Fliers’ Rights Need a Big Lift

Washington should step forward and support a rigorous airline passenger bill of rights—like the one introduced in Congress by Rep. Mike Thompson—which advocates setting clear guidelines for carriers about when to allow fliers to deplane and how to award compensation for long flight delays. Pro or con?

Pro: Let’s Mandate Airline Humanitarianism

After JetBlue’s (JBLU) disastrous Feb. 14 snow-in, which trapped some passengers on the tarmac for nearly 11 miserable hours, the carrier quickly adopted a "customer bill of rights." Its terms include discounted or free future flights for those delayed one or more hours, and it guarantees increased staffing to better handle emergencies.

Those promises may sound fair-minded, but what if passengers don’t care to follow a bad experience with another flight on the same airline just to receive compensatory discounts? A cash refund would be more appropriate. And a larger, far more crucial flaw lurks behind the magnanimous facade: Any rules an airline adopts now, it can easily jettison later.

That’s why the U.S. government, not the carriers, needs to enforce an airline passenger bill of rights, like the one Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif) has introduced in Congress. Forget about ambiguous airline terms such as "reasonable delays." A national standard would specify just how long is reasonable.

"Acts of God?" Let the lawmakers determine what constitutes a blameless catastrophe, as well as how quickly a carrier must react to minimize wait times and facilitate rebooking. And they should also spell out just how quickly—and fully—the airline must inform passengers about weather or mechanical problems.

Anyone who deems such federal action unjustified should consider the speed with which one nonprofit group—the Coalition for Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights—has grown. Founded by California real estate broker Kate Hanni after she and her children endured hours of discomfort aboard an American Airlines (AMR) flight in December, 2006, the group already has 13,000 members.

"It took 57 hours for American to get us from San Francisco to Mobile [Ala.]," Hanni recalls, explaining that her plane was diverted to Austin, Tex. "The only water we had onboard was from a bathroom sink next to a backed-up toilet. We had to pay for two nights of a hotel stay, and ended up wearing the same clothes for three days."

Hanni urges consumers to call their congressional representatives and ask them to support a federal airline passengers’ bill of rights. The standards she advocates include providing food, water, sanitary conditions, and access to medical care to people on flights delayed more than three hours; giving 150% refunds to those delayed more than 12 hours; and establishing procedures for returning passengers to terminal gates when delays occur on the tarmac.

Let’s face it, federal bureaucracy notwithstanding, there are some jobs best handled by the government. "Look at how long they’ve been in charge of air traffic control," says Melissa Abernathy, a corporate travel consultant and writer. "Have you heard of any jets colliding midair in the U.S. lately?"

Con: Uncle Sam Shouldn’t Tinker with Safety Issues

No one wants to be stuck for hours aboard an airplane going nowhere. Yet mandating rules to govern an airline’s action at such a time represents the worst-case bureaucratic "solution" to a problem that remains blessedly rare. A so-called "passengers’ bill of rights" will mean higher costs for the airlines, which will show up in higher fares and cut corners.

Airlines operate with virtually zero margin for error. Congested jets, airports, and skies strain under the high demand for air travel, in addition to a dated infrastructure—in particular, a doddering air-traffic control system designed to handle 1970s-era commerce. Still, the U.S. has been remarkably fortunate in avoiding severe airline mishaps. Travelers here enjoy perhaps the safest air transport system in the world.

Pushing Congress to step into airline operations strikes many aviation experts as exceedingly unwise. It’s a unique industry in the business landscape, functioning with countless variables that make the federal government ill-suited to prescribe rules.

In many specific areas—guarding against pricing collusion, allocating landing slots, overseeing maintenance standards—government regulation makes sense for the public good. But having legislators decide how to compensate passengers for a weather delay or when a pilot needs to take a plane out of the waiting-for-takeoff queue is a bad idea born of frustration.

Financially, this plan could prove disastrous. Say a 757 loaded with 180 people has a delay, and the carrier must pay everyone aboard $50. That’s a $9,000 bill. Now consider that same airline with seven 757s, four 767s, and 14 other jets, all sitting on the ramp due to a summer thunderstorm or icy winter conditions. Suddenly, the tab balloons to $250,000 or more—a sum no airline could bear.

What’s more, this is an issue the industry can address on its own. Many companies already have policies outlining compensation and how long they let planes sit after boarding—and many more are likely to adopt some after JetBlue’s fiasco.

