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Fri, Feb 23, 2007

ATA Seeks To Avoid Congressional Action On Passenger 'Bill Of Rights'

Group Calling For Bill Says Airlines Blaming System For Their Mistakes

In the shadow of two highly publicized incidents involving passengers trapped for several hours onboard American Airlines and JetBlue planes during harsh weather, passage of a "Passengers Bill Of Rights" appears to be gaining traction in Washington, DC. That's a situation the Air Transport Association -- which represents many large US carriers -- would like to avoid.

At its recent quarterly meeting, the ATA Board of Directors discussed procedures for dealing with extreme weather delays themselves -- and without the need for Congressional intervention. The board announced the following course of action:

  • Each airline will continue to review and update its policies to assure the safety, security and comfort of customers.
  • ATA calls on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work with airlines to allow long-delayed flights to return to terminals in order to offload passengers who choose to disembark -- without losing that flight's position in the departure sequence.
  • ATA will ask the Department of Transportation (DOT) to review airline and airport emergency contingency plans to make sure that the plans will effectively address weather emergencies in a coordinated manner and provide passengers with essential needs (food, water, lavatory facilities and medical services).
  • Will lobby the DOT to promptly convene a meeting of air carriers, airport representatives and the FAA to discuss procedures to better respond to weather emergencies resulting in lengthy flight delays.

"We believe these steps offer the best course of action," said ATA President and CEO James May (right). "A rigid, national regulation would be counterproductive, and could easily result in greater passenger inconvenience."

ATA went on to add the recent delays emphasize the "emerging crisis of capacity in our nation's air traffic control system," and called for "aggressive" steps to modernize that system.

The Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights -- one group pushing Congress to speed such legislation through -- says the airlines are laying blame on the wrong system. Furthermore, if carriers wished to altruistically improve the situation for their passengers... they'd have done it already, without the added impetus of congressional action.

"Blaming the system is the easiest excuse to avoid government intervention on behalf of the flying public," said Coalition spokesperson Kate Hanni. "The bottom line is that no matter what the FAA or traffic controllers say, the pilot is always the final decision-maker in any situation. This latest attempt by the Air Transport Association (ATA) to hide behind FAA regulations is a sad excuse and a cowardly attempt to evade blame and point the finger in the wrong direction."

"Any internal guidelines are simply a band aid that airlines can remove at their whim. This is merely a pre-emptive move to stop the bleeding and stop legislation," the group added. 

FMI: www.airlines.org

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