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Tue, Jan 23, 2007

Stranded Airline Travelers Urge Lawmakers To Look At 'Passengers Bill Of Rights'

Says Legislation Is Badly Needed Due To Poor Customer Service, On-Time Records

The concept of a "Passengers' Bill Of Rights" for commercial airline travelers has been bandied about for years, with little success. The idea has caught fire again, however, after a particularly egregious incident last month in Austin, TX.

A group of passengers who were stranded onboard an American Airlines flight at Austin-Bergstrom International for over eight hours -- with no food or access to bathroom facilities -- called on Members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Monday to hold hearings on a comprehensive Passengers Bill of Rights.

"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 stranded onboard American Airlines flight 1348. "Thousands of legitimate complaints by travelers mistreated by the airlines are regularly dismissed or inadequately addressed by the industry."

The group says a Passenger Bill of Rights would modernize and improve airline industry standards for customer service. They note poor customer service by the big airlines has dramatically worsened over the years, with a recent government report stating the airline industry reported a six-year low in on-time statistics in November 2006.

As Aero-News reported, American Airlines flight #1348 from San Francisco to Dallas was diverted to Austin, TX on December 29, due to heavy storms in Dallas. In Austin, the passengers were forced to wait in the cabin for almost nine hours with no running water, and no working bathroom facilities.

Passengers stuck onboard the MD-83 say there was virtually no food, and the stale air quickly became polluted because of a sanitary system that met its capacity. Passengers claim they have yet to receive any explanation -- or apology -- from the company.

The group is also calling upon House and Senate members to urge the Department of Transportation and Department of Justice to condition the merger of US Airways and Delta Airlines on the adoption of such a Bill of Rights -- noting similar measures have been enacted in other mergers, including the recent AT&T/BellSouth telecommunications deal.

"As Congress considers airline mergers, it is the perfect time to finally give consumers and taxpayers what we deserve: a comprehensive, enforceable Passenger Bill of Rights," Hanni said.

Proposed tenets of such a bill include the following:

  • Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.
  • Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.
  • Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.
  • Publish and update monthly on the company's public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed 30 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 over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price.
  • Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.

In 1999, a similar piece of legislation (brought about by a similar incident as the one in Austin, this time affecting several flights in Detroit) was successfully fought and killed by the airlines... but with the incident in Austin still fresh in the minds of lawmakers and travelers alike, the group says now is the time for change.

"In light of this horrific experience, and most importantly, the dismissive attitude of the airlines in not seeking to remedy it in any way, we are forming a coalition of travelers whose focus it is to develop an air travelers' bill of rights," the group wrote in a letter to Senator Daniel Inouye (above), and CC'd to several other lawmakers.

"Enough is enough. This is not the first nor will it be the last time that this degrading and humiliating treatment occurs. Without some corrective action, air travelers are sure to continue to experience being treated as cattle in an increasingly uncompetitive airline industry."

FMI: www.house.gov, www.senate.gov

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