So We Need A Bill Of Rights For Airline Travel Now?

by John Hawkins | February 19, 2007 2:12 pm

In Congress, our representatives are still engaged in a never ending quest to insert themselves into every single facet of American life. Yes, no matter how trivial the issue may be or how far it goes from what the Founding Fathers intended for Congress to be doing, our legislators intend to stick their noses right where it doesn’t belong anyway.

Now, after that opening, let me introduce you to the Passenger’s Bill of Rights[1]:

The next time you’re upset about your flight taking off a half hour late, imagine waiting 10 hours; that was the fate for some JetBlue passengers on Wednesday at Kennedy Airport in New York City.

With harsh winter weather battering the Northeast, airlines have struggled to cope with the elements and get travelers to their destinations, but even the airlines admit that situations such as Wednesday’s JetBlue debacle are simply unacceptable.

JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Eshelman, after a day when 10 flights were stuck on the ground for more than three hours, apologized for the delays.

“The bottom line is that it was unacceptable to have left [the planes] there that long. We were operating under the assumption that we could be able to get them to their destinations and get them to their vacations but unfortunately that never happened. We should have done better.”

The problems have already prompted JetBlue to reassess their policies.

…Still, the recent problems, as well as the fact that last year 67,000 flights were delayed at least an hour after leaving the gate, have reignited the debate over passengers’ rights — or lack thereof. In 1999, in an effort to avoid any congressional action, the airlines pledged to improve customer service on their own, adopting a 12-point pledge, including the promise to “meet customers’ essential needs during long on-aircraft delays.”

While JetBlue had yet to launch operations then and was exempt from any guidelines from that time, the airlines’ failures to fulfill their promise to passengers is forcing Congress to step in again.

A day after the JetBlue incident, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced plans to introduce legislation for a passenger bill of rights to ensure that air travelers are not unnecessarily held on planes or deprived access to basic food, water, and hygiene.

“I’ve been stuck on the tarmac many times in my travel back and forth to California. Sometimes with the weather and traffic, it’s unavoidable. But to keep passengers — which usually include infants and the elderly — on a plane for eleven hours in the worst of conditions is absurd,” said Boxer. “If a plane is stuck on the tarmac or at the gate for hours, a passenger should have the right to deplane. No one should be held hostage on an aircraft when clearly they can find a way to get people off safely.”

Thank goodness no waitress took 1/2 an hour to bring Barbara Boxer a refill on her drink or we’d be forced to suffer through a “restaurant customer’s bill of rights.” On the other hand, maybe if a cable TV installer didn’t show up on time to Barbara’s house, we’d end up with a “TV owner’s bill of rights.” Then there’s internet service. Ever had your DSL modem go down for a few hours? Isn’t that frustrating? Maybe we need an “internet customer’s bill of rights.” You can go on and on with this.

But, the answer to bad customer service isn’t Congressional legislation that will lead to more regulations and lawsuits. As far as JetBlue goes, it’s already been adequately punished via the marketplace, where the high profile news coverage of its poor service has undoubtedly cost it, at a minimum, tens of millions of dollars. Let that teach JetBlue a lesson and keep Congress out of it.

  1. Passenger’s Bill of Rights:

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