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United unveils 10 policy changes, will pay bumped passengers up to $10,000

United Airlines has announced 10 policy changes after a video of passenger David Dao being dragged off a plane went viral earlier this month.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat

In what may be the biggest change, the airline will now offer travelers as much as $10,000 to relinquish their seats on overbooked flights, up from $1,350, according to Bloomberg.

>> United Airlines passengers describe scene as man dragged off flight

In a Thursday news release, the airline also pledged to take the following actions:

  • “Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
  • “Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
  • “Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportation to get customers to their final destination.
  • “Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
  • “Provide employees with additional annual training.
  • “Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
  • “Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  • “Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
  • “Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a 'no questions asked' policy on lost luggage.”

In a statement, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for the incident and said the airline is "taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again."

>> United Airlines changes policy after man dragged from plane

"Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: Our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what's right," Munoz said. "This is a turning point for all of us at United, and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline. Our customers should be at the center of everything we do, and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust."

>> Read more trending news

Read more here.

Uber plans to take ride-sharing off the ground

The Uber Elevate Summit is live in Dallas this week through Thursday.

>> Read more trending news 

Uber Elevate describes its mission as “fast-forwarding to the future of on-demand, urban air transportation.” 

Uber is working to take its successful ride-sharing services airborne.

The Uber Elevate Summit is offering information and working to bring awareness to the benefits of flying taxis, with car manufacturers, lawmakers and venture capitalists presenting research and preliminary plans for how to get the next phase of Uber off the ground.

The multibillion-dollar company is already detailing its aircraft capabilities – basically, quiet and capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) – and has worked up a drawing of theoretical landing pads in Dallas

Dallas-Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter is on the short list for its first batch of possible air taxi manufacturers, and given its large-scale production capabilities and experience building the type of aircraft that Uber would like, Uber Elevate could be calling Texas home.

Here’s a video of one of Uber Elevate’s other development partners demonstrating its concept of electric-VTOL aircraft:

Government hurdles could be the biggest roadblocks to Uber Elevate taking off, but executives are hoping to begin large-scale production by 2023.

Read more at Uber, and see the full Uber Elevate Summit schedule and speakers here.

New video shows moments before United Airlines passenger was dragged off plane

The story of Dr. David Dao and United Airlines has dominated headlines since late Sunday. Dao was forcibly removed and injured after boarding a United Airlines flight out of Chicago. Footage went viral that showed Dao arguing with officers before he was removed from the overbooked flight.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat

On Wednesday, a new video began to circulate that showed the moments leading up to Dao’s removal.

>> Watch the video here

Dao was randomly selected to de-board the aircraft when United Airlines personnel needed extra seats in order to travel for work. A Twitter user named Joya Cummings claimed to be a passenger on the flight. Cummings uploaded a video on Tuesday morning that showed what happened before Dao was removed.

>> Merriam-Webster trolls United, defines 'volunteer' after harrowing video goes viral

“I won’t go,” Dao tells officers when they tell him he needs to leave the plane.

“I’m a physician, [I] have work tomorrow.”

>> All passengers on United Flight 3411 to receive compensation

When Dao is informed that he will be dragged off the flight, he threatens to sue United Airlines.

TMZ later uploaded a compilation of videos provided by Cummings.

>> See the clips here

“You can then drag me…I’m not going.” Dao says.

“I’d rather go to jail.”

>> Read more trending news

Dao was ultimately taken off the flight and reportedly injured in the process.

Widow of bus driver in deadly Texas crash dies days after husband's memorial

The wife of the man who was behind the wheel of a church bus involved in a deadly head-on crash near Uvalde, Texas, that claimed his life and the lives of 12 others last month has died.

Dianne Barrett, the wife of Murray Barrett, died a few days after a memorial service was held for her husband in New Braunfels, according to First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, which released the following statement to the American-Statesman on Wednesday:

“We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dianne Barrett. We continue to pray for our Lord's mercy and comfort for our church family members who continue to grieve.” 

>> Driver who hit church bus, killed 13 was texting, witness says

Barrett is listed on the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels website as a ministry assistant.

New Braunfels police spokesman David Ferguson said Barrett’s body was found inside her home on Walnut Heights Boulevard around 9:45 a.m. Tuesday after emergency crews were dispatched for a medical emergency.

“Crews arrived and found the female deceased,” he said.

>> Read more trending news

A justice of the peace arrived and officially pronounced Barrett dead, and ordered a standard autopsy. Ferguson said there were no signs of foul play.

