Flyers Rights’ jet-setting director of communications, Kendall Creighton, was born in New Rochelle, New York, raised in Alta Loma, California by way of Bermuda – where her father ran the historic Castle Harbour Hotel for five years – and currently lives in Berlin. She is also married to an Air Traffic Controller and happens to be the mother of five. So championing passenger rights is a natural fit for this frequent flyer.
Moving to Washington DC after college with no job and no political connections to speak of, Creighton says she channeled the “superwoman” philosophy – that girls “could do and have it all” – which was hard-wired into her during her post-feminist, 1980’s upbringing. She spent the summer cold-calling congressional offices and knocking on doors for a job on Capitol Hill. After working her way through a number of lower level positions in congressional offices, Creighton eventually landed a position at Al Gore’s office of environmental policy which led to a memorable gig on Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. But the real game-changing moment for Creighton came when she saw FlyersRights’ founder, Kate Hanni, on TV in 2006 pushing for a passenger bill of rights and lobbying in DC. Inspired by Hanni’s mission from the start, Creighton immediately volunteered her services.
“Kate Hanni definitely put the grass in grassroots organizing. In December 2006, she and her family were stranded on the tarmac in Austin, Texas for nine-and-a-half hours by American Airlines. People had nothing to eat or drink except water from the bathroom sink, where the toilets were overflowing,” says Creighton. “So, FlyersRights was started with this one person, Ms. Hanni, who put up a little blog in 2007, thinking, ‘well maybe there are some other people that have had similar experiences to being stranded,’ and within a few weeks she had 20,000 people signing up. Today we have an office in Washington DC. We have a small staff, but mostly we operate with dedicated volunteers. There’s strength in numbers. If just a few people contribute – whether it’s time, money or effort – a lot is really possible. It’s very inspiring!”
Not to mention, important. Especially today, when relations between airlines and passengers seem to be particularly strained. And while there are many reasons for the divide, Creighton lays much of the blame on the all-boys network in the airline executive suites.
“Today we’re seeing the repercussions of a male-dominated commercial aviation industry,” suggests Creighton. “The culture is all about enforcing strict rules with an iron-hand, and being uncompromising with passengers. Airlines have granted themselves all sorts of despot-like power, including who can be removed from a flight, which is anyone for any reason. It’s embedded in the fine print when passengers click ‘agree’ when they purchase a ticket.
“Airlines’ contract of carriages often exceed fifty pages, and are written in their favor, giving the customer as little leeway as possible [and] those values come from the top. If more women occupied the US airlines’ executive suites, I doubt you would have seen #LeggingsGate (United), StrollerGate (American Airlines) or the recent Delta fiasco where a family was kicked off an overbooked flight because one of their children’s seats was resold.”
After #LeggingsGate, Runway Girl Network reached out to United and asked if the carrier is including any women executives in its reviews of the internal dress code policy? “Absolutely, yes,” said a spokesman.
While social media has definitely made tracking negative passenger experiences much easier, Creighton – who writes Flyers Rights weekly newsletter and press releases, handles media requests, manages social media and replies to many emails a day – says that it can also be a bit overwhelming at times.
“Technology has really allowed the passenger to shine a spotlight on the traveling experience, for good and bad … we’re grateful the Internet and social media has made organizing national and international groups like ours much easier. But, when it rains, it pours, it just takes one airline passenger video to go viral, then we get slammed. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million.”
Creighton says she dreams of one day leveling the playing field to the point where she works herself out of a job, but today Flyers Rights’ mission has never been more clear. Particularly after the recent D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ favorable ruling on a petition filed by Flyers Rights in 2015 that the FAA has no reasonable basis to refuse to institute rulemaking over ever-shrinking seat sizes.
“The court decision was a big surprise for sure,” says Creighton. “[It] was the first case where an organization has successfully challenged the FAA being asleep at the wheel. The seat squeeze [has been] high on our agenda. Currently there’s no limit to how tight you can be squeezed. We’ve worked for years on this issue and continue to do so.”
Meanwhile, industry stakeholders have had seat designs patented “which include; bicycle seats, saddle seats, bench row seating, ‘mezzanine’ seats stacked on top of each other, straphanger ‘seats,’ the list is endless. Over the past month or two, I’ve even noticed a drumbeat from the pro-airlines minions rah rah-ing a 29-inch seat pitch and smaller.”
“President Trump spoke of building new airports and railways in his inaugural address. Then, at a meeting with airline executives in February he indicated he wouldn’t reverse DOT’s approval of Norwegian Air International’s expansion in the US, citing new US jobs that would be created by Boeing and others. This runs counter to what the airlines and their unions are urging. So we are hopeful. Now it is the time for the President to meet with air travelers, who pay for the air-transportation system through their airfares, taxes and fees but have been ignored by policy makers,” she suggests.