The Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights

I have a cousin who’s more like a sister but either way we couldn’t be more different. My little urban condo is her big suburban home. My Manhattan Portage massenger bag is her Louis Vuitton Speedy. Her Sportscentered husband is my McLehrer News Hourly M.A.S. But whenever stories like this come up, I send them along to her. We’re no strangers to grueling professional travel schedules. When I finally flew Jet Blue for the first time in 2005 after years of hype, and met up with her in Florida underwhelmed by their tiny televisions and jokester service, she summed up the airlines and my sentiment perfectly: “They all suck.” Well put, Trace, well put.

Needless to say, the idea of a Passengers’ Bill of Rights is long overdue. Though it’s minimally demanding, the bill contains an essential rule that passengers have the right to deplane if their plane has been sitting on the tarmac for longer than 3 hours. For anyone who has ever been trapped inside a jet stuck on the runway, this requirement amounts to little more than basic human decency (ok, I’m almost as hyperbolic as the passenger who described being stuck on a Jet Blue aircraft for almost 9 hours like being in the “Hanoi Hilton.” Gotta love the Massholes, especially those bound for Cancun for school vacation!).

The movement for a Passengers’ Bill of Rights has been gaining ground in the last couple months; I first read stories of it after a whole bunch of American flights were stranded right after Christmas due to winter weather. One of the leading citizen advocates for the Bill described her 9-hour ordeal on an American flight grounded in Austin as including encounters with other passengers experiencing “tarmac rage.” Other articles I read involved dogs defecating in seats, overflowing toilets, extinguished water supplies, and flight attendants charging passengers for refreshments even after multiple hours on board.

This idea of a Bill was first raised in 1999, after a Northwest flight sat outside the gate in Detroit for 11 hours. That was the same year I got a cell phone, after being trapped in an airplane at LaGuardia for 4 hours and being forced to use the plane phone for work calls at $8,000/call. (In 1999 dollars, no less!) The airlines blocked it in Congress, and adopted a voluntary code of conduct that contained “procedures to handle such situations.” (See previous link.) Seems they need a refresher course in exactly what those procedures entail. But hey, what do you want from them, it’s a post-9/11 world, and everything’s different in the airline industry these days. That’s what they all say, anyway.

I’m curious to see where this goes, if such a Bill is adopted, and if it remotely changes anything. I heard an analyst on NPR recently saying that re-regulation was the only thing that would bring quality control back into air travel. In his next breath he acknowledged that most Americans don’t want that, as it drives up prices. It’s a tough call for all of us, as the M.A.S and I know well: we’ve got trips to Raleigh and Ft. Lauderdale coming up at per capita prices of $150 and $175, respectively. Can’t beat that. Though it’s no bargain waiting in line in Santiago for 3 hours for your delayed American red-eye to Miami that sticks you with a 5 hour layover in Miami because you can’t make your connecting flight to Philly to get home to Boston. I don’t have to tell you, and I’ll refrain from posting that photo of my giant 15-hours-of-flying-induced-swollen feet again as a reminder of how grueling it’s getting up there in the Friendly Skies.


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