Grassroots group argues for airline passenger bill of rights (01/23/2007)
By Andrew Compart
A group of air travelers, complaining they were stranded on an American Airlines aircraft on the tarmac in Austin, Texas, for nearly nine hours Dec. 29 with overflowing toilets and almost no food, said they are forming a coalition to push for airline passenger rights legislation in Congress.
Congress previously considered a passenger bill of rights in 1999 after passengers complained of being stranded on a grounded Northwest flight under similar conditions, and amid rising delays in the air traffic system and complaints about service. But the airline industry was able to forestall the legislation by agreeing to a voluntary bill of rights.
The Coalition for Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights, which is planning a grassroots campaign to add to its ranks, claims the voluntary measures haven't worked, and held a teleconference Jan. 23 to make its case. In addition, the coalition has started a blog at www.strandedpassengers.blogspot.com.
"We feel that enough is enough. This is not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that this kind of degrading treatment is visited on passengers," said Kate Hanni, one of the passengers from American flight 1348, said in a press release issued by the new coalition Jan. 22.
"Thousands of legitimate complaints by travelers mistreated by the airlines are regularly dismissed or inadequately addressed by the industry."
American said thunderstorms across the entire length of Texas, "one of the most unusual weather circumstances we've seen in 20 years," forced the flight diversions that left passengers stuck on numerous aircraft.
"We have apologized to customers who remained aboard any of our diverted flights for three hours or more, and we included compensation in the form of vouchers in the apology letters. We have examined our reaction to the weather that day, and we have re-emphasized areas of our procedures that will help ensure that the situation never happens again," American spokesman Tim Wagner said.
That wasn't enough for some of them, and 15 of the American passengers signed a letter sent Jan. 21 to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
"On behalf of passengers of American Airlines flights 1348, 534, 1008 and anyone who has been forced to sleep in a terminal because of airline delays, anyone who has experienced mind-numbing delays and cancellations, anyone who has experienced the blithe and dismissive rudeness that too frequently accompanies the poor service, we are hopeful that you can help us light the fire of a new and long overdue consumer movement that will give air travelers the respect and fair treatment we deserve," the coalition wrote.
The group also wants the Transportation and Justice Departments to condition the merger of US Airways and Delta -- if the US Airways proposal reaches that stage -- on the adoption of a passenger bill of rights. It contended consumer-related conditions on mergers are commonly adopted, including most recently with the AT&T/BellSouth merger.
The proposed bill of rights would include a requirement that airlines "establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gates when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate."
It also would require that airlines "provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention."
Some of its other proposed rights would require airlines to:
Publish and update monthly, on each company's public Web site, a list of chronically delayed flights -- meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least 40% percent of the time, during a single month.
Compensate "bumped" passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of more than 12 hours by a refund of 150% of the ticket price.
Create a Passenger Review Committee, including passengers and consumers, that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.
To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to email@example.com.