And what about when the problem isn’t weather but an oil leak or a failing sensor? Would the presence of government regulations pressure mechanics into making hasty repairs to spare their employer from fines?

Airlines despise delays and cancellations just as much as stranded travelers do. New legislation isn’t going to change the realities of delays. It will just ensure we pay more to fly, while having to worry that someone trimmed a safety corner to avoid writing us a small check.

Reader Comments

Kate Hanni

The airlines have promised to address this twice and have neglected to keep their commitments to us the traveling public. There is a complete inauthenticity on the part of the airlines, a sort of "bait and switch" tactic being used to keep you on a flight. Or in the case of our flights, to "resume" them instead of canceling them, which they clearly should have. This was all an attempt not to refund our tickets. Instead of letting us make other arrangements, they sent us to Dallas the next day, with the "hope" of a connecting flight they already knew we couldn't get on. Without legislation, this just won't end.
Kate Hanni
Spokesperson for the Coalition

Jim Dixey

Just what we need; more government-generated "solutions." What exactly is it about government and such an incident that generates an outcry for a government solution? A snowstorm snarled air travel? Now there's a new one. Flights were delayed and canceled? I'm stunned. These things happen, and businesses occasionally perform poorly. In the long run, the market takes care of poor performers. Should some people have gone through what they did? Probably not. Might it happen again? Yes. Welcome to the real world. Unfortunate, but it does happen. Anyone who thinks a congressionally generated (or should we say thrown together)"Passenger Bill of Rights" is the solution is delusional. Reward the best; punish the worst if you wish. But get Congress involved? Please.

Wai L. Chui

I would like to have the airlines explain their decision-making process that says it makes sense to pay their pilots and crew and burn fuel for eleven hours on the runway.

Dan Kormanik

The use of government power to supposedly fix problems caused by bad weather, airline stupidity, and bad management—which continually overschedules flights on the hour and half hour, especially during times of bad weather—is a ridiculous overreach. One, because we know government is simply not capable of fixing such things without making them worse. Two, this approach overlooks everyone's most effective tool in such situations. That tool is the power of choice and the wallet. Simply stop flying JetBlue. Choose airlines that value your decision to spend your money by hiring them to transport you to your destination. If everyone who was stranded and inconvenienced by JetBlue boycotted the airline for just two months, management would have the best incentive to fix the problem. That incentive would be the risk of losing their own jobs.

norman a mac leod

Passengers should be allowed to disembark after a two-hour wait. Give us a choice of compensation, a refund and cancellation of the ticket, or a new arrangement by the airline.

Max

Yes indeed, the government will fix it. I can't wait to see what this brings. Make sure your driver's license is current.

Rosemary Shire

The experience of airline travel has been going downhill for the past 30 years. Airplanes are more crowded, and travellers have less space aboard. The quality of food has deteriorated, and there is little positive to say about flying. When we add the problem of interminable delays to subhuman conditions, it is time for Congress to impose penalties and compensation for unreasonable delays. If the airlines are becoming lax, then someone should hold them accountable.

Dan Sprague

Our elected officials have all they can handle between elections and trying to discredit the opposing party. It would not be fair to ask them to put a passengers' bill of rights on their plates at such an extremley busy time.

Mike

While a government solution may not be ideal, airlines seem unable and unwilling to move on the subject. In a country where freedom is supposed to be an inalienable right, it seems anti-intuitive that anyone can keep a person hostage for 11 hours. At this point, all I want is for the airlines to feel enough pain that they decide to do something about the situation. If it takes a government bill of rights, so be it.

Greg

A passenger bill of rights is only the beginning. The entire industry needs a massive shake-up. There is insufficient competition in the airline market today. You cannot simply choose which airline you wish to fly or avoid. Code-sharing often sends you to an airline you would prefer to avoid. Let's allow foreign competition into our marketplace. Think of the American car industry during the 1970s. Now Toyota is one of the most important companies in the U.S. marketplace.

Paul Sonnenfeld

Actually, all that is required is minimal federal intervention. The passenger bill of rights should state that in the event of passengers not being allowed to deplane after waiting on the aircraft for more than two hours, the pilot in command is authorized to return the aircraft to any open gate at the airport. How individual airlines handle the deplaning passengers will indicate which ones wish to continue to operate "as a going concern."

