Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Latest Stranding Incident Spurs New Calls for Passage of Airline Passengers Bill of Rights

You heard it here first: That boneheaded stunt in which a planeload of passengers were stranded all night on a cramped regional jet in Rochester, Minn. is the passengers-rights equivalent of the bone-headed stunt last year when three clueless Detroit auto executives swanned into Washington in their fancy corporate jets to demand taxpayer bailouts.

That stunt set the business-aviation industry -- which had succeeded in recent years in establishing a sensible rationale for business aviation -- back a decade.

The Rochester incident, only the latest of literally thousands of such passenger-strandings in the last 2 1/2 years, comes just as Congress has serious passenger-rights legislation on its agenda. Legislation that the airlines have done everything in their power to block.

Even the most ardent critics of that legislation (including some with reasonable concerns that certain provisions might have negative unintended consequences) now concede that a passenger-rights law will probably pass, holding the airlines accountable for how they treat passengers on flights stuck on tarmacs for long hours.

I myself have always had some questions about the provision in the legislation that says airlines need to return a plane to a gate and let passengers off if they have been stranded for three hours or more. On the other hand, if, as the airlines say, these stranding incidents are statistically minuscule, then any potential problems cause as an unintended consequence of that remedy ought, logically, to be statistically minuscule too. It stands to reason, no?

Meanwhile, I simply cannot understand why the airlines have thumbed their noses at the public over the various health-and-safety provisions in the bill, and have continued to allow passengers to suffer in miserable conditions on stranded planes. Now my guess is the airlines are going to have to live with the whole shooting-match, three-hour provision and all. And it's their own fault.

Here's a joint statement today from Sens. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, and Olympia J. Snowe, a Republican, who are the major sponsors of the passengers-rights provisions that are contained within the pending FAA Reauthorization legislation that Congress is expected to pass in September:


"Washington, D.C. – Today, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) expressed their outrage that 47 passengers on Continental Airlines Flight 2816 were stranded overnight Friday on a deserted tarmac in Rochester, Minnesota – an incident that underscores the need for Congress to pass their Airline Passenger Bill of Rights quickly.

Senator Boxer said, “This incident reminds us why a well-crafted Airline Passenger Bill of Rights is needed now. People should never be forced to spend the night on the tarmac, held captive on an airplane without food, water and sufficient restrooms. Senator Snowe and I are working with our colleagues to build support for this much-needed legislation to make sure it becomes law.”

“The inexcusable actions of Continental Airlines -- to force nearly 50 passengers to remain on the tarmac for six hours -- makes clear, once again, the airline industry’s refusal to protect passenger rights. If a patron visits a restaurant that does not offer some modicum of functioning restrooms or provide adequate food and water, that customer can leave the restaurant and find another. For the airline passenger, that simply is not an option,” Senator Snowe said. “Congress has a responsibility to the American people to ensure there is some level of accountability, some minimum standard in place, which is why it is imperative Congress enact the Passenger Bill of Rights legislation that I have introduced along with Senator Boxer this year. We’ve already crossed one major hurdle, having the legislation included in the FAA Reauthorization bill which was reported out of the Commerce Committee in July, and I stand ready to work with the leadership in the Senate to ensure this measure is brought to the floor for a vote.”

The Senators are sending a letter to their colleagues urging support for their Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, which they first introduced in 2007 following several incidents where passengers were forced to remain on airplanes for as long as 11 hours. Their bill ensures that – at a minimum – travelers are not trapped on airplanes for excessive periods of time or deprived of food, water or adequate restrooms. The measure was included in the FAA Reauthorization bill that was reported out of the Commerce Committee last month. If the FAA bill does not move forward quickly, the Senators will work with their colleagues to pass their stand-alone bill to prevent passengers from enduring similar ordeals in the future.

The Airline Passengers Bill of Rights would:

---Require airlines to provide passengers with food, potable water, comfortable cabin temperature and ventilation, and adequate restrooms while a plane is delayed on the ground.

---Require airlines to offer passengers the option of safely deplaning once they have sat on the ground for three hours after the plane door has closed. This option would be provided every three hours the plane continues to sit on the ground.

---Make airports and airlines develop contingency plans for delayed flights to be reviewed and approved by Department of Transportation (DOT). The bill also allows the DOT to fine air carriers and airports that do not submit or fail to comply with contingency plans.

---Direct the DOT to create a consumer complaint hotline so that passengers can alert the agency about delays."



No comments: