Friday, January 25, 2008

The Airlines Bark, But the Passengers Bills of Rights Caravan Moves On

State by state by state, while the airline industry's empty suit of a trade group harrumphs and plods along trying to pretend this is all nonsense stirred up by a disgruntled gadfly, airline passengers' bills of rights are moving ahead steadily in legislatures.

The movement is all a direct result of a remarkable grassroots initiative led by Kate Hanni, who was one of thousands of passengers stranded on airplanes on tarmacs for 10 hours and more last year -- and continuing into this year.

New York State enacted a law that took effect Jan. 1, after the airline trade group -- which huffs and puffs but steadfastly refuses to enunciate the issues involved, let alone try to intelligently refute the specific arguments -- tried unsuccessfully to block it in federal court. As many as eight other state legislatures have pending bills. There are also pending bills in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Kate's group's web site is

[Here, by the way, is an example from a recent TV news interview of why the airline lobby hates Kate Hanni.]

And here are some excerpts from a draft copy of the pending Washington State bill:

S-4171.1 _____________________________________________
Senate Bill 6269
State of Washington 60th Legislature 2008 Regular Session
By Senator Jacobsen
Read first time 01/14/08. Referred to Committee on Transportation.

"AN ACT Relating to the rights of airline passengers ...

... The legislature finds and declares that the number of passenger complaints about the airline industry has increased significantly. Further, the legislature is committed to airline passenger policies that put the safety of all passengers first and foremost, while not imposing unrealistic economic burdens that adversely affect airline profitability or create exorbitant ticketprice increases. ...

[However] ...

Whenever airline passengers have boarded an aircraft and are delayed more than three hours on the aircraft prior to takeoff, the airline carrier shall ensure that passengers are provided for as needed with:

-- Electric generation service to provide temporary power for fresh air and lights;

--Waste removal service for holding tanks of on-board restrooms;

--Access to medical attention, adequate food and drinking water, and other refreshments.

All airline carriers shall provide clear and conspicuous notice on consumer complaint contact information by providing forms or posting signs, or both, at all service desks and other appropriate areas as necessary in an airport, which contain information in a form and manner
prescribed by the office including, but not limited to, the following:

--A telephone number and mailing address of the office, the aviation consumer protection division, and the office of aviation enforcement of the United States department of transportation;

--Explanations of the rights of airline passengers; and vasic information on the office.

--All airline carriers shall establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within twenty-four hours of receipt and appropriately resolve the complaints within two weeks of receipt.

--All airline carriers shall notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions and delays and cancellations transmitted by airport overhead announcement on the aircraft announcement system and by posting the delay or cancellation on airport television monitors.

--All airline carriers shall establish procedures for returning passengers to a terminal gate when delays occur to ensure that an aircraft does not sit on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a terminal gate. [My note: Woop, woop! That's the provision the airlines dread most, as they claim, with some justification, that it will create even worse jams as passengers try to get accommodated on alternate flights, in a system with no slack]

--All airline carriers shall provide for the needs of elderly passengers, passengers with disabilities, and passengers with special needs by establishing procedures for assisting with moving and retrieving baggage, and moving passengers from one area of the airport to another at all times by airline carrier personnel.

--All airline carriers shall publish and update monthly on the carrier's public web site a list of flights that are delayed thirty minutes or more at least forty percent of the time during a single
4 month.

--All airline carriers shall compensate bumped passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over twelve hours with a refund of one hundred fifty percent of the ticket price. [My note: Woop! Woop! Red alert for the airlines, which think that they're doing their duty by giving you a voucher for future travel that you may not be able, or willing, to book. This provision seems to refer to cold cash.]

--All airline carriers shall make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies, and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and shall update all of this information frequently.

--All airline carriers shall ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury. If baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline carrier shall notify the customer within twelve hours of the baggage
being reported lost or misplaced and compensate the consumer in an amount equal to the current market value of the baggage and its contents.

--The office of the airline consumer advocate is created in the attorney general's office. The attorney general shall designate one or more employees to serve in the office.

--The office shall: (...)

--Propose solutions, including administrative changes to practices and procedures of the airline carrier or airport;


--At the conclusion of an investigation, the office shall either Dismiss the complaint if it determines that a violation has not occurred; or

--Determine that a violation has likely occurred and, if so, attempt to resolve the matter by settlement, which may include a monetary settlement to cover the costs and expenses incurred by the office in investigating the violation. If a settlement is not achieved, then the matter must be referred to the attorney general for further proceedings including, if necessary, legal action.

--The attorney general may recover a civil penalty not to exceed one thousand dollars per violation, per passenger. ..."

[My comment: I would not get caught between an airline industry lobbyist right now and the nearest departure gate for Olympia, the Washington capital.]


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