JAMES

With all the security measures put in place since 9-11, the treatment of passengers has deteriorated dramatically. Anyone who makes a comment in anger to any flight personnel can be kicked off the plane, detained, or even arrested. People are scared to speak up the way they would have before these measures were put in place. In any other situation when people are kept against their will, it is called illegal restraint and, in some circumstances, kidnapping, which is a federal crime. Keeping someone locked in a metal cigar for 10 hours is criminal, and I am surprised no one has filed criminal charges against those responsible. If I had been put in that situation, I would have pursued that as well as a civil case. We are human beings, not cattle.

Capt. Denny Flanagan

Leadership comes from the top, and for each flight segment, it relies solely on the captain. Each customer deserves a good travel experience, and this begins with the pilot treating each customer as if it is his or her first flight. The flight should begin with a warm greeting in the gate area. The captain should introduce himself or herself and give a brief explanation about the flight. Finish off by saying that customer safety is the No. 1 priority. This sets the stage for any delays. The customers now know their captain, and with continued updates, they are willing to go along with the decisions made about the flight. Handled properly, a four-, five-, or six-hour delay can end with handshakes from all the customers deplaning at the intended destination.

Hal

The federal government must provide a passenger bill of rights in order to make the airline feel the same pain its passengers do. As the late economist Milton Friedman pointed out, there is no competition in the airline industry. The individual consumer has no economic power to bring about change. Passengers are treated as commodities, and airline service has deteriorated dramatically. Even the darling of the industry, JetBlue, offers only pretzels or animal crackers as food. Would you purchase a service that might hold you hostage in a foul environment for 12 hours? If long delays were infrequent, then paying compensation to passengers would be an infrequent event.

Tom Boothe

I do not understand why we U.S. citizens lose all rights the moment we step on an airplane—and to a group of surly people who work on said airplane!

Mike

I have spent 34 years working for airlines. There is no easy fix to this. If an airline cancels flights in advance of a storm as a precaution to avoid the chaos as we had seen with JetBlue, everyone whines to high heaven if later the storm doesn't prove to be a real whopper. You can't always know the evening before just how a storm will play out the next morning. If you do all within your power to operate your flights, you can't always win either. I just don't know how one can regulate something like this with so many variables that often come down to a judgment call.

Sometimes flights fly into an area with possible bad weather moving toward it, so the flight has to leave without a full load. Sometimes bags have to be left behind to lighten the plane so enough fuel can be added to return all the way to the point of origin if needed. This is done to prevent inconvenience to the maximum number of people. Yet people left behind are paid $200 or $400, and there are huge costs with this. The public doesn't try to understand why. There is no way the public can understand the complexity of the whole makeup of an airline, yet everyone seems to be a self-appointed expert.

All of these things for the most part are weather related—no more the fault of the carrier than anyone else. It would be difficult to legislate something as complex as this. Keep in mind some planes can fly when others cannot because of the type of plane, its equipment, its load, its crew, and other variables. I don't see how any law can cover the whole picture here. Rather than blame the airline when weather strikes, some ought to look at buying a supplement for travel insurance, which is offered in various forms. Everyone should always carry minimal essentials on the plane. There are ways passengers can protect themselves, too, if they take some of the responsibility for things under their own control.

Keep in mind it's easier for an airline just to cancel everything! They have no payments due if a flight is canceled due to weather. Yet if they try and fly, they open themselves up to more problems. Is it better to just cancel? No credit is given to all the efforts that do succeed. Everyone just makes a ruckus when it doesn't. I really don't see any easy solution to all this, but I do think public education will be the best way to deal with it. That way, the public can be prepared.

Already we have seen the horror stories on the news when things go terribly wrong. The fear of all that coverage is more than enough for an airline to think twice before doing something foolish. What is important is that there are no easy answers.

As for the first comment from Ms. Hanni, I for one gladly refund any ticket that is nonrefundable if weather is involved. I wonder if Ms. Hanni would really have been happy with a refund or if she would have wanted a whole list of other items, too. A refund doesn't replace that trip or time lost. Sometimes, though, it's just unavoidable—no different from driving and running into a blizzard on the highway.

VRob

Those who question government intervention are deeply misguided. After all, it is deregulation at the root of 95% of the problems of our modern airline industry. It is too easy for any Joe Smith with some extra capital to start an airline, sometimes simply as a hobby or a tax shelter. New entrants have neither the infrastructure nor experience to safely and efficiently deal with the challenges of aviation, including foul weather, airports congested because of minimal scheduling oversight, and the continual workforce unrest created by the anti-labor capitalists who seem to take a perverse joy in targeting airline workers' pay and working conditions. Reregulate the airlines now; deregulation isn't working. In the meantime, consumers need a 24/7 hotline they can call and to talk to somebody at the FAA to help them get off a plane that the airline itself has hijacked onto an airport ramp. I know. I've been stuck overnight on one, because the airline didn't have enough staff on hand to park us. There isn't anything you can do or anybody you can call, and then the media hides it because the airlines are such huge advertisers. The surprising thing is that the JetBlue fiasco was able to ever make it onto the news. This happens a lot more than airlines own up to.

EM

This is nuts. To legislate that passengers have the right to deplane after 2 hours would create havoc throughout the entire U.S. airport network. I'm a frequent flier, and in the busiest airports, 1- to 2-hour delays due to crowded schedules or early morning fog (ripple effect for entire day) is commonplace for better or worse.

What people are suggesting is the following: A plane is on the ground for 1.5 hours, with an estimated take-off time of an additional 30 to 45 minutes—for argument's sake, we'll say because a few late passengers caused the plane to miss its initial take-off slot, the plane had to be de-iced again, and is now in a lengthy taxi queue for the runway. That brings them to over two hours, so the airline needs to ask if someone wants to get off the plane. One person says yes. Even though they're fourth in line for take-off by this point, the airline has to go back to a gate (for argument's sake, we'll say any gate) and deplane the passenger. This passenger has baggage, so that needs to be found and removed as well. Something like this can easily take more than an hour, but we'll say it takes an hour. So now the flight for the remaining passengers has been delayed by nearly 3 hours, instead of 2 if had it been able to just take off. Now the plane can go again, but it has lost its take-off slot, so it gets bumped back. There is nothing that can be done because 100 other planes are in the same situation. So a relatively routine 2-hour delay turns into a 4 to 5 hour delay, and this would become the new norm with the legislation.

Waiting two hours on the tarmac is a far cry from waiting 11 hours. Not saying that the JetBlue fiasco should have happened, but let's not legislate in more complications and havoc as a response.

David

The real point is missed. The idiocy of airline deregulation placed all of the airlines in dire financial shape to the point where they had to cut back on personnel to handle "spike-type" problems. There are some natural monopolies in the world, and the airline business is one of them. Look what happened when the politicians tried to deregulate the electrical industry. And look at the chaos created by divestiture of the Bell System. Airlines, power companies, and communications companies should be regulated and not open to ruinous competition as has happened.

Pamela-world traveler

Well, folks, some great arguments have been made on both sides. I, however, have concerns about any process that seeks to help a situation using management by committee, which is exactly what government is. Despite good intentions, by the time all players and the legal profession get finished, their solutions generally cause more problems for both consumer and merchant: increased cost, decreased efficiency, a more complex resolution process, less compensation for injured parties, etc. It serves no one. If the airlines want to continue to earn our business, they need to set and enforce their own reasonable guidelines...listening to pilots and flight attendants as well as ground crew and administrative personnel. Remember, flying is often a convenience, not a necessity.

Hugh Wright

One in his middle eighties flies only for convenience. If the airline can't take good care of me, it doesn't get my business.

Steve Witten

I am less concerned about the amount or form of refund than the amount of time airlines are allowed to keep people hostages on a plane. I have waited up to an hour or more several times during travels. While I wasn't happy about it, I understood. However, there is a line that should not be crossed, and an 11-hour wait is way over the line. The airline industry has proved over and over again it cannot be trusted with making the common sense call on where to draw the line and allow passengers to leave the plan. Some common timeframe needs to be set that will allow consumers to demand some kind of action be taken when they have been sitting captive for hours upon end.

Rod Norwood

To: Kate Hanni, founder, Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights

There is a massive shakeup going on in the airline industry (maybe at least some of the coalition members are aware of the widespread bankruptcy infection), and members who are serious about improving reliability and restoring amenities for flights can have a positive effect. The real question is whether you want to spend the time and money to do it or just complain that your $50 doesn't buy a first-class seat on flights that always arrive early and come with a meal. I ask because the cry is not so much about effective change as for more consumer compensation.

The U.S. airline industry is highly competitive, highly regulated, and cost intensive. Market forces play a large part in all decisions, and there are two parallel contributors to deteriorating airline performance. Consumers have reached a total disconnect between reasonable fares and airline service. And legislators have ignored the need to support the industry's growth.

If we accept that airlines, like real estate brokers, need income that exceeds expenses, there is a very simple (not easy, but simple) solution: (a)legislation and appropriations to fast-track ATC and airport facility upgrades; and (b)legislation reinstating fare and flight regulation.

In 1970, I paid $325 for an economy round trip ticket from Houston, Texas, and Frankfort, Germany. Today a similar ticket can be had for $584. Kate, will you sell me your house for 200% more than it cost in 1970? If you are not interested in fighting for change that supports a healthy U.S. airline industry—along with passenger comfort—next time take a bus.

Rod Norwood
Retired Realtor, Flight Attendant

Brian Behler, frequent flyer

More government rules seldom fix any problem and often create more. I vote with my ticket purchases when I feel the service is not up to the competition's.

Kate Hanni

Let me comment generally to everyone, then specifically answer Rod the Retired Realtor.

This issue isn't that complicated, and the bill as introduced by Mike Thompson allows for two 30-minute extensions if the pilot can "reasonably" show he will be able to take off after the 3-hour mark. The bill also calls for a protocol for returning planes to their place in line, which will be determined by the federal government.

The most disturbing thing for me in the last week was a new report claiming that only 36 planes sat for 5 hours "prior to departure" on tarmacs in the U.S. in 2006. This report isn't accurate, and in addition, doesn't include the statistical reporting for flights that have "dearly departed" like ours did on Dec. 29, 2006. The fact is that 121 planes were put down in different airports, most of them for 5 hours or more, clearly without a plan to deplane or access to a gate after they knew they weren't going to fly that evening. In other words, the DOT and FAA have no statistical-gathering device for tracking the type of strandings we and thousands of others had last year.

To have them say the statistical improbability of a long-term stranding is less than 1/10th of 1% and yet exclude our 121 planes entirely is a radical step back from the truth. I cannot believe they don't know how to track these flights. I have thousands of e-mails—specifying flight numbers—from folks who were stranded last year after departing their airports in situations just like ours, and had no choice in the matter.

To Rod Norwood: If I were to take someone to see a home, park in the driveway, lock the doors with no way for my clients to unlock them, and then stare at the house for 9 hours with them in the passenger seat (no food or beverages and no bathroom facilities) constantly telling them that I would be taking them in to see the home shortly, once the front door was free, I would have my pants sued off and lose my license. Even if there were ice on the ground and a steep driveway that they couldn't climb, if I held them for a protracted period of time in my car, I would lose my broker's license and not be allowed to practice real estate. Brokers in California are sued for much less all the time.

I guess you didn't get the message about my assault last year. Some unsavory character decided to make an appointment with me and tried to rape and kill me on June 21, 2006 while I was showing a home. I was out of work prior to the flight we had that started my crusade to make sure this doesn't happen to others. Being a real estate broker has become more dangerous.

Given that you obviously know nothing about me, you don't know that I am most generous. I bought braces for a girl whose mother is homeless. I gave a clarinet to a boy whose parents are from Columbia; he is on the school lunch program and couldn't afford one. I donate 10 or more hours a week to music education in the schools for underprivileged children and am committed to giving back wherever possible in my community. Don't presume what I would or wouldn't do regarding an airline ticket to avoid the trouble we had. My husband lost many thousands of dollars due to our delays since it was a business trip for him, and he is self-employed. Given that I had been out of work, this was a real disaster for us.

I hope you get my point.

Kate Hanni
Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights

Dan Curtis

Let's step back for a moment and look at the airline industry. In 2001, four American airplanes were hijacked and used as missiles to target innocent people. The government stepped in and created the TSA—a quagmire and a joke. Now we want the government to step in because an airline made a poor management decision and passengers were scared to demand they be let off due to the ridiculous laws and the possibility of arrest? Are you kidding me? Let the consumer decide on whether or not to fly an airline based on its performance, customer service, business practices, etc. Let us not get the federal clusterment involved. It couldn't manage its way through a well-lit tunnel.

epynephrin

Whilst a customer's bill of rights is a great idea, it seems far too idealistic. Even more so to wait for the government to come up with acceptable verbiage for one and create a way to enforce it. And all the while, we are forgetting that the airline industry as a whole is trying to provide a service to the customers—but it is still run by human beings.

