Passenger Bill of Rights: Fight Back Against Unfriendly Skies

E-mail Lis

A year and a half and 2,400 cancelled flights — that’s what it took to prompt Congress to fly into action and push for a federal Passenger Bill of Rights.

Remember back to Valentine’s Day 2006, when 10 Jet Blue flights were stuck on the tarmac — one for up to 11 hours, forcing passengers to endure these grueling delays without food, water and a clean bathroom and absolutely no recourse?

If you stick me in a room with no food, water or working bathrooms, you know what that’s called? Kidnapping or false imprisonment. So why hasn’t there been some form of legal recourse when the same thing happens to passengers held “hostage” on the tarmac for lengthy periods of time? All we want is water and the ability to go to the bathroom!

Congress guaranteed us last year that they would pass a law for passenger rights, and only now have they really begun to fight. What took so long? Lawmakers first proposed the bill after the Valentine's Day calamity to deal with these air travel nightmare. It got bogged down in Congress due to an unrelated funding dispute over the Federal Aviation Administration. Additionally, the race to the White House, mortgage crisis and War in Iraq certainly overshadowed this issue, and soon our lawmakers forgot about the Average Josephine’s travel problems. Seemed like a case of see no evil, hear no evil.

Now, its back front and center on everyone’s mind since the cancellation of 2,400 American Airlines flights in recent days. The legislation does not deal specifically with canceled flights that never board, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), said it is important for Congress to stick up for passengers in the face of what she called the airlines' indifference. "They are so arrogant about it," said Boxer. "If this Congress fails, shame on all of us, Democrats, Republicans, chairmen, members."

Forcing airlines to provide food, water and working restrooms for fliers stuck on airlines paying more than $200 bucks a ticket is certainly not an unreasonable request! “There are no excuses. Congress has run out of excuses," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, (R-Mass.) one of the bill's original authors. In the simplest terms, the bill would require airlines to let passengers leave a plane after it has sat on the runway for three hours. It also establishes minimum standards for food, water, and toilet facilities for passengers in planes stuck on the ground for long periods.

I’m not picking on everyone though. New York State passed a similar law in January, signed by then governor Eliot Spitzer, but the airlines weren’t happy with new legislation and appealed to federal court. The Second Circuit court agreed with the airlines and struck down the law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution saying the matter must be addressed by the feds and not individual states. The court was right on the law but the decision sends a terrible message —that we don’t even have a right to the basics.

These issues always come down to money, and lawmakers now plan to increase pressure on the FAA and the industry by holding a hearing on the economic costs of widespread flight delays. We are heading into the busiest travel season of the year and heavy delays and cancellations are going to cost big bucks. These travel disasters cost the U.S. economy an estimated $9 billion a year, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.) — New York, which has seen some of the worst of the flight delays at its three major area airports.

"The U.S. economy can't afford to have one of its major airlines just shut down for days," said Schumer, adding: "The ripple effect is tremendous, it's like putting a vise on commerce." It’s clearly time that Congress take action because our airlines certainly haven’t!

When asked about this behavior, customer service reps deliver a scripted response, “We’ll try our best, but we don’t really promise anything.” They say nothing about setting benchmarks, meeting deadlines, requiring notifications or anything beneficial for customers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover that nothing has changed and we’re still captive to their schedules.
Of course, airlines just want our complaints to vanish into thin air, but we’re fed up with this treatment and finally taking a stand. Kate Hanni, a “hostage” for 9 hours on one of these flights and a one-woman machine brought her story to Capitol Hill. Hanni formed the Coalition for the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, calling for the new laws to protect us from the “unfriendly” skies. Enough is enough.

“The performance of airlines coupled with illusory or false promises and customer service plans shows why passenger legislation is essential.” Said Paul Hudson, an Executive Director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project. However, Congressional rhetoric alone does not suffice. “We are tired of the long hot travel season from hell and we want passenger legislation that is meaningful, not empty promises,” pointed out Hanni. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

To sign the passenger bill of rights petition, click here!

Right now, it’s an airline’s world and we just live in it. I propose we begin to take back our friendly skies.


The information contained in this Web site feature entitled “LIS ON LAW,” is provided as a service to visitors of, and does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney client relationship. FOX NEWS NETWORK, LLC makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this Web site feature and its associated sites. Nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of your own counsel.

Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.