A few months ago, the US Department of Transportation created new regulations governing the duration and method airlines can detain passengers arriving or departing on US soil. Commonly referred to as the “Passenger’s Bill of Rights”, these rules aim to prevent some of the awful experiences US travelers have been subjected to over the last couple of years. As these regulations will be going into affect April 21st, I thought share my thoughts on the subject.
It had become all too common for a flight to get stuck on the runway (usually due to weather at the departure or destination) and keep its passengers ‘safe’ onboard until the flight was either canceled or finally takes off. Of course, most passengers perceived this as nothing less than being held hostage for hours – in some cases without food, water or working restrooms. These are just a few of these awful recent examples:
- August 2009, a Sun Country flight to Minnesota was stuck on the tarmac at New York’s JFK airport for six hours. Passengers reportedly went without food for three hours until the flight crew finally offered them items from the food cart — for a FEE.
- A December 2008 TACA flight headed for LAX was forced to land at nearby Ontario Airport due to weather trouble. Passengers were trapped on board for 9 hours before it was cleared again for takeoff.
- A Toronto-bound Air Canada flight sat idle on the tarmac in Vancouver for over twelve hours in December 2008. Passengers, who complained of stale air and rationed food, said they “felt like hostages.”
- August 2009, almost 50 passengers were stranded overnight on the tarmac at Minnesota’s Rochester International Airport when their flight, en route to the Twin Cities, was suspended due to severe thunderstorms. Passengers on the Continental flight reported that they were fed only a bag of pretzels, and that by the time the plane took off in the morning, the bathroom was out of order.
Trapped on a plane for a minimum of six hours – often with no food and over-flowing bathrooms? The only thing amazing about this is there needed to be a law that told these greedy SOBs not to treat their paying customers like prisoners. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where we stand. The most important parts of the new restrictions are:
- Airlines must ensure there is adequate food, water, medical attention, fresh air and working restrooms throughout the passengers stay in the aircraft. (Again, I’m befuddled the government actually had to tell the airlines this).
- Airlines may not keep passengers on the tarmac longer than 3 hours – except for extenuating circumstances (e.g., unsafe to move plane). Once the 3 hour threshold is met, the plane must return to the gate.
- Airline can be fined up to $27,000 per passenger for failure to comply with these standards.
Beating a dead horse here – we really needed a law to point out the obvious??? It always amazed me that passengers could not deplane because it was unsafe to do so – but if your caused a fuss – the police would be right out to arrest you. Good to see we have our priorities in check – but I digress.
So what Does this Mean?
Obviously it means you won’t be trapped in an airplane for longer than 3 hours else the airline will get fined. Note this is a fine – not an award, so you as a passenger won’t be seeing any of this money. More to the point though, if you are on a plane and you’ve just hit the 3hour mark, the captain is supposed to inform everyone the plane is headed back to the gate. Hooray!!! Err – maybe not. Now that your flight is heading back to the gate – there is a very high probability your flight will be