As an aside, I have issue with comparing the airlines to real estate brokering or any other profession. They're like apples and desk chairs: completely unrelated. A more accurate comparison would be between, say, trains or busses and planes. Being a Boston resident, I have opinions of the T [subway] that are less than favorable, but there are times when all I can really do is accept that they're providing me with a service and are the cheapest and fastest alternative. Essentially, when the Green Line runs late and I miss my Commuter Rail train, all I can do is suck it up and deal—and start finding ways to conduct my business despite delays.

I must apologize also. I'm afraid I also fail to see, Mrs. Hanni, how your generosity or the June 21 incident—while it is unfortunate and painful—are related to this issue. I don't see anywhere where they were called into question; although I will point out that both experiences have given you a view of the positive and negative spectrum of humanity.

Returning to the problem of humanity: This idea is great, but still too idealistic because people are involved. People screw up. It's a basic tenet of interpersonal interactions. I hate being stuck in a tin can on a hot summer's day as much as the next person, but I can also see the reasons for it: Letting the passengers off while whatever is being addressed would be a logistical nightmare, and getting them back into the plane when it is ready to take off would be like herding cats—there will always be that one guy who's in the bathroom or something when they're ready, holding up the entire process. I also point to EM's response for further discussion.

I'll also admit I'm one of the people who have an issue with medical professionals being sued for mistakes. Intentional mishaps and failure to complete due diligence are one thing, but a genuine human-based mistake is an entirely different issue. Why are we to hold anyone—especially those in a high-stress environment such as medicine or customer service—to a higher standard than we hold ourselves? Or should the government create an Interpersonal Bill of Rights for every time we accidentally offend someone else?

I happen to agree with Mr. Behler: I can vote with my ticket. If the prices are competitive enough, I can deal with a disruption to my schedule; if the disruption is too severe, I can choose not to return. If the delay means I'm more likely to arrive in one piece, I'm content to wait.

There may be solutions to this, but they are work-arounds at best. Unless you plan to replace both airline staff and passengers entirely with robots, this is going to cause massive issues at both ends.

JAck

If the government puts together a document, it will be as big as the IRS code, and no one will know what to do anyway. This is a private business. Let market forces take care of it, as they always do (just look at the success Southwest Airlines has and how it handled this problem).

rod

When looking to correct any situation, a good place to start is making sure you are addressing the cause, not a symptom. So, let's start at the beginning. The growth, in number of airlines and ridership, of the U.S. airline industry has far outpaced management software and infrastructure.

In her last comment, Kate even talks about shortcomings in DOT and FAA capability. However, her numbers don't even touch at the seriousness of the challenge in managing current and future airline travel. If her numbers are correct, there were 121 diversions (or same-airport sits) of 5 hours or more during 2006. I don't want to diminish the discomfort and frustration of either passengers or crew caused by long delays, but divide 121 by the approximately 18,250,000 flights launched in 2006, and you get how small a part of the overall problem this is.

If you want a clear understanding of the issue, just try using 1995 PC hardware/software to handle what most users would consider routine multiple tasks today.

The real danger is that the push for a bill of rights might be successful. I repeat, if passengers are interested in pursuing meaningful, positive change, the answer is to address the cause—management tools and infrastructure that are not even adequate for current travel demands. The situation will only get worse unless we focus on the cause.

Howard

Putting more conditions besides those of the FAA and TSA won't make things better. But giving travelers a more reasonable alternative domestically would help. Congress should subsidize fuel-efficient passenger rail as much as passenger air. Broaden the playing field for the consumer without more regulation.

Rob

I try to fly nonstop and avoid U.S. airport landings whenever possible. TSA is an abomination, and its employees have caused me to miss flights. I will not schedule any flights this year, and I will advise my overseas relatives to fly to Vancouver. I will drive to the airport and get them. Then we'll spend most of their visit in Canada. It allows them to avoid TSA and most of the security-bungling Bush has created. They regularly fly on business all over the world and don't need to be subjected to our mismanaged airports.

