TIME Transportation

FAA Proposes $12M Fine Against Southwest Over Repair Allegations

A Southwest Airlines Co. Terminal Ahead Of Earnings Figures
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 airplane departs Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 2014 Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The proposed fine is the second largest in FAA history

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed a $12 million fine against Southwest Airlines for allegedly not complying with safety regulations during Boeing 737 jetliner repairs.

The proposed fine is the second largest in FAA history, the Associated Press reports. In 2010, the FAA proposed a $24.2 million fine against American Airlines, which later settled for $24.9 million.

The agency says that Southwest’s contractor, under Southwest supervision, did not properly fasten aircraft skins and replace fuselages, among other violations, while updating 44 planes in 2006 to prevent cracking on the aluminum exteriors. The agency also claims the Dallas-based air carrier flew those planes in 2009 despite notice from the FAA about the lack of safety compliance.

A spokesperson for Southwest said the company would respond to the agency’s claims in accordance with FAA procedure guidelines. The airline also said it “fully resolved the repair issues some time ago” and that “none of the items raised in the FAA letter affect” planes currently in operation.

[AP]

TIME Transportation

Gas Prices Continue to Drop After Hitting Four-Month Low

Gasoline at U.S. Pumps Seen Surging to 6-Year Seasonal High
A customer prepares to fuel her vehicle at a Road Ranger gas station in Princeton, Illinois, on June 17, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

One gallon of regular fuel costs as little as $3.523, on average

After hitting the lowest numbers since March last week, gas prices across the U.S. have continued to drop, AAA announced.

The current national average for regular fuel is $3.523 per gallon, according to the automobile organization. On Friday, AAA reported that the national average was $3.54 per gallon. Recent geopolitical conflict between Russia and Ukraine and in Israel has not affected distribution or supply, it said recently.

A different survey of gasoline prices by Lundberg released Sunday reports that prices for regular gasoline fell to $3.58 per gallon, the first major drop of the year after roughly three months of stability, Reuters reports.

The prices cited by AAA and Lundberg are both roughly 10 cents cheaper than gas prices this time last year.

TIME Transportation

Lyft Launching in New York City Following 2-Week Delay

Ridesharing Salt Lake City
A Lyft car crosses Market Street in San Francisco, Jan. 17, 2013. Jeff Chiu—AP

Lyft will have to use commercial drivers in the five boroughs

After a two-week legal spat with state officials, ride-sharing service Lyft is finally taking off in New York City Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Unlike in other cities, where strangers can give rides to their neighbors using the Lyft app, the service in the five boroughs will be operated by commercial drivers only, according to a statement from the New York Attorney General’s office. The change in Lyft’s business model makes it compliant with the rules of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates taxis and black car services, such as Uber, in New York City.

Despite the deal, Lyft is not giving up on eventually bringing its original model to New York City. “This agreement is the first big step in finding a home for Lyft’s peer-to-peer model in New York,” the company said in a blog post. “We’ll continue to work with the TLC, Department of Financial Services, and the Attorney General’s office to craft new rules for peer-to-peer transportation in New York.”

As part of its agreement with the state, Lyft will suspend its operations in Buffalo and Rochester by August 1. The company says it will work with regulatory officials to comply with state law and relaunch in those communities later.

TIME Transportation

Southwest Airlines Kicked Family Off Plane After Dad Tweets Complaint

Southwest Airlines Reveals New Destinations For Dallas Travelers
A Southwest Airlines plane sits at a gate at Dallas Love Field Airport on Feb. 3, 2014 Ben Torres—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Southwest apologized — but Duff Watson says he's never flying with the airline again

A Minneapolis father claims that he and his two daughters were booted from their Southwest Airlines flight from Denver to the Twin Cities after he tweeted a complaint against a “rude” agent.

Duff Watson said the Sunday episode began while trying to board a priority line with his daughters, who are 9 and 6 years old.

“I have been traveling with Southwest for a few years now, and I’m an A-list member,” Watson told ABC News on Wednesday. “You can board the plane early.”

A gate agent said he wasn’t allowed to board with his children — leading Watson to ask her if there was a new policy in place. But he says she didn’t give him a direct answer and told him that she wasn’t going to change her mind.