Murray Barrett and 12 others were killed March 29 when their church bus collided with a pickup that had swerved into oncoming traffic on U.S. 83 north of Uvalde.

Only two people survived the collision, the pickup’s driver, 20-year-old Jack D. Young, and one of the bus passengers, 64-year-old Rose Harris.

92 percent of motorists use phone while driving; Florida gets study’s 2nd worst score

study released Wednesday suggests 92 percent of U.S. drivers with cell phones have used them while moving in a car in the past 30 days, and Florida received the nation’s worst score for such use after Louisiana. Tennessee ranked as the state with the third worst phone-use habits of motorists.

>> Read more trending news

“It’s pretty insane,” said Ryan Ruffing, director of communications at EverQuote Inc., the company behind the research. “Most people consider themselves good drivers, but they are not aware of how often they are using their phones behind the wheel.”

An app called EverDrive collected data on more than 2.7 million vehicle trips and 230 million miles driven, according to the company. By sensing motion changes and other factors, the app assigns drivers a score on everything from phone use to use hard braking, speeding, risky acceleration and hard turns.

“I’m not surprised by the results of the study,” said state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “We’re one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense.”

That means police don’t cite drivers for texting on cell phones unless they pull them over for something else like speeding.

Slosberg and others have sponsored legislation to beef up penalties, but it is not clear those measures will get through committees in time to pass before the session ends in early May.

The EverDrive technology does not count hands-free devices or incidental phone motion in a pocket or car seat, but aims rather to detect active phone use such as unlocking it while the vehicle is moving, Ruffing said. Use can include texting and talking.

EverDrive, a privately-held firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and founded in 2011, calls itself an online insurance marketplace in the U.S. matching drivers with insurance providers based on price and coverage needs. The company insists it does not share individual driver data with insurance companies without permission, according to Ruffing, but its goal is to encourage safer habits by making drivers more self-aware.

Is it working? Company officials say there is evidence it may be. That 92 percent figure for phone use may sound high, but it was higher last year: 96 percent.

Southerners have the highest phone usage rate while driving — on 41 percent of trips. Other regions used the phone on 34 percent to 37 percent of trips.

Last year EverQuote calculated Americans were on the phone about half a mile for every 11 miles driven.

Insurance companies such as Progressive have invited customers to use plug-in devices to measure many driving behaviors, if not necessarily phone use. Despite initial advertising claims, the gizmos can raise premiums as well lower them, The Palm Beach Post found. Drivers may not realize the tech cannot always distinguish between inattentive driving and, say, a hard stop to save a neighbor’s dog. Also often penalized: Driving after midnight, even if you work the night shift.

Still, just about everyone acknowledges phone use behind the wheel represents a big and growing safety issue.

“We hope this data sheds light on actual driving habits versus people’s perception of their driving skills,” said Seth Birnbaum, CEO of EverQuote. “Our goal is to empower drivers to use their scores to improve their driving skills and ultimately make the roads safer for themselves and the 214 million drivers on the roads across the U.S.”

Read more at EverQuote.

Update: AT&T officials said they commissioned research showing 57 percent of people are more likely to stop driving distracted if a friend or passenger brings it up. As AT&T spokeswoman Kelly Starling in North Palm Beach said, “That means half of people are just waiting for someone to tell them to stop.”

During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, AT&T said it has launched the #TagYourHalf social media campaign to “encourage the public to join the conversation on Twitter.”

Merriam-Webster trolls United, defines 'volunteer' after harrowing video goes viral

The internet’s had jokes since shortly after a video emerged showing a dazed and bloodied passenger being dragged screaming from a United Airlines flight.

>> Twitter users respond to United Airlines fiasco, suggest mock company slogans

Now even the dictionary’s joining in.

>> See the tweet here

It’s hard to miss Merriam-Webster’s meaning in choosing to highlight the definition of “volunteer,” a word United used (in addition to “re-accommodate”) in its initial corporate responses.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on flight

Other Twitter commentary has been a little more blunt:

United CEO's internal email describes man dragged off flight as 'disruptive,' 'belligerent'

After disturbing videos surfaced of a passenger being dragged off a plane because the flight was overbooked, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz told employees that he "emphatically" stands behind them in an internal email circulated to United Airlines employees and acquired by CNBC.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on overbooked flight

Munoz’s public apology, also reported earlier Monday by NBC News, read:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

But in an email circulated to employees Monday, Munoz opened with, “Like you, I was upset to see and hear what happened last night,” and wrote that "the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this passenger defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers."