Dick

Your cause is a good one in the quest for excellent customer service. But where do we draw the line? Will Sears pay me when the repair person doesn't show up within 90 minutes? What will the Post Office pay me when my mail is delivered at 3 p.m. instead of the usual 12 noon? Should Best Buy give me cash when something isn't in stock and available? We have enough people in this country holding their hands out waiting for cash and the government to take care of everything.

Jim Hayward

When airlines were regulated under the the now defunct CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board), one could certainly expect laws in place to handle passenger delays. Following deregulation, passengers have become increasingly selective about who they fly by shopping for the lowest fares. You can't have it both ways. The airlines owe you nothing if an act-of-God occurrence interferes with your flight. It's the price we paid and are paying for deregulation. The upside? Cheap fares.

Rachel

I agree that Ms. Hanni's comments on her generosity and frightening experience in real estate have no bearing in regard to an airline passengers' bill of rights. And while I will concede that good arguments have been made on both sides of this issue, I believe that government interference would only lead to more problems and discontentment from all parties. I'm a public school teacher, and the idea of government overinvolvement and attempts at regulation make me sick. These have done nothing to improve our school system and have led to overworked and disgruntled teachers and burned-out, test-weary students. The main reason is not that the government does not have good intentions. Rather, the government is made of lawmakers that for the most part have no experience teaching in public schools, just as most lawmakers have never worked in the airline industry. To hand off the task of a passengers' bill of rights to far-removed government officials would be completely counterproductive. The problems will have to be fixed from within, and unfortunately the airline industry may have to completely break before it can repair itself. We need to remember that flying is a convenience and a privilege, not an inherent right. If things gets too bad, just drive. The car trip may be shorter than time stuck on the plane.

rick

Thompson's bill HR 1303 is a fraud. A meaningful law would require cash compensation. Airlines understand cash even if they do not understand service. Other groups working for passengers propose cash penalties, so how about you?

William Dougherty

"In the Public Interest,"
Airline deregulation has failed, operationally, economically, and managerially.

Would it surprise anyone to know that airfares would on average (I love that when economists use the "average" word) be lower under regulation than under deregulation? Would it surprise anyone to know that the quality of service (as mutually determined by most economists) is considerably lower under deregulation?

Consider time. It takes considerably longer to fly today then 20 years ago. Other criteria frequently used other then time of day--frequency of service, number of stops, and size of equipment.

We need a passenger bill of rights. How can anyone justify keeping passengers on the ground captive in an aircraft for nine hours? Why did the pilot not declare an emergency? His passengers were in harm's way. And (I know you love this one) we need to regulate airline scheduling by the government, because you can't saturate airports beyond their capacity without congestion and delays. Spend lots of money for a next-generation air traffic control system, be nice to air traffic controllers and the FAA, and return to the negotiating table.

Also, no mumbo jumbo writing on airline tickets. Simple and clear writing should be required. Lots of work required. But it can be done.

Dennis Michael Smith

I agree in part with the passenger bill of rights movement, but its approach misses the larger picture: Airlines are a vital public industry, not a mere "commodity" like peddling TV sets, and should be reregulated--at least as far as there being a "minimum fare" required in every city pair, which would allow a reasonable level of service and avoidance of controllable delays and lost bags, and have enough staff on hand who actually make a reasonable living. This cannot be done with the current mantra of the robber barons who run deregulated airlines. As long as the stock price satisfies Wall Street, profits are there, and most important, the CEOs and other big executives line their pockets with excessive compensation, stock options, etc. I don't think these airline robber barons give a damn about the public interest, quality of service, or the standard of living and working conditions of the average airline worker. The public is suckered into thinking this is good by the promise of cheap fares and the statements of free-market extremist pseudo-intellectuals.

The current airline robber baron mantra since deregulation and especially since 9/11 is as follows:

1) Promise fares much lower than it actually takes to properly and safely run an airline--regardless of how well or poorly the employees are paid.

2) Bare-bones staff, including using poorly paid, inadequately trained, overworked and unqualified personnel to get the work done cheaply, including vital areas such as maintenance.

3) Run to the stool-pigeon bankruptcy courts (particularly in the Northwest case) to (a) Stiff creditors, (b) Screw employees, and (c) Shaft stockholders but, most of all, reward the robber baron CEOs and upper management with bonuses, pay raises, stock options, and bankruptcy-proof pensions (in contrast to the rank and file whose pensions were stolen) and declare this a success in the name of free markets and cheap fares.

