this week’s announcement about shrinking legroom and the addition of baggage fees, it’s clear that the values originally embraced by the brand have changed as well. For the people who loved and were loyal to JetBlue specifically because of its egalitarian, customers-first approach, the latest moves serve as a big slap in the face with the cold-hearted reality that shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but hurts nonetheless: Brands like JetBlue want you to love them, but they only love you for your money.

Experts who study marketing and company-consumer relationships believe that brands that have developed cult-like followings for supposedly doing things the right and honorable way—Chipotle and Whole Foods come to mind—are likely to feel greater backlash if and when they appear to violate customers’ trust. “Our theory is that the people who feel most betrayed are the ones who were most attached to the brand in the first place,” says Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at the USC Marshall School of Business who is researching brand betrayal with colleagues.

By and large, consumers tend to get most attached to scrappy smaller brands with a streak of independence—brands they can identify with and feel good about supporting. “We love underdog stories,” says MacInnis. “We see ourselves as underdogs. We love the little guy, so there’s a natural brand connection.” It’s a connection that goes beyond a mere mutually beneficial economic transaction.

On the other hand, brands that are monolithic and fail to develop long-lasting loyalty or affection—big banks, pay TV and wireless providers, and yes, airlines come to mind—are less at risk of betraying customers’ trust because there was little to no trust to begin with. “You’re not likely to feel betrayed when a cable company treats you poorly,” says MacInnis. “You’ll shake it off and jump” to a competitor without blinking (assuming another one is actually available). “The transgressions are par for the course.”

It’s all about expectations: When someone we thought of as a friend turns out to be just another snake, it’s heartbreaking. Hence, the presence of several “Et Tu, JetBlue?” headlines out there, indicating that the once beloved airline’s betrayal is one of epic proportions.

“When consumers sense they’ve been used or manipulated they feel a burn more similar to a human betrayal than simple transactional disappointment,” says Yarrow. However, bigger, widely bashed brands are “lucky” enough to disappoint customers so frequently that there’s no surprise or sense of betrayal when they make yet another profit-first, customer-unfriendly move. “Consumers have such low expectations of Comcast, for example, they are thrilled when there simply aren’t problems.”

MONEY Airlines

Flyers, Media React to JetBlue’s Upcoming Fees

JetBlue follows other U.S. airlines into the realm of baggage fees and less leg room. The company announced Wednesday it would introduce new customer policy changes starting in 2015.

This week JetBlue said it is reducing average legroom and introducing a new fare structure that means passengers buying the lowest-price tickets will have to pay extra if they want to check luggage.

The changes, which will be instituted starting in 2015, will leave Southwest Airlines as the only domestic carrier to grant free checked bags (two of them, in fact) for all passengers.

Shrinking legroom will come as a result of 15 more seats being added to JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes. Even after squeezing in the new rows of seats, JetBlue’s average legroom will be 33.1 inches, which is still slightly more than what the typical passenger on Southwest or Virgin America can expect.

But the real heartbreaker to travelers is likely to be the new “Fare Families” structure, which consists of three bundled options that travelers must choose from when booking a flight. At the low end of the pricing spectrum, tickets do not include a checked bag. Passengers who pay higher fares are entitled to checked bags (one at the middle level, two at the high end), and also get bonus loyalty points.

Exact details on pricing and what specific amenities are and aren’t included in the various fares haven’t been released yet.

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