Reporting Margie Shafer
SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Some passengers at San Francisco International Airport were told Thursday their flights were canceled due to bad weather, despite skies clear enough to fly without any hazard or visibility problems.
Airline passenger advocates said blaming the famous fog notorious for summertime delays is a disingenuous strategy to avoid having to compensate passengers for the cancellations related the runway taken out of service by the Asiana Airlines crash.
United Airlines, for example, has put out a waiver at SFO due primarily to weather and secondarily to the closed runway. The airport duty manager said the Federal Aviation Administration implemented at flow control program at the SFO not because of the weather, but because one of its four runways remains closed.
Carriers are allowed multiple codes for a flight cancellation, with the first code listed determining whether passengers must be made whole financially, said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org.
“If they have claimed it’s the weather, then you don’t have any recourse. And if you know that it’s not the weather, then you need to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation,” Hanni said.
Airlines are exempt from compensating passengers for so-called force majeure or act of God cancellations such as weather-related conditions at any stop on the flight. That means rescheduled or delayed travelers must pay their own hotel, taxi, food and the cost of re-booking or buying new tickets.
Hanni said miscoded cancellations has been a persistent problem, pointing to a recent Government Accountability Office study that finds only 7 percent of flights are cancelled due to extreme weather, even though 48 percent wind up coded that way.
Problems at one airport can lead to cancellations at another as airlines adjust their internal schedules to keep certain routes running, said Joseph Schwieterman, who teaches transportation policy at DePaul University.
“When things start to back up, airlines begin to cancel flights nationwide to avoid getting stuck in San Francisco, and I think that’s kind of what’s happening here,” he said, noting that the air map for Thursday showed delays only at SFO and LaGuardia.
“Flights are getting canceled because they see they need that plane on time on another route.”
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)