16 February 2007

Passenger's Bill of Rights

The Valentine's Day snowstorm in New York City was a nightmare for JetBlue Airways' passengers - some were stranded in their planes for hours, with no fresh air, no food, and overflowing lavatories. All because JetBlue wanted the planes to be ready for a weather break that never came.

And there are currently no regulations that spell out how long passengers can be held in an airplane in situations like this.

Senator Barbara Boxer has proposed a Passengers' Bill of Rights that, among other things, requires airlines to allow passengers to deplane after three hours of delay. It's picking up support among passengers, but the airlines are crying foul, saying that a plane returning to gate to deplane passengers loses its place in line, and gets even more delayed as a result. This shows the mindset of the airlines, which, like the railroads before them, treat their customers as a very temperamental cargo as opposed to human beings.

The airline industry was getting bad raps throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, before other shady industries - like high-tech and oil - eclipsed them, and multiple bankruptcies and the plight of the industry made people more sympathetic to the airlines. (In my case, I started a novel around a fictional United flight attendant.) Now, it looks like the airlines are about to squander the goodwill, with indifference to the needs of customers (or even racial profiling "in the name of security"), more lost luggage, and more crowded and delayed planes than ever (hint: stop using so many small planes, and use fewer, larger planes - they cost less to run per passenger too). This is also why US airlines do poorly when compared to the leading foreign airlines, which still put passengers first.

I'll keep this in mind as I shop for airline tickets for this year's batch of weekend trips, including to Chicago and Toronto.

MSN Travel
Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights