Top 5 Airline Anger Moments of 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- It's unclear how we got here, but somehow, anger has become our country's favorite emotion.

Unfortunately, the U.S. airline industry offers a fertile breeding ground for anger. Each day, more than two million passengers push through crowded airports onto cramped flights and many take off from congested airports. Time constraints are tight. Making matters worse, the historically money-losing airline industry has been aggressively adding new fees since 2008.
Plane

This is the environment in which JetBlue ( JBLU) flight attendant Steven Slater became, undeservedly, a national hero. He reacted to the surfeit of anger in society -- and the airline industry -- by getting mad.

So far, 2010 has produced more than its share of anger-provoking airline-related events. Here are our top five.

No. 5: Not All Airline Passengers Are Geniuses

If an airline passenger misbehaves, the result can be a delay that inconveniences all the other passengers. For instance, sometimes when passengers refuse to stop talking on a cell phone during takeoff, pilots feel they have no alternative but to return to the gate.

Last week, an American ( AMR) flight from New York to Los Angeles was diverted to Albuquerque, N.M., when a passenger was found lighting matches in and around the bathroom.

The diversion occurred because the passenger's behavior raised so many questions. "We didn't know for sure why he was doing what he was doing," said American spokesman Tim Smith. "Our crew noted he exhibited some other unusual behaviors besides lighting matches."

The flight was carrying 169 passengers and 11 crew members. Officials searched the plane, took the miscreant into custody, questioned the passengers and had dogs go through the plane sniffing for explosives. The flight was delayed for six hours. Instead of arriving in Los Angeles at 5:20 p.m., it arrived around 11 p.m.

Mom told us not to play with matches. So is there any wonder why people are angry?

No. 4: It's Not Good When Puppies Die on Your Plane

It can get hot in the cargo hold, where seven puppies were flying before they died soon after an American flight from Tulsa, Okla. to Chicago on Aug. 3.

The concept of puppies suffering and dying troubled many people. American investigated, and found that "heat may have been a factor." But additionally, "American believes the health of the seven dogs that died may have been compromised prior to them being transported," said American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan. "Seventeen other dogs also were shipped, obviously under identical conditions and circumstances, on the same flight that day." Those 17 were fine, she said. American transports more than 100,000 dogs a year.

American would not name the shipper. After the airline announced its findings, the Animal Legal Defense Fund petitioned regulators, asking that airlines be required to report the deaths of any animals in transit and to identify the shippers and consignees involved. Currently, the department requires airlines to report the deaths or disappearances of animals considered to be pets. "There has been no accurate reporting on in-flight harm to dogs shipped by puppy mills," the ALFD said.

"Travelers and animal lovers have a right to know exactly how risky it is for animals to be shipped as cargo on commercial airlines," said Carter Dillard, ALDF's director of litigation, in a prepared statement.

No. 3: A Bad Call on Volcanic Ash

This was a total screw-up, one that angered millions of people and stranded many in European airports for days. The cause was decisions by overcautious European aviation officials who forced the cancellation of thousands of flights because they feared volcanic ash would clog aircraft engines -- even in areas where there was no trace of volcanic ash.

The cost and inconvenience left International Air Transport Association CEO Giovanni Bisignani, who emerged as the primary spokesman for the world's airlines during the crisis, fuming.

"This is a European embarrassment and it's a European mess," Bisignani told the BBC in an interview during the crisis. He went on to say that critical decisions should be "based on facts" rather than on risk assessment models, and that it would be useful if government officials adequately consulted the airlines involved.

Bisignani noted that when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, regulators did not willy-nilly impose a blanket closure of air space in the vicinity. Instead, he said in a prepared statement, "the decisions to open or close airspace were risk managed, with no compromise on safety."

No. 2: Spirit Airlines Devises the Ultimate Fee

In April, privately-held Spirit said it would become the first carrier to charge for carry-on bags. The goal was not to produce revenue, but rather to reduce boarding delays by forcing extra bags into the cargo bin. It's not what people wanted to hear.

Bloggers, Tweeters, TV personalities, politicians and others reacted with outrage.

The charges took effect this month. The basic fee is $30 per bag. That charge rises to $45 if a passenger pays at the gate, a time-consuming process the airline hopes to discourage. The charge falls to $20 if a passenger pays $9 to join its "$9 Fare Club," which provides access to the lowest priced tickets.

Passengers can still carry on a first item free, as long as it fits under the seat. For example, a small gym bag, a computer bag, or a coat would be free, but carrying on a roller board would trigger a fee.

"We don't think anyone loses in this," said CEO Ben Baldanza, in an interview. "The fares are coming down by over $40. If you carry on a bag, you will pay for it, but you will pay less than you pay today. If you don't carry on a bag, you pay less for your ticket."

More fee anger surfaced last week, when American said it will offer a package where passengers can pay extra to get seats at the front of the coach section and the right to be among the first group of passengers to board. The charge ranges from $19 to $39, depending on the length of the flight.

No. 1: Slater Speak for Us All

Slater, now the industry's most famous (suspended) employee, got that way for swearing on the airplane intercom, grabbing two beers, and then doing something really dumb: needlessly deploying an evacuation chute. His attorney said he looked out the window before deploying the chute, but the truth is you cannot see much from the window of an airplane. The chute deploys with a force of 3,000 pounds per square inch. Somebody could have gotten hurt.

This is what Cathy Bossi, legislative affairs chair for Council 89 of the Association of Flight Attendants, a US Airways ( LCC) local in Charlotte, had to say on the topic in an update to members.

"Seriously folks! We all would like to go out in such a dramatic fashion as did Mr. Slater, but despite our frustrations with the way that both our customers and our industry has added a great burden on us the last several years, we would never have used the slide as an exit strategy for quitting," said Bossi.

"For the beers, we would have left $14 on the galley counter."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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