More states try to model N.Y.'s passenger bill of rights
Airlines are resisting talk of a passenger bill of rights, saying such regulation is the purview of US government.
This may be the year frustrated airline passengers finally get some relief in the form of a federal bill of rights.Skip to next paragraph
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That's in large part because states are now taking the initiative and telling America's airlines they had better treat passengers with more respect when they're delayed or they'll have to pay up.
On Jan. 1, New York became the first state to enact its own passenger bill of rights. Now, if a plane is stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours in the Empire State, the airline must provide its passengers with clean water, food, and sanitary bathrooms or face a fine of $1,000 per person.
The major airlines, represented by the Air Transport Association (ATA), are challenging the law. They're adamantly opposed, arguing that it's impossible for anyone, especially a state, to legislate customer service. They sued. But just before the new year, a federal judge ruled against them, saying the law had nothing to do with aviation and interstate commerce and everything to do with basic health and safety, which are well within the state's purview.
That win has prompted lawmakers in at least three other states to draft similar legislation and is giving new impetus to a bill in Congress, which decrees on a federal level that the nation's air travelers have the same basic rights as those guaranteed by New York.
"This year the equilibrium that was struck between low fares and flight delays was shattered [by the record delays]," says Kate Hanni, president of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, which has more than 21,000 members. "Passengers have decided we've gone too far to the dark side as far as air travel is concerned and we need basic human standards restored to air travel."
The airlines, on the other hand, deny that any "basic human standards" have been violated, and they're continuing to fight the New York law. Last week, the ATA filed an appeal. It insists that only the federal government has the authority to legislate airline customer service. That said, though, they also strongly oppose any federal passenger bill of rights.
"It's been awfully convenient for Ms. Hanni and others to claim that this is a health and safety issue when the reality is that no one's health or safety has been impeded during these very rare instances," says David Castelveter, ATA vice president. "Every aircraft operated by our members has medical emergency kits on planes and has direct access to their own or contracted medical personnel on the ground."