Rights, wrongs and left passengers

BoxerW200.JPGThe airline passenger bill of rights is what’s caught the imagination, as several very powerful members of Congress, from the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee to a pair of senators, one Democratic and one Republican and one from California and one from the state of Maine, to various outraged and angered members of congress, are scribbling out new rights for all. The last time Congress was ready to pass a bill of rights for beleaguered flyers in the wake of the now legendary 1999 Detroit debacle in which Northwest stranded hundreds of flyers within sight of their gates, the solons came within hours of getting a bill out there that the airlines couldn’t live with; it was only a last-minute compromise brokered by Sen. John McCain that established a voluntary code of conduct. This included promises of better communication and other steps to avoid kidnapping the customers. It held off more serious legislation for a while, but back in December the DoT’s Inspector General found that airlines were not living up to their promises. So here we go again, but this time it may well happen. People have been angry since December, when an American Airlines jet sat on the Austin, Texas, tarmac did hours, launching a blogging and internet passenger rights campaign. Newspers have found other underreported incidents around the country and pushed them.

The Senate bill comes from Baraber Boxer, a California Democrat, who is pals with the House leadership of speaker Nancy Pelosi and who is a determined legislator. Read about her bill here.

This growing clamour for more rights for more people more of the time has the airlines really worried, especially since some of the bills would mandate procedures to get people off of planes stuck out on the tarmac. While the carriers may well have their pocketbook and bottom lines at the top of the mind, they also make the point that have Plane Mate mobile lounges or mobile gates zipping out on snow-covered or iced-in runways to bring people back the terminal may not be exactly what you want to have going on in a crowded airport in the middle of a blizzard.

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