One of the reasons they can get away with this (aside from the pandering by bankruptcy judges) is that the average "cheapest is all that matters" airline customer simply has no concept of what it takes (not even counting salaries) from a technical and safety standpoint to run a safe and quality service airline. Hint: It is nothing as low as these cheapo fares pushed by non-aviation operations marketers in the deregulated environment.

Passenger air travel is so safety sensitive and technically sophisticated that it should not be run on a "bottom line is all that matters" basis. In addition, it is vital to national security. I have seen military troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight terrorists have their deployments delayed and be put up in hotels for a week when airlines lose their bags and take so long (due to understaffing and lack of modern tracking systems such as that employed by UPS and FedEx) to find them. All this in the name of "cheap" fares, free-market extremist dogma, and exclusively enriching CEOs and big shots.

Congress should immediately reregulate the airlines at least on a limited basis to stop the cheapo mentality and force them to compete on service, which was the norm under pre-1978 CAB regulation. I am not advocating we return to unreasonably high fares, but that--given the safety sensitivity and technical sophistication and importance to the economy and national security of commercial aviation--we don't let air carriers run service quality into the ground, promising everything cheap and trying to perform it unreasonably on the cheap as well. Putting a floor or minimum on fares in each city pair (i.e., ATL-LAX) pegged at a level that would allow for and require at least a minimal level of service in terms of lost bags, staffing, avoidance of uncontrollable delays (i.e., those caused by inadequate maintenance or even so-called weather delays, which are actually the fault of undermanned and overextended crews whose duty rigs don't include enough cushion to avoid being below rest requirement minimums when previous nights' flights are weather delayed) and have employees who are paid a living wage, improving morale, attitudes and service quality.

This "cheap is all that matters" is ruining the quality of service (and the standards of living) in many industries, with aviation being the worst example. This failed experiment must stop now, and the airlines must be reregulated.

Lo

No more domestic airline travel.

Problem solved.

It would be a huge pain for me, too, but it's so obviously necessary. Air travel is an incredibly inefficient use of energy. It's bad for the environment, it provides revenue to our buddies in the Middle East, and it makes prime targets for terrorists.

Americans collectively need to drop the entitlement and make sacrifices to preserve the future, or just forget the great-grandchildren. I don't even have grandchildren, and I'd be willing to make the sacrifice. I already gave up the car.

Of course, I never read the part of the Constitution where I was guaranteed my inalienable right to be protected from any inconvenience.

Seattle Flyer

Two Comments:

1. It's time to reregulate the airlines and let the public sector have a say again--and yes, reduce the footprint of air travel in the U.S.

2. We should be investing heavily in passenger rail service, also controlled by the public sector--increasing the footprint of rail travel in the U.S.

Only in the United States are the airlines private sector--everywhere else, the business is known for the horrible, inefficient business it is.

The airlines pushed for deregulation so they could have an orgy of buyouts and volume increases--then price hikes and reductions in service. Now they have done their thing, and the U.S. taxpayers are left with a broken system that we are dependant upon.

Transportation is critical to the operation of any country, as are water, power, sewage, solid waste, and telecommunications. It is time this is recognized, and they are taken back where they belong--to all of us.

Why

Why make passengers sit on a plane for more than two hours? That makes no sense at all.

Bandor

Flying on international routes has spoiled me--the pampering, good food, larger planes, etc.

So when I flew from JFK to SFO on a United 757, I was stunned. A six-hour journey in totally cramped quarters, three abreast, and you had to buy a sandwich if you wanted one, as if you were in a deli. A six-hour flight would deserve at least a 767, if not a 777, along with a $10 meal.

I hope everybody has a chance to fly international once in a lifetime to realize how much a bill of rights is required.

Don

Why all the whining and blubbering? Are Americans so spoiled that they have to have Uncle Sam settle all their problems? Drive your own transportation or maybe take a bus or a train. Why do we expect Uncle Sam to take care of our air travel arrangements when many of us cannot take care of our own business? I wish I had someone to call when I don’t get the service I think I should when I walk into almost every business I have to deal with. True I worked for an airline for 37 years and I have seen as much stupidity on one side as the other. That’s life. Get on with it.

Advisor

Solution: a world-class high-speed rail system (bullet trains). Check out GAO-02-185 for more information.

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