Munoz wrote that the “situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we asked to deplane refused” and that employees “followed established procedures.”

>> When can an airline force a ticketed passenger off a plane?

"While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” Munoz also wrote before including a brief summary of internal reports of the incidents. “I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation."

The United CEO added that the passenger at the center of the video, who said he was a doctor and had patients to see the following morning, was “disruptive and belligerent.” He said the airline “sought volunteers” before they followed an “involuntary denial of boarding process.”

>> Watch the news report here

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

'Messages From Mom' on freeway signs aim to curb distracted driving

Drivers, beware: Mom's watching.

According to KTVL, Oregon's freeway signs are lighting up with mom-inspired advice under a state Department of Transportation campaign to put the brakes on distracted driving.

>> Read more trending news

The project, dubbed "Messages From Mom," includes missives such as, "Drop the phone because I said so, that's why" and "Put the phone away, I'm going to count to 3."

Drivers traveling on Interstate 5 in the southern part of the state will see the messages through the end of the month.

Read more here.

>> Click here to watch the news report from KTVL

Delta cancels 3,000 flights in thunderstorm fallout

Dozens of long lines of thousands of passengers trying to get help extended through the terminal Friday at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, where Delta Airlines has its headquarters, as fallout from the airline’s flight cancellations extended into a third day.

>> Read more trending news 

Some flight cancellations continued Friday as the airline continued to struggle with getting available crews and aircraft positioned to operate flights.

Delta said it has canceled about 3,000 flights this week after a severe thunderstorm in Atlanta and the ensuing crew and aircraft positioning issues, making the total impact greater than the massive system outage that the airline experienced last year and snowstorms that virtually shut down flights at an airport.

The thunderstorm in Atlanta, which hit Delta’s largest hub on Wednesday, has caused effects that have reverberated through its flight network for days.

But the airline also warned that heavy spring break travel means there are few open seats for rebooking, leaving limited options for passengers whose flights were canceled.

Long lines for rebooking, baggage assistance and check-in at Delta counters filled the terminal in Atlanta on Friday morning, two days after the thunderstorm that triggered the flight disruptions.

For the second night in a row, weary travelers spread across the floor of the Hartsfield-Jackson terminal to try to sleep overnight after their flights were canceled Thursday. Some said they had been stuck on planes until 2 or 3 a.m. before a final flight cancellation left them stranded.

Delta’s systems were also overtaxed: Many travelers struggled to get information or rebookings from Delta’s app, its website or from its customer service phone line.

Thousands of people stood in line for hours in the concourses and in the terminal to try to get rebooked on flights back home or to their destinations.

Delta said those whose flights are canceled and who don’t travel are entitled to refunds. The airline is also waiving certain change fees for passengers affected by the disruptions who want to reschedule their flights.

“It looks like a disaster zone,” said traveler Shadow McKnight, who was trying to get home to Starkville, Mississippi. “Just how everybody is piled up on every available surface... I’ve never seen it like this.”

McKnight was scheduled to fly back to the Memphis airport Thursday evening at around 8 p.m., but said her flight was delayed until 10 p.m., then 11 p.m., then midnight. “And then they cancelled it,” she said, because the crew wasn’t able to get to Atlanta on their own flights.

“I was like, ‘This is just crazy,’” McKnight said, seeing the line stretching down the concourse for customer service. A Delta agent at the gate helped her and a few other passengers get rebooked.

To get to Memphis would require waiting until Saturday and spending another night in Atlanta. McKnight tried to get a rental car but found none available.

Instead, her husband will drive from Mississippi to Atlanta to pick her up, then head to the Memphis airport to pick up her car before going back to Starkville.

“At this point, I just have to get home,” said McKnight, a furniture designer who is trying to return home from a business trip to Louisville. She spent the night in the terminal. “I kind of just walked around for a while, then found a table and laid my head down.”

McKnight said she is understanding of the challenges that Delta has faced.

“It was just a series of unfortunate events,” McKnight said. “Nothing was in place to work out easily for them. I’ll fly Delta again. Everybody has bad days, right?”

Traveler Farzad Saghian said his flight back home to New York after a business trip was scheduled to depart at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, then was delayed until 11:30 p.m., 12:30 a.m., then 1:30 a.m.

“First they didn’t have a captain, then they didn’t have a crew” of flight attendants, Saghian said. “We waited until 3:30 (a.m.) until they just said yes, it’s canceled.”

Everyone was frustrated, he said: “They kept on giving us hopes: ‘Don’t worry, it’s not going to cancel.’

“I always fly Delta everywhere,” Saghian said. “For the past 20 years I’ve been with Delta. So I’m with them. I understand. It’s the weather. But they could have been a little more courteous. People were frustrated. There were babies in people’s hands.”

Saghian, who travels to Atlanta five times a year, had been in the airport for 14 hours by Friday morning and expected to wait another several hours for his rescheduled flight.

“It’s always busy, but I have never seen this airport like this,” Saghian said. “It was like a madhouse.”

Atlanta I-85 collapse: Suspect spoke of smoking crack, warrant says

The man accused of setting the fire that destroyed part of I-85 in Atlanta talked with companions about smoking crack cocaine before the blaze started, according to a document released Saturday.

The fire collapsed a well-traveled stretch of I-85 — triggering millions of dollars in damage and wreaking havoc on traffic, potentially for months, as the state rebuilds the wrecked section.

>> Visit AJC.com and WSBTV.com for complete coverage of the I-85 fire and bridge collapse

Basil Eleby, 39, was charged on Saturday with first-degree arson in connection with the fire. Wearing a navy jumpsuit, flip-flops and handcuffs, Eleby reluctantly shuffled into a courtroom at the Fulton County jail for his first appearance hearing Saturday morning. 

Judge James Altman announced the arson charge, which was added on top of an earlier felony charge of criminal damage to property, and set bond at $200,000. The judge said he had considered an amount more “commensurate” with the damage inflicted. 

>> 3 people in custody in connection with Atlanta I-85 fire

“But in this case,” the judge said, “that would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

Eleby shook his head vigorously when Altman mentioned the possibility of pleading guilty at a future court proceeding. But the suspect said nothing during the brief hearing. 

His public defender had asked the court to let Eleby skip the hearing, but the court refused. The attorney held a green folder up to try to hide Eleby’s face from the media.

Eleby and two others, Barry Thomas and Sophia Brauer, were charged Friday in connection with the fire. (Brauer earlier was identified by a different last name, but she was listed in the document released Saturday as “Brauer.” The discrepancy could not be resolved on Saturday.) 

>> Repairs expected to take months after large fire leads to Atlanta interstate collapse

Thomas and Brauer were charged with criminal trespass. Eleby, who has been arrested 19 times since 1995, mostly on drug charges, according to jail records, is facing far more serious charges. 

According to an affidavit by a fire department lieutenant, the suspect admitted to frequenting the area where the fire was set and acknowledged being there on Thursday afternoon at about the time the fire started.

Eleby told investigators from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he’d met Thomas and Brauer there at about 4 p.m. and they “discussed smoking crack cocaine together.” 

>> 7 things to know about the fiery I-85 bridge collapse

But Eleby ultimately decided “he would consume the drugs by himself” and “left the area before the fire started,” according to the affidavit, which was prepared in support of Eleby’s arrest warrant. 

Thomas told a different story. 

“Mr. Thomas watched Basil Eleby place a chair on top of a shopping cart, reach under the shopping cart and ignite it,” said the affidavit, which was released on Saturday.

Thomas told authorities he and Brauer then fled in the opposite direction of Eleby, it said. 

>> Last inspection on I-85 bridge that collapsed given good marks

As Eleby appeared in court Saturday morning, Georgia Department of Transportation crews continued their around-the-clock work to deal with the damage that Eleby is accused of causing. 

Six sections and about 700 feet of roadway on I-85 — 350 feet in each direction of travel — are being removed and replaced, including support columns. The northbound section collapsed during the fire, but the southbound lanes also were compromised, authorities said. Demolition work has begun on those lanes, as well. 

An exact timeline for the interstate to be completely restored is unclear, but the work is expected to take months. 

>> Read more trending news

There was a bit of good news Saturday. After the collapse, people traveling northbound on the Downtown Connector were funneled onto I-75 North, with no option to take I-85 North at the split.

About 10 a.m. Saturday, however, transportation officials began allowing northbound traffic on the Connector to proceed north in two lanes of I-85 to the next exit: the Buford-Spring Connector, Exit 86 (Ga. 13). 

GDOT officials encouraged drivers to “still plan to utilize I-285 as the most efficient route of travel” through town. But drivers could choose to use the Buford-Spring Connector to bypass the interstate collapse and then return to I-85 North once past the damaged section.

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