Monday, February 26, 2007

Boxer, Snowe Introduce Passengers’ Bill Of Rights

In the wake of the latest airline customer-service nightmare two weeks ago, in which Jet Blue Airlines kept hundreds of passengers trapped in one of its planes for 11 hours at snowed-in JFK airport in New York City, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to keep it from happening again.

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) last week introduced the “Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2007,” to ensure that travelers can no longer be unnecessarily trapped on airplanes for excessive periods of time or deprived of food, water or adequate restrooms.

“I am pleased to introduce a Passengers’ Bill of Rights today to protect the safety and well-being of travelers,” Boxer said. “Occasional delays may be unavoidable, but no one should be held hostage on an airplane for hours without food, safe drinking water or functioning restrooms. This bill ensures passengers the right to deplane after being in a closed aircraft for three hours, and it requires airlines to attend to the basic needs of passengers.”

Snowe added that "the airlines have a responsibility to treat passengers with dignity and give them the right to de-plane an aircraft and prevent the type of misery that too many passengers have recently experienced.”

The legislation requires airlines to offer passengers the option of safely leaving a plane they have boarded once that plane has sat on the ground three hours after the door has closed. The bill would also require airlines to provide passengers with necessary services such as food, potable water and adequate restroom facilities while a plane is delayed on the ground.

While this is the kind of response we have the right to expect from our representatives in Washington, a first glance at the legislation shows that it leaves two major loopholes through which the airlines can crawl to continue making us miserable despite the proposed three-hour rule.

One exception allows the pilot to keep people on the plane beyond three hours if he or she believes passenger safety or security would be at risk due to extreme weather or other emergencies. That's not as bad as the second loophole, which says that if the pilot reasonably determines that the flight will depart within 30 minutes after the three hour period, he or she can delay the deplaning option for an additional 30 minutes.

And if 30 minutes later, they still think the plane might take off any minute, they can continue to keep you trapped -- which means this legislation changes almost nothing.

We'll keep an eye on it and see if teeth are put in this long-overdue legislation before it hits the Senate floor for a vote.