Passenger Bill of Rights: Be careful what you wish for.
It’s time to let the sun go down on this very bad idea.
Barbara Boxer in the Senate and Mike Thomspon in the House introduced separate bills intended to require air carriers to provide where “the departure of a flight is delayed or disembarkation of passengers on an arriving flight that has landed is substantially delayed,” the provision of (i) “adequate food and potable water,” (ii) “adequate restroom facilities,” (iii) “cabin ventilation and comfortable cabin temperatures,” and (iv) “access to necessary medical treatment.”
That doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it? It’s basically The Geneva Convention for prisoners, which you might feel like when your plane is number 45 for take-off at Laguardia, a not-so-rare occurrence.
But here’s the part that as a passenger, will ruin your life:
The airlines would also be required to “provide passengers with the option of deplaning and returning to the terminal, or deplaning at the terminal” if “3 hours have elapsed after passengers have boarded the aircraft, the aircraft doors are closed, and the aircraft has not departed,” or “3 hours have elapsed after the aircraft has landed and the passengers on the aircraft have been unable to deplane.”
That means your fate as well as your travel plans and those of a couple hundred others rest in this man’s hands:
Why? Because back in seat 27-F, he looked at his watch and demanded, after three hours of waiting, his “right to deplane.” But what about your right, and everyone else’s, to make it to their destination, albeit three hours and one minute late? And if you have bought a downline connection on a restricted, non-refundable ticket
you’re really out of luck: no refund, no further travel–and no redress from the airline you’re vegging on the tarmac with for the past three hours. You’d better have trip insurance, because whatever you’ve spent on tickets and accommodations is now swirling around here:
And if you’re in the terminal, ready to board your flight, don’t act smug–he’s also in charge of your fate, too. Because if his plane is required to return to the terminal, guess whose gate it’s going to take? And guess whose outbound flight will be cancelled as a result, flushing hundreds more people’s travel plans? You will get to thank him when you’re both standing in the long, snaky line at the ticket counter waiting to get rebooked and ultimately, travel stand-by, competing with a couple hundred others for the dozen seats available that day.
That’s right, you are screwed too, and you haven’t even had a chance to sit on the tarmac for your three hours. But each airport and each airline has scheduled their gates as tight as possible to minimize costs. There likely is no gate for you to return to–unless some other aircraft is booted off to make room. Meanwhile, your downline connection is leaving for your destination without you.
That’s a shame. Being as completely self-centered as I am, I wonder what this means for me, the captain on your flight? What am I supposed to do, take a vote of passengers, asking who wants to join Mr. Snappy Dresser and return to the gate? Who, like this guy,
might have different priorities and travel standards than you? And who’s taking the vote–my over worked and underpaid cabin crew? Who counts the vote? Or can you even take a vote–the bill says “passengers” have the right to deplane. Not a majority, not any specific number, really. Nice.
Actually, my part’s the easy part. Forget about a “vote,” because democracy ends at the jetbridge. I’ll do what I always do: apply common sense to the situation. Congress gave me an out anyway, proposing that passengers would not have the option to deplane if the pilot “reasonably determines that the aircraft will depart or be unloaded at the terminal not later than 30 minutes after the 3 hour delay” or “that permitting a passenger to deplane would jeopardize passenger safety or security.”
Typical: they give you a firm policy, then offer you a way out. Because the bottom line is, well, the bottom line: the airlines don’t want to spend a dime more than is absolutely required, and congress is reluctant to force any well-funded and lobbied businesses to spend anything. Besides, most airlines are bleeding red ink: there is no money for extra gates.
More gates and more staffing both on the ramp and in the terminal costs dollars the airlines won’t spend or simply don’t have, and congress isn’t willing to fund it through appropriations.
Doesn’t really matter, though, because there really is no silver-bullet, one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of delays or deplaning during delays. If you support the congressional efforts to impose a simplistic solution to a complex problem such as this, you better be ready for the consequences.
The anecdotal stories of eight hours on the tarmac with overflowing toilets and women giving birth standing up and claustrophobic insanity are appalling. But if you realistically consider side effects of the “Passenger Bill of Rights” as a one size-fits-all solution, you may find your travel situation to be even more tenuous than it was before congress “fixed” the problem.
Passenger Bill of Rights? Be careful what you wish for.
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