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23/072009 – A U.S. Passengers Bill Of Rights Or An Answer To A Single Problem?
Yesterday the United States Senate’s Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee approved legislation that passengers left on sitting onboard commercial flights on the ramp or taxiways for more than three hours be brought back to the gate and allowed off the aircraft.
Along with this legislation there is an allowance for an additional 30 minutes of time at the Captains discretion and for the Captain to ignore this legislation should there be a significant risk to passenger safety related to returning to the gate.
While Kate Hanni, the founder of FlyersRights.org, a grass roots organization focused on creating a Passengers Bill of Rights believes the Senate Committee has “made the right decision,” I am not sure I agree.
While there have been some severe cases where this law should clearly have been in place, such as a JetBlue aircraft keeping its passengers on-board a flight for ten-and-half hours on the February 14 2007 during a snow storm at New York’s JFK Airport (JFK) and a December 29 2006 American Airlines flight that was held for nine hours in Austin (AUS), the actual number of flights that this new law would impact is minimal at best.
Between October 2008 and May 2009 the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics studied 4.3 million flights, or roughly 537,500 flights each month. Of these 4.3 million flights only 578 flights sat on the ramp for a period of three hours of longer. While 578 flights may seem like a lot of flights, statistically only 0.013% of all flights in the United States exceeded the three-hour limit as proposed by the new legislation.
D.J. Gribbin, Former General Counsel for the Department of Transportation, under the George W. Bush administration argued “The rule might meet the wishes of some passengers, while turning back to the gate for other consumers may mean missing a connecting flight to Paris.”
While I might not agree with the full extent of the legislation as created by the Senate’s Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, I’d like to point out to Mr. Gribbin, that the Captain does have a 30-minute extension discretion. If the tower does not indicate that a flight will be released within that time, after a 3-hour delay, chances are passengers won’t make their connecting flight to Paris any way.
I was once held on the ground in Bahrain (BAH) for a flight headed to London (LHR) for a little over four hours during a windstorm. We were informed that passengers were being kept on the plane to allow for a rapid departure once the storm passed and allow passengers make connections to flights headed for New York and Washington DC. Once we had arrived in London I had missed my connecting flight to New York by nearly two-hours.
…getting back on track here, what I’d prefer to see is the creation of a Universal Passengers Bill of Rights in The United States. The European Union, a Union of multiple independent nations has created an extensive EU Passengers Bill of Rights that makes the rules and regulations very clear all airlines operating in the EU must abide by the EU Passengers Bill of Rights. While the United States is a large country, it is a single country, which means that creating an encompassing Passengers Bill of Rights should be easier to create for a single country than it was for the multiple countries that make up the EU.
Creating legislation that over an 8-month sample period only impacts 0.013% of all commercial flights in the United States is simply a show of good faith, it is not an impacting law that benefits passengers on the whole.
I understand Kate Hanni and FlyersRights.org views this new legislation as a victory, however I’d hope her organization and others continue to lobby for a ‘real’ Passengers Bill of Rights.