“We waited, which was fine,” Watson said. “I thought she was very rude and wanted to complain to customer service.”

So Watson asked for her last name and took to Twitter to blast the experience after boarding the plane with his daughters.

@SouthwestAir and then I get to the gate!!! C39!!! Rudest staff? Kimberly S.

-Duff Watson, @DuffWatson

Shortly afterward, an announcement asked Watson to disembark from the plane and was received by the same gate agent. Watson said she asked him to delete the tweet and threatened to call the police if he didn’t.

“She said I was a safety threat,” Watson told ABC News. “I was shocked. There was no use of profanity, there were no threats made. How was I a safety threat?”

Watson soon relented, deleted the tweet, and reboarded the plane — though not without disavowing Southwest. “I’m not going to fly them again,” he said. Watson has also since made his Twitter account private.

Southwest issued a statement to a CBS Minnesota affiliate on the incident. WCCO reported:

In an email to Watson, Southwest apologized for the incident. Because of confidentiality concerns, they could not disclose any disciplinary actions taken.

Watson says he’s not satisfied with their response. All three received $50 vouchers, but Watson says he won’t fly Southwest Airlines again.

[ABC News]

TIME Transportation

FAA Grounded Your Israel Flight? Russia Will Fly You There

Mideast Israel Palestinians
A departure flight board displays various canceled and delayed flights in Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 23, 2014. Dan Balilty—AP

Aeroflot still running daily flights from JFK to Tel Aviv via Moscow

Need to fly to Tel Aviv from the U.S.? While domestic carriers such as American, Delta and United continue to temporarily suspend air service to Ben Gurion airport due to rocket fire, there’s at least one European carrier that can get you there: Aeroflot.

Russia’s flagship airline is running daily flights from JFK to Tel Aviv via Moscow, as is another Russian carrier, Transaero Airlines, named “Most Improved Airline” in Europe last year. Flights are as low as $1214 round trip, according to the travel site Kayak.

While the Israeli government was upset by the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to temporarily close off Tel Aviv’s airspace to U.S. carriers, Moscow apparently had no worries about security over Israel.

The Russian government does apparently have concerns about Ukranian airspace, though: both of Russia’s carriers are avoiding eastern Ukraine, taking a roundabout route between Moscow and Simferopol in Crimea, for example, according to flight data provided by Flightradar24.com.

MONEY Airlines

The New TSA Fee Should Change the Way You Book Flights

An airline passenger is patted down by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent
An airline passenger is patted down by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent at Los Angeles International Airport. Kevork Djansezian—Reuters

Airline passengers used to pay as little as $5 round trip in TSA fees. Now everybody pays $11.20, and you could be forced to cough up double that.

As of July 21, the TSA’s September 11 Security Fee structure has been changed, and all travelers flying within the U.S. will be paying more every time a flight is purchased. Passengers on nonstop flights must now pay $5.60 each way, up from $2.50, so therefore the TSA fee on a basic round trip consisting of two nonstop flights is $11.20, up from $5. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around that fee hike, which amounts to a 124% increase. The fees are automatically tacked onto the price of airfare.

In the past, fliers on nonstops paid less in fees than travelers on connecting flights: $5 for a round trip, versus $10. Now everybody pays $11.20, regardless of connections. So in addition to nonstop flights being superior in terms of saving time and avoiding possible delays and missed connections, there was the added bonus of saving a few bucks on the TSA fees.

Now that little bonus is gone.

Even so, it’s almost always still best to go with a nonstop, if possible. Sure, delays and technical troubles can happen on nonstops, but travelers are far more likely to encounter such hassles on connecting flights. With recent airline mergers, carriers have slowly been getting rid of the old hub-and-spoke systems at the same time they’ve been trimming back the overall number of flights. As a result, passengers are generally more likely to find nonstop flights to their destination of choice and more likely to run into extra trouble on connecting flights. (It’s less likely there will be another flight behind the one you missed, and even if there is it probably doesn’t have enough extra seats.)

By going nonstop, passengers also rule out the risk of being forced to pay extra TSA fees on connecting flights with unusually long layovers. In the past, budget travel experts sometimes recommended looking into flights with extra-long layovers as a tactic for saving money. The new TSA fee structure makes that strategy a little less worth the hassle. Now, if a connecting flight has a layover of four or more hours, fliers must pay $5.60 for each leg of the journey. So for a flight from, say, Providence to Los Angeles with a five-hour layover in Dallas, a passenger would pay $11.20 in TSA fees, as opposed to $5.60 to a passenger booked on a nonstop or on a connecting flight with a more reasonable layover wait.

Airfarewatchdog.com founder George Hobica gave the Arizona Republic an example of a recent flight deal that would be affected: $197 for a winter season round trip from Newark to a choice of destinations in the Caribbean. “The catch,” the article explained, is that “travelers had to stay overnight in Miami in both directions.” So their layover would obviously be more than four hours—so they’d get hit with double the usual fees.

Fliers booking multi-stop itineraries—usually for business purposes, but not necessarily—will also feel the impact of the new fee structure more so than others, as they’ll have to pay at least $5.60 for each leg of the journey, rather than as little as $2.50 in the past. Depending on the traveler, number of stops on the itinerary, and the reason for the trip, this might not necessarily be a deal breaker. But it absolutely should factor into the decision making process.

TIME Transportation

A TSA Fee Hike Just Made Your Plane Tickets More Expensive

TSA Security
A TSA agent waits for passengers to use the TSA PreCheck lane being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport on October 4, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

You now have to pay $5.60 per flight

Transportation Security Administration fees are doubling Monday, and frequent travelers will notice a slight hike in their airfares.

The TSA fee is currently $2.50 per non-stop flight and $5 per connecting flight, but the new fee will be $5.60 for all flights, and any connection over 4 hours counts as a separate flight.

Congress approved the new fee in December in order to raise $12.6 billion to cut the deficit, and the TSA estimates the fees could raise $16.9 billion.

“It’s like paying for a root canal,” George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com, told USA Today. “It’s something you didn’t want anyway. Now you’re paying more for it.”

While the fees go into effect Monday, frustrated travelers can send comments to the TSA until Aug. 19.

TIME Transportation

2 Injured, Diesel Spilled in Wisconsin Train Derailment

Three engines and 10 railcars derailed on Sunday night in Wisconsin. Two people were injured and more than a hundred homes were evacuated

(SLINGER, Wis.) — Two people were injured and more than a hundred homes were evacuated due to a diesel spill from a train derailment in Wisconsin, according to fire officials.

Slinger Fire Department Chief Rick Hanke said three engines and 10 railcars derailed Sunday night. He said trains from Canadian National Railway Co. and Wisconsin & Southern were involved and that officials are investigating the cause.

About 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from an engine, he said. Hazmat crews from Washington County had dikes and booms in place to contain the spill.

Hanke said railcars hauling sand and lumber were also involved, and some lumber spilled.

Six fire departments responded to the scene, though firefighter Scott Krueger said the diesel did not catch fire.

Hanke said the two people who were hurt had injuries that were not life-threatening.

Patrick Waldron, a spokesman for Canadian National, said three engines and “several” railcars belonging to Canadian National derailed. Preliminary reports indicate a Canadian National train struck cars on another train, Waldron said, adding that the circumstances were under investigation.

A representative for Wisconsin & Southern could not immediately be reached.

Waldron said the Canadian National train was headed from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to Champaign, Illinois.

Slinger is about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

The Red Cross was assisting evacuees at a local middle school.

TIME Transportation

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: FAA Bans U.S. Flight Routes Over Region

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region
Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, on July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Other nations' air carriers have also adjusted flight routes to avoid the region

The Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA) has released a Notice to Airman barring U.S. flight operations within the Simferopol and Dnepropetrovsk regions of Eastern Ukraine following the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was reportedly shot down over the war-torn area.

The new flight paths prohibited on Thursday are an addition to routes that were axed by the FAA in April throughout the Crimean region of Ukraine, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. “Events have indicated the potential for continued hazardous activities,” The FAA wrote in the statement.

The Boeing 777 plane, which was flying to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, crashed between the Luhansk and Donetsk regions on Thursday. Ukrainian and U.S. officials say that a missile targeted the plane, although is remains unconfirmed which side involved in Ukraine’s civil war was responsible for the action.

According to the FAA statement, there are currently no U.S. flights scheduled to fly through eastern Ukraine. The prohibition will be reviewed again in October. Along with U.S. flight operations, other nations’ air carriers have also adjusted flight routes to avoid the region, says the BBC.

TIME Transportation

Strike Averted on LIRR, Nation’s Busiest Commuter Railway

A man buys a ticket for a Long Island Rail Road train at Pennsylvania Station in New York City on July 14, 2014.
A man buys a ticket for a Long Island Rail Road train at Pennsylvania Station in New York City on July 14, 2014. Shannon Stapleton—Reuters

A tentative agreement was announced Thursday that averts a strike by workers at the nation's largest commuter railroad

Updated 7:24 a.m. ET Friday

NEW YORK (AP) — After four years of negotiations — and weeks of fretting by 300,000 daily riders about a possible strike — unions and management at the nation’s largest commuter railroad reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday.

The deal announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who personally got involved in the final hours of the negotiations, gives Long Island Rail Road workers a 17 percent pay raise over six and a half years but requires them to contribute to their health care costs for the first time.

Cuomo, who is running for a second term in November, hailed the deal as a compromise that protects workers and riders because it calls for no additional fare hikes.

“There was a high degree of agita,” the governor said of nervousness over the negotiations. “The good news is there could have been a lot more agita next week” if there had been a strike.

Eight unions representing 5,400 Long Island Rail Road workers had threatened to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The workers had been seeking a new deal since 2010.

Commuters at Penn Station in Manhattan expressed relief that they would not have to seek transportation alternatives.

“I was really concerned,” said Sibel Aras of Port Washington. “It’s really good news. I’m happy for them. They deserve it.”

Manhattan attorney Douglas Bartner said he was pleased Cuomo stepped in.

“His taking last minute efforts to avert what could be a crisis is good, whatever it takes,” Bartner said. “It got done. I hope the terms are fair to employees.”

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent organization, the typical salary for a Long Island Rail Road worker is $65,000, and with overtime annual earnings average $85,000. A round-trip peak ticket from central Nassau County to Manhattan currently costs $25 a day; an unlimited trip monthly ticket is $276.

“Both sides have compromised to reach an agreement that gives our employees the raises they deserve while also providing for the MTA’s long-term financial stability,” said Thomas Prendergast, the MTA chairman.

Chief union negotiator Anthony Simon said his membership was reluctant to strike, but a tough stance was necessary in order to get an agreement.

“This was definitely about the riders,” Simon said. “We cared about the financial stability of the railroad as well as the members and their financial stability.”

Officials in New York City and Long Island had predicted dire consequences if workers walked off the job.

“All riders feel relief at the announcement of this settlement” said Mark Epstein, chairman of a commuter advocacy group. “We are encouraged by Gov. Cuomo’s assurances on fares and the MTA’s ability to fund its capital program and look forward to reviewing additional details on the settlement and the way in which it will be funded.”

Earlier this week it appeared a strike was imminent when union negotiators and MTA officials said that they had reached an impasse. Commuters fretted over contingency plans that would have had many riding school buses from LIRR stations to subway stops in New York City, or spending hours on clogged New York area roadways.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is running for re-election, jump-started the talks on Wednesday when he appealed to both sides to resume negotiating. The governor held discussions with the sides later that day and on Thursday morning summoned them to his office.

The state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, had estimated a strike would be a “devastating blow” to a region causing economic losses of $50 million a day.

While commuters were relieved by the deal, few were likely as happy as Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor had been criticized for planning to be out of town on a vacation in Italy starting Friday.

Before the agreement was announced Thursday, de Blasio said at event in Brooklyn that he thought the contingency plan for a possible strike was strong and that the impact would have been felt strongest outside the city limit.

“He can take his vacation to Italy,” Cuomo said. “I hope he enjoys it. I’m a tad envious.”

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