The time for flyers’ rights is now.
Posted by sanityinjection on July 21, 2009
I’ve been beating up on Democrats a lot here lately. I feel that it’s important, though, to acknowledge them when they get something right. So the hero of this post is Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee which also covers transportation. His committee is set to vote on a budget bill to fund the Federal Avaiation Administration (FAA) for two years. Included as part of that bill is a measure which would require airlines to let passengers off of any plane that is delayed for more than three hours.
Naturally, the airlines are fighting that requirement because it will lead to more delays and cancellations and cost them money. And normally, I would be sympathetic to an industry opposing heavy-handed federal meddling.
However, in this particular case, what the airlines are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge is that this is a basic health and safety issue. Airplanes’ life safety systems – ventilation, sanitation, climate control – are not designed to function for long periods of time sitting on the ground. We would not allow criminal prisoners to be restrained in a chamber the size of an airplane under similar conditions for three hours, yet the airlines can force paying customers to suffer those conditions to preserve their bottom line.
The only reason we do not already have such a regulation is that until recent years it never occurred to anyone that an airline could treat its paying customers in such barbaric fashion. That is, until the horror stories of 2006-2007 in which passengers were kept on board some flights for as long as 10 1/2 hours. (At that point, as a passenger I would happily create a disturbance in order to get arrested and be removed to more humane conditions such as a holding cell!)
According to the Department of Transportation, in the 8 month period from November through May, 578 flights sat on the tarmac for more than three hours. While that is a tiny percentage of the millions of flights over that period, that is small comfort to those who were passengers on one of those flights.
I commend Senator Rockefeller for including this provision in the budget bill and hope it will become law as soon as possible.