Patchwork quilt: that’s the phrase lawyers use to argue against differing laws in different states that apply to their operations or services. For instance, airlines are now in court in New York State arguing that the the empire state really shouldn’t be able to apply its own passenger rights bill to flights in that state. Their argument invokes a principle of law called federal pre-emption, a doctrine that says that federal law applies to nationwide services; each state couldn’t and shouldn’t have rules on, say, television sets sold in its borders. The New York State law requires airlines to provide food and drinking water as all as fresh air and light and waste- removal services to people whose plane is stuck on tarmac for three hours or more. The law stems from the infamous JetBlue incidents of last February and March when thousands of passengers were stuck on planes during a New York JFK ice storm for as long as 10 hours.
The law, which the governor signed last August, would allow a state consumer-protection official to impose fines of up to $1,000 per strandee. Other states are considering similar laws, and of course Congress has various versions of passenger protections its own stranded FAA bill. The law’s defenders argue that they’re not attempting to rewrite the rules on airline regulation but have downright to prescribe the treatment of their citizens, and in any case aren’t stepping into such clearly federal areas as ordering airlines to move their planes back to the gate if the airliners are stranded. A federal court heard this case today Tuesday but there’s no saying when it will decide or if this will go higher up in the federal courts. But consider this chilling prospect: what if every state wanted the airlines to provide basics to their passengers?