Thursday, December 27, 2007

Passengers' Rights Move Spreads in States

The airlines have plenty of nightmares beyond the obvious ones like $150 a barrel oil. One of them is the spreading trend in the states to adopt legislation, modeled on a New York State law that takes effect New Years Day, spelling out what airlines must do when they strand passengers on parked planes for three hours and more.

Under the New York law, which has become the model for other states' initiatives, airlines are required to provide food and water and to empty the toilet tanks when they're full. These would not seem to be measures that you'd need a law to address, but airlines have demonstrably failed to address these problems on their own.

And they continue to strand passengers on idled planes, as they have since this fandango began last Dec. 29, when hundreds of planes were diverted from Dallas and thousands of passengers were stuck on planes idled at airports like Austin for eight hours, without food and as sanitary conditions deteriorated.

Legislators in New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Florida are planning to introduce legislation similar to the New York law. Now a state senator in Arizona has stepped up to the plate.

The year-end holiday mess has begun at airports. United Airlines has been canceling flights by the hundreds, partially because the airline's flight-crew scheduling procedures have melted down as the month wanes.

Look for the passengers' rights movement to gain traction in 2008. And when it does, the airlines will scream bloody murder about what the airline industry regards as misguided interference in its operations, interference that they claim will have unforeseen negative consequences for the traveling public.

Whatever. A strong grassroots populist movement is afoot, and the airlines have no one to blame but themselves as it spreads.


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