Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

February 16, 2007

The Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights

by Brad Warbiany

In response to an odd and unlikely scenario, where passengers got stuck on the tarmac for 10 hours waiting for clearance to take off, Congress is suggesting we institute an Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights. In all honesty, considering the fact that air travel is so heavily regulated by the feds, one would think that regulating customer satisfaction would only seem natural. I would say that there are quite a few reasons, though, why this is a bad idea.

Rep. Michael Thompson, a California Democrat, said on Thursday he planned to introduce a bill that would address delayed flights, time on the tarmac, cancellations, and lost or damaged luggage.

Hanni and others want a passenger bill of rights to cap the time any delayed flight can languish on the tarmac without letting passengers get off. They also want the bill to specify compensation when airlines fail to deliver services as promised.

With our airlines constantly fighting against the spectre of bankruptcy, adding layers of potential costs due to these regulations could end up hurting us all. As with any other regulation, of course, airlines will do their best to pass the costs along to travelers. So while I can hope for a $50 voucher or something of the like as a “mea culpa” when they lose my bag for 6 hours or delay my flight, every flight will cost more to pay for this new regulation.

Remember, as with any other regulation, the bureaucrats in Washington are likely to know a lot less about the business than the airlines themselves. So if such a bill is written, one of two scenarios will occur:

1. The legislation will be written by the airline lobbyists, entrenching the major carriers while adding onerous costs to their smaller rivals, ruining competition and screwing customers with higher fares.

2. The legislation will be written by “consumer group” lobbyists, further imposing costs on carriers and making them unable to make money, screwing the airlines and screwing consumers with higher fares.

Congress is trying to “save” us travelers. I travel frequently, and every once in a while, I get delayed with a mechanical problem, weather, or lose a bag. Less frequently, something will occur weather-wise, and I’ll get stuck on the tarmac for a while. It’s annoying, but I’d rather that they spend time making sure the enormous metal tubes they send hurtling through the lower atmosphere gets where it’s going safely than whether I’ll get “compensated” for a delay.

We don’t need the government to give us an Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights. I’d prefer, in fact, that they cut down on some of their other onerous regulations on the industry, and reduce the “need” for this proposed APBOR.

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  • Kurt Austermann

    Count me among airline passengers who seek a “passenger bill of right.” To wait two hours on the tarmac is too long. To wait longer than two hours is unconscionable.

    As a passenger who paid full fare to an airline, my wife and I once experienced lengthy delays through no fault of the airline, but it was enough of an experience to empathize with Jet Blue, Northwest and other airline passengers. To be deprived even of the opportunity to stand, or to use the toilet, however, was cruel and uncalled-for treatment.

    If we are not allowed to perform even these basic functions, then get us the hell off the plane, or refund our money!

  • K.

    As a wife to a pilot who has had to come home at 2AM several times in the last month because he had to sit on the runway for 4-6 hours, he and I both would endorse the BOR for airlines. From his perspective, this is a common occurrence. He sees this all the time…with no air conditioning in very hot weather (90+ degrees), toilets not functioning properly or stopped altogether. Since 9-11, you don’t even have food on board for diabetics. The sad thing is that if a pilot times out (meaning they have been flying for 16 hours); they have to declare an emergency, drag the airport fire/police out to the plane and evacuate it using the inflatable ramps. Is this stupid or what?
    From the pilot’s family perspective, it’s a lot of stress to not to be able to contact your loved one for several hours at a time beyond their landing time. You don’t always know why they can’t respond to your calls/inquiries. It’s also as inhumane to the pilots as it is for the passengers, as they get fatigued as well. Lastly, the way a pilot or flight attendant handles the situation greatly alleviates or causes more stress to the passengers. They bear the brunt of abuse thrown by the passengers. Not fun in any way. Those are my 2 cents…

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    K,

    If the pilots, the passengers, the flight crews, and everyone else are pushing so hard to cut down on this practice, why are the airlines not doing it?

    But either way, it’s not even the “being stuck on the tarmac” issue that really worries me. Making a change on that sort of regulation (which the FAA could easily do without an “APBOR”) doesn’t really impose that much cost, as far as I can tell.

    What I’m really talking about is how much more will come from this. They use the situation of people getting stuck for hours on the ramp as the emotional appeal to slap a hell of a lot more regulation and cost on the airlines.

    At least, that’s what happened in Europe. Here are a few of the things they’ve done:

    * Compensation in the case of flight delay, cancellation, bumping, baggage delay, baggage loss, baggage damage, being trapped on a plane waiting for takeoff or an available gate, or not receiving promised services.
    * Higher compensation for bumping that’s adjusted for inflation.
    * Freedom to assign a ticket to some other traveler and to use only a portion of a ticket without additional cost or cancellation.
    * Disclosure of fares, including all extras, and exact seating dimensions; requirements that any fare advertised at a one-way price be available for purchase one-way and that a single, unique flight number be assigned to each separate flight segment.
    * Assignment of all disputes between travelers and airlines to the passenger’s local jurisdiction.

