Do Kate Hanni and “Flyers Rights” Manipulate Their Data?

Travel Weekly has published a pretty damning hit piece on Kate Hanni, the airline passenger ‘consumer advocate’ of Flyers Rights with hair-brained schemes that seem to make passengers worse off and who seems as inclined towards publicity for its own sake as, say, Chuck Schumer.

It’s a rambling piece with a whole lot of irrelevant detail and meaningless facts dropped as innuendo. Still, there’s a good bit in there that helps paint a picture of as a confused shop and Kate Hanni in particular as erratic and untrustworthy.

There are allegations that she’s misled Congress, especially about the size of her ‘membership’ which appears to be anyone who signed an online petition, and the number of calls her organization receives. Her group hasn’t ever filed a tax return, and seems very lackadaisical in handling of money.

She’s alleged to have manipulated the data in her airline report card to get the results she wanted (she hates Delta) — describing her group’s use of unsubstantiated data as what makes it ‘distinct.’

Last March, for example, FlyersRights’ report card identified Delta as the worst violator of passenger rights. It was not the first time Hanni had singled out Delta in this way. The airline was named worst in 2009, too.

But draft copies of the report made available to Travel Weekly indicate that Delta scored at the bottom in 2008 only after Hanni adjusted the scoring metrics she had used in earlier reports…

Mogel pointed out that change in methodology included unreported tarmac delays compiled from unsubstantiated media reports, hotline calls and email. “I used to debate with her constantly about those numbers,” he said.

Hanni says such unofficial sources are what makes the organization’s report cards “distinct,” adding, “We have a hotline and we should use information we get from it.”

…In effect, Foreman switched the grading system from a purely objective ranking by number of incidents to a subjective interpretation based on a given incident’s perceived severity. Foreman defended that change, arguing, “Sometimes, a grading system can be subjective because that’s what it is.”

Whatever the new methodology, the numbers do not appear to stand up to scrutiny. A Travel Weekly review of flights cited by Hanni in this year’s report card as “unreported” by the airlines revealed that many of those flights had, in fact, been reported. In other cases, DOT data revealed that no delays had occurred in the first place or that the delay had been minor.

The article also claims Hanni has used her organization to agitate for a contributor to obtain federal contracts.

Oh, and there’s even a sex tape.

Most of this is entirely beside the point, which really is that her group delves into issues that she’s acknowledged she has had little expertise in, and even her core claims about tarmac delays and the need for the recently-enacted “three-hour rule” for domestic flights have been ill-conceived.

The Kate Hanni Flyers Rights organization does seem to use questionable data to support their questionable positions.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. IMHO the reason for the three-hour rule is because a) the government felt like they had to do something, anything, to stem consumer anger over those god-awful tarmac stranding incidents and b) the airline industry was stone deaf, seemed paralyzed to respond to and mitigate this anger.

  2. Hanni suffers from “amateur quarterback” syndrome. She thinks she has the solutions to all the problems of the industry but has never actually been in the position to realise that these solutions are impractical. She is a populist who thinks that just because a million uninformed people think something, it must be right. This is dangerous.

    The unfortunate side-effect of her lobbying is knee jerk legislation and regulation which will have the unintended side effect of eventually harming passenger interests. This has already manifested itself with airlines preferring to proactively cancel flights rather than fall foul of the ridiculously inflexible tarmac delay rules. In the future her uninformed but vociferous lobbying on safety and security issues run the dangerous chance of pushing changes that may inadvertently place passengers and airframes at greater risk.

    Hanni will earn much more credibility if her groups had the endorsement of experienced and respected industry professionals. The lack of these endorsements implies either that she does not value their experience enough to permit the vetting of her hobby horse, or that her data is so dodgy that nobody with a legitimate reputation in the field is willing to associate with her. Neither bodes will for the future of her group.

  3. Does this surprise anyone that congressional data was altered to pass legislation…? Sounds to me like another day in DC.

  4. We used Government Data to derive all of our conclusions. Our Taxes are being filed August 15th at which time folks will see that my family funded nearly 50% of the costs of the Coalition for the last 3 years. WE have tax extensions. Our cause is not ill conceived. People want it. The airlines hate it. And guess who provided Fabey the fake financials? Delta.

  5. If you believe Mike Fabey who is a friend of this former disgruntled employee, then you are ill advised.

    Don’t believe everything you read.


  6. Kate: your group seems more like a public soap opera than an advocacy group. Your comments to this post certainly don’t help.

  7. The situation before FlyersRights was unacceptable: The airlines had no plans or incentives to get people off of tarmacked airplanes. Ms. Hanni is the only person who was ever able to get anything done, and for that I think she is to be commended.

    The new law has crazy penalties, but what realistic person believes that the FAA will actually impose and collect them? The effect of the law has been for airports to come up with plans, buses, etc. which will enhance the lot of pax who otherwise would be imprisoned in aluminum tubes with no food, no water and no toilets.

  8. The new law is clearly a huge success. Exactly how many people have been stranded for 3+ hours since the rule took effect? Case closed.

    Memo to airlines: you’ve got an activist government for the next 6 years, better get with the program. Those poorly run unregulated frequent flyer programs are next.

  9. Actually there have still been a few 3+ hour delays since the law took effect. And there have been more flight cancellations since it took effect. Plenty of passengers are still affected, just affected differently. Stating that it is a wholesale success is misleading I think.

  10. We are the most successful grass roots campaign in history. The only folks that will criticize our success are those in the industry who don’t like any government intervention.

    In any grass root’s organizations there are folks that join with the simple intention of tearing it down. This has happened and will probably happen again.

    Probably does look like a soap opera if you only read Travel Weekly…but you should know that Travel Weekly gets free flights and Delta is using TW as a tool to try to cripple us in the pole of public opinion.

    I don’t think it’s working, however, and I hope for the public’s sake they see through it. When our true financials are released folks will have the real picture of an organization that I and my family committed major resources to and which I hope will continue to help the flying public.

    Many of our members were interviewed for this piece and who were shocked simply by the line of questioning. They gave nothing but positive responses and TW then did not quote them.

    So to believe any of this article is to ignore everything that our group has accomplished.

  11. I do feel for Ms. Hanni, I think the article contained some gratuitous stuff that really doesn’t bear on the work she’s doing, references to a sex tape for instance.

    But I’m not in the industry, I have never worked for an airline, and as a passenger I think that her organization has advocated and agitated for policies that are simplistic, pandering, and counterproductive.

    And I’m dismayed that in her comments here she hasn’t addressed the charges that the government data her report cards are based on was manipulated to reach her preferred subject result.

    And there are certainly some real allegations about trumping up ‘membership’ numbers to feign an influence and consensus of travelers that doesn’t exist.

    Those two items, it seems to me, are the key underlying allegations that I’d love to hear your take on — all of the innuendo included in the article which I did find highly inappropriate, as I mentioned in my original post above.

  12. Wait a minute, Gary, the article doesn’t claim that Mogel said anything about the sex tape; it’s Hanni who raised it in her lawsuit against Delta, saying Mogel claimed he was in possession of it. That probably would not have been an issue, nor would it have been raised in the article, had she not raised it gratuitously in her lawsuit. I think referring to the reference to the sex tape in her lawsuit demonstrates something about her character.

    In so far as passengers being better off as a result of her work; I have to disagree. I was on a flight that was brought back to the gate after waiting for a little more than two hours in a storm; subsequently the flight was canceled, and I could not get out until the next day. Not only were we forced to sit in deep coach middle seats on the long flight the next day — my wife and I had been across the aisles in Economy Plus on the storm delayed flight — the resort at which I showed up a day late charged me for the night I missed. (Oh yes, the rental car I had reserved was not available when I arrived, but knowing how mediocre car rental car companies are about keeping reservations, it might not have been available had I arrived on my original flight.) Anyway, I figure that Kate Hanni’s efforts have already cost me about $750 and one day of vacation so far, and the rule has only been in effect for a few months.

    So much for her know nothing advocacy.

  13. Regarding our report card data:

    We decided two things were very important on our most recent report card.

    a) That airlines are not just one entity but conglomerate’s of multiple names. The preponderance of the data must be considered when evalutating an air carriers treatment of passengers.

    b) That the passengers experience must have a part in the grading system.

    The airlines manipulate the data. We don’t. I’ll give you an example:

    We get calls all the time on our hotline from passengers who’ve been on the tarmac for 5 hours. When we question them about the details they usually state that a portion of that time was at the gate, and a portion was after pushing back from the gate. To the passengers it’s been 5 hours in a hot sweaty plane without air conditioning or water, but to the airline who reports to the government none of the time at the gate counts towards any government statistic. Savvy?

    We represent the interests of the passengers. So we always are pushing for more accurate data reporting, more accurate data compilation on the part of the DOT and pushing for the passengers needs to be met sooner during these events.

    Not sure if this answers your question about the report card. I can get more specific, we can use Delta as the example since their conglomerate is larger than any other.

    Our membership numbers are what they are. We have nearly 30,000 members and if congress decides to investigate then I’ll show them how folks join.

  14. Above, Ms. Hanni states “you should know that Travel Weekly gets free flights and Delta is using TW as a tool to cripple us in the pole (sic) of public opinion,” and, in a separate post, “guess who provided (Travel Weekly reporter Mike) Fabey the fake financials Delta.”

    While Travel Weekly reporters are sometimes hosted by destinations or travel suppliers in connection with a product review, neither Delta nor any other airline provides Travel Weekly with “free flights.” Delta did not provide us with any of the financials mentioned in the story about Ms. Hanni; those came from sources within Ms. Hanni’s organization. Delta did not contact Travel Weekly to provide information nor did Travel Weekly seek comment or information from Delta during the preparation of this article. All references to Delta come from court documents or were told to Mr. Fabey by members of Ms. Hanni’s organization, past and present. Any suggestion that Travel Weekly and Delta were or are working in concert is completely false. – Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief, Travel Weekly

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