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Posts about Loopholes

Traveler questions airport security

Posted by: Updated: April 16, 2010 - 10:08 AM

Over the past year, hundreds of you have asked Whistleblower for help. While we can’t investigate each tip, we want to share more of what you tell us. In 2009, we started publishing a few tips each week to stimulate online discussion and create ways for our readers to help each other. Unlike our news stories, we have not verified this information. If you have a tip, send it to whistleblower@startribune.com.

Jennifer Carr knows the Humphrey terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport doesn’t have the same traffic problems as the larger Lindbergh terminal, where most of the airlines operate. Still, she was surprised recently when she noticed that no police officers were monitoring the pickup area. She spotted at least two cars that went unattended for several minutes.

“It just made me uncomfortable,” Carr said. “I don’t know how safe I feel.”

Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said safety standards are the same at both terminals, but more resources go to Lindbergh. He said nobody should leave cars unattended, even for only a few seconds.

Do you think airport security should be even in all areas?

 

Heating help not for everyone

Posted by: Updated: February 9, 2010 - 12:16 PM

Over the past year, hundreds of you have asked Whistleblower for help. Even though we can’t look into each tip, we’ve found a way we can share more of what you tell us. We will showcase an interesting tip that we’ll ask you to react to, discuss and even investigate. As always, you can send your story ideas to whistleblower@startribune.com.

On a bitterly cold day in Buffalo, Minn. in December 2005, a propane delivery service hauled away the propane tank from a Buffalo mobile home. The owner was in the hospital at the time and said she owed $11, but the company still removed the tank. It didn’t take long for the pipes to freeze and burst, leaving an icy mess. It’s been several years since she lost her home, but the owner contacted Whistleblower because she thinks it could have been saved if propane was covered under the state’s cold weather rule.

The rule helps natural gas and electric utility customers set up a payment plan and avoid having their heat shut off between Oct. 15 and April 15, but propane and other delivered fuels are excluded.

Here’s what she wrote to Whistleblower:
“Water sprayed everywhere … I lost everything, including my baby kitten that was frozen to death in the middle of the kitchen floor, the Bible that my mother had given me before she died, all of my clothes … I feel very strongly this could have been prevented had the cold weather rule been enforced universally across the state.”
Do you think everybody should get the benefit of the cold weather rule?

Charging interest before you owe it

Posted by: Updated: January 25, 2010 - 12:40 PM

After charging $58.37 on a store credit card that had sat dormant for years, a Minneapolis man noticed an unusual interest charge. Even though he hadn’t carried over a balance, he was told to pay $2 in interest. His new balance even stated that he owed $60.37. Here’s what he wrote to Whistleblower:

 “Unbelievable – they are charging me an ‘Initial Interest Charge’ that shows up in my ‘New Balance’ in order to get $2.00 from me that they will apply to ‘future’ interest. I can’t believe they have the gall to do this.”
“What they were doing was anticipating that I wasn’t going to pay the full bill so therefore they were adding two dollars to the bill and putting it in the balance due section,” he said. “It was showing up without me owing it.”
He called the company to complain and was told that if he paid his balance in full then the $2 charge would be credited to his account, but he still thinks the practice is unfair to consumers.
“Now obviously I could pay the $58.37 and the $2.00 would be credited, and I never would pay it. But most people don't look this closely at their bills. I was just about to enter the $60.37 into my bill pay service when I noticed the Interest Charges of $2.00. I'll bet most people just pay the New Balance and don't notice the interest charges.”

 SmartMoney magazine reported on this practice in December and compared it to double-cycle billing, which calculated interest based on the past two billing cycles. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 prohibits credit card companies from charging interest on a balance from a current or prior billing cycle, but that regulation only applies to cards that have a grace period. 

Have you noticed this on your credit card statement? What do you think of this practice? 

Flying with the flu

Posted by: Updated: January 19, 2010 - 10:42 AM

A Minneapolis mother recently found herself in a frustrating predicament when her 20-year-old son got sick before his flight home to Colorado. On the day he was supposed to board his flight, he had a fever of 101 degrees, a sore throat and aches. His mother thought it might be H1N1 flu so she called the airline to change the flight to another day. She was told it would be $150 to rebook plus the price difference between the flights.

“Everybody’s talking about public health,” she said to Whistleblower. “At the airport, they have guidelines not to fly. Their policies don’t encourage that.”
 
The mother paid more than $200 to rebook her son’s flight, but then she remembered that she had travel insurance which might cover part of her costs. She was thwarted again when the insurance company told her it needed a doctor’s signature on her claim form, which meant her son would need to go into the doctor’s office.
 
“The other recommendation I’ve been hearing is don’t go to the doctor,” she said. “All of these systems in place are encouraging consumers to do what you’re not supposed to do.”
 
This mother isn't the only one who's concerned about germs spreading in the closed confines of an airplane. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that passengers with an influenza-like illness do not fly until at least 24 hours after their fever has dissipated. Click here to read the CDC's H1N1 tips.
 
What would you have done if you were in this mother’s position? Should airlines make it easier for sick people to reschedule?

 

Tuesday's tip: No flight with expired ID

Posted by: Updated: November 24, 2009 - 9:17 AM

A mother found out that the imminent expiration of her daughter’s driver’s license would prevent her from getting on an airline flight. She tried contacting her local DMV, but couldn’t find a way around a renewal rule that left her daughter in a lurch. Here’s what she wrote:

“My daughter is a college student out of state. She turned 21 years old a week ago. In Minnesota you cannot renew your driver's license until or within the 3 week window before your birthday. When she contacted the State of Minnesota DMV, she was told they would send her a renewal packet for out of state but that she would have to visit [a DMV in] the state she is going to college in for an eye exam. And then send the packet with the eye exam back to Minnesota along with the renewal fee...when I (her parent) also checked with my local licensing exam station I was told that even expedited it would take 5-7 weeks to receive her driver's license.

So she has an expired ID...and is scheduled to fly the end of this week. I checked with TSA and they emphatically sent me an email saying she needs a valid state ID.

HELP! This seems so bureaucratically silly!”
Should the state do something to make this easier on Minnesotans who live out of state and need to renew their licenses? How would you resolve this problem?

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