    Essentially, they want to mandate all sorts of “compensation” levels for things that are normal disruptions, which will add layers of cost onto an already struggling business. It just doesn’t seem like a very good idea.

  • http://www.thugreport.com Nick Kasoff – The Thug Report

    No regulation is ever so simple as the motive which induced its proposal. And the real problem is, if the feds regulate “customer satisfaction” then we’ll be stuck with what they decide constitutes satisfaction, rather than allowing the airlines to compete to satisfy us.

    In response to the pilot’s wife – doesn’t your husband have a cell phone? If not, I’m sure one of the stranded passengers would gladly loan him one.

  • K.

    Nick, yes my husband does have a cell phone (it’s a lifeline), but it interrupts the tower in communication with aircraft on the tarmac. He likes his privacy.

    Brad, what we would endorse would be a simple law for domestic airlines that says no passenger will be stuck without basic humane services for X number of minutes or hours. If a lav is broken and you can’t take off, take it back to the ramp if it’s the only one on the plane. If it’s overflowing, it’s a bilogical hazard. Take it back to the ramp. If there is a diabetic on the plane, and no protein, you have a medical emergency. Go back to the ramp and deplane. If it’s an hour or two, then there is no need for compensation in my opinion. Get the poor people off the darned plane.

    The flight could still go on…they don’t need to be held hostage in the plane.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    Brad,
    I don’t think anybody’s horror stories are normal disruptions. 2 to 10 hrs on the tarmac? For what you pay, especially if you’re not going to a “destination,” I think the airline would owe you something. A free meal, perhaps, when you have had nothing to eat for 8 hrs caused by their delay? There is no competition among airlines for Many flyers, they know they have you captive. Most people are left without choices, because they don’t live near Atlanta, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. In cities that are not destinations, you may have to take a bus (2hrs or more) to get to the nearest airport and be able to take only one flight and one airline to get to where you want. This also may include more that two stops and transfers, so if you are delayed one place you may have to wait another day. This may not be your flying experience, but there are many who have.

  • http://www.myrtlehocklemeier.blogspot.com Myrtle

    I don’t see requiring airlines to let people off planes as some sort of overzealous regulatory zeal. I see it as enforcement of basic liberties.

    It’s probably due to federal saftey regulations that they are required to hold people on the planes to begin with.

  • Frank Luvial

    Has anybody really thought about why these kinds of things happen? With all the security enforced upon us by Homeland Security after 9-11, the requirements for “safe” airports has dictated that airlines keep tight control of their passengers. Lists have to be made, bagage has to be controlled and once people are on the planes, they must stay there until they get to their destinations or the flight gets canned. Sometimes the airport authorities make it extremely difficult for airlines and their personnel to be accomodating for their passengers. No gates, no clean taxiways, inadequate de-icing facilitities. The list can go on and on.

    I have noticed that those people have been completely left out of the feeding frenzie for freebies from Jet Blue and United. Probably because they have nothing free to offer.

    When airports close due to weather, by what rule does that make the operator responsible for delays or diversions? By what rule is the flight crew or the cabin crew responsible for finding hotels for passengers of cancelled flights? And who decides when and where these employees go with company assets, i.e. planes, whether empty or full? Do you really think the crew buggered off on purpose to leave those people behind. Do you really think they get some sort of sick satisfaction from flying around the country in empty planes watching the little round faces of those left behind in the windows of the airport?

    It is the short sighted ranting of media and a few pissed off passengers that make lives miserable for the airlines and their crews. Those people are usually also the ones who paid the least for their tickets, weigh 350 lbs and don’t fit in one seat (and refuse to buy an extra seat but rather inconvenience other passengers with their exessive grith) and demand 5 star service like they are traveling on a private jet.

    Passengers nowadays demand on time departure and arrival, first class food and drinks, private washrooms, comfortable seating no matter what their size, protection from terrorists, assistance with hotels, cabs, directions, and probably dressing in the morning. All this for the price of lollipop.

    Granted, not all is well in airline land, and improvements have to be made. That will reflect in the price of your ticket. One final rant…next time you fly, have a look at the crew, they are well aware of your experiences. They are locked in a tube with you and NOT enjoying it. They can only do what Homeland Security, the airport authority and their company allows them to do. And they do not get paid overtime.

    Do some navel gazing, read something about airline operations, think outside the box, then spew your discontent and make some suggestions. Oh and don’t blame the crew when your God decides to make your life miserable for you with snow, ice or thunderstorms. Thank your crew for taking care of you by not taking unnecessary risks.

    And if you don’t like any of that….. drive, float, walk or don’t go anywhere. Last time I checked, the right to fly wasn’t listed in our constitution. Freedom of speech is though.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    Lot of people who have been flying many years, before 9/11, have experienced a lot of problems. The main problem is the flying should not be thought of as mass transportation, but has come to be by default. It is a very inefficient way of transportation. The only thing you gain is speed, when transportation to the airport is quick and the arrival and departure is on time.
    For many it is the only option. If you have business in Singapore; I don’t believe one could drive, walk or float there.

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