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Travel: Lose Your Cares, Luggage, Sanity

For the thousands of passengers who spent hours stuck on runways, on crowded planes, staring at signs that quickly flashed from "on time" to "delayed" to "cancelled," 2007, was the year that time stood still.

This was the year air rage became part of the traveling lexicon and being successfully reunited with one's luggage became more wishful thinking then an expected occurrence. Once you were unsure if the airlines would search your bags for contraband contact lens solution. Now your too-sexy clothes may get you booted off a plane.

And it wasn't just the airlines who were behaving badly. According to the The Wall Street Journal, American Airlines told the Transportation Security Administration in July that a passenger on a flight to New York had slapped a flight attendant when the plane was ordered emptied in Miami after bad weather kept the flight from leaving.

"Abnormal, aberrant or abusive behavior in the context of the air-travel experience" is back with a vengeance, Andrew Thomas, an assistant professor of business at the University of Akron, who has written books about air rage and aviation "insecurity," told the Journal.

More than 1 million pieces of luggage were lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered by U.S. airlines from May to July, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, reports the Washington Post.

So many bags are getting separated from their owners, the airlines are running out of places to put them, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes. This July was the worst on record for mishandled bags. Nearly eight of every 1,000 bags were lost, damaged or stolen, compared to 6.5 per thousand last July.

The year started out bad and only got worse.

The airline industry's on-time performance in the first seven months of 2007 was its worst since comparable data began being collected in 1995, according to the government. In July, the most recent month for which data are available, 20 carriers reported an on-time arrival rate of 69.8 percent, down from 73.7 percent a year earlier.

Last Dec. 29, lightning storms and a tornado warning shut down the Dallas-Fort Worth airport several times causing American Airlines to divert more than 100 flights and stranding many of those passengers on board aircraft waiting to take off for as long as nine hours.

Then, a harsh winter storm back in February triggered hundreds of flight delays. JetBlue suffered a terrible blow to its customer-friendly public image when ticket holders were stuck on the tarmac for nearly 11 hours. The airline weathered the storm but not before the incident sparked a new wave of consumer advocates and proposed guidelines that ideally guarantee the weary traveler "clean sanitary facilities, regardless of class of service" and truthful information regarding delays and flight status.

The summer was no better with problems piling upon cancellations. The nation's seven busiest airports now account for 72 percent of the nation's flight delays.

Congress is looking into making changes. How can they not when Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., is alleged to have barged, screaming, into a United Airlines baggage claim office at Dulles International Airport and shoved a clerk, leading to a misdemeanor assault charge. Filner disputes the charge and is due in court tomorrow.

His explanation, according to the Post? "I was tired after a delayed flight and frustrated by the subsequent further delay of the entire flight's baggage," he said in a written statement after the August incident.

President Bush promised last week to take steps to reduce air traffic clogs and delays that have left travelers grounded. "Endless hours sitting in an airplane on a runway with no communication between a pilot and the airport is just not right," he said.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, under direct orders from Mr. Bush, told reporters she is asking airlines to meet to formulate a plan to improve scheduling at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the nation's busiest. If no solution is found, she said, the department is prepared to issue a scheduling reduction order.

JFK International normally has enough capacity for 44 departures between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., but commercial airlines regularly schedule 57 departures, said Steve Brown, a former associate administrator for air traffic services at the FAA.

Talks of limiting service, adjusting schedules capping flights and getting rid of the antiquated air traffic system are some of the ideas that are being floated to deal with delays -- all of which can impact ticket prices.

Peters said the agency is also improving the department's complaint system and is acting to increase compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped from flights from $200 to more than $600.

Airline executives told Congress that paying more wouldn't fix the delays.

That strategy "will do nothing more than reduce service to small communities, reduce job growth and raise fares for commercial passengers," Zane Rowe, senior vice president of network strategy at Continental Airlines Inc., told the Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security.

Before the American and JetBlue incidents, only four of the 13 airlines had established time limits on the duration of tarmac delays, he said. After the winter incidents, five airlines including American and JetBlue put time limits on delays before letting passengers off, but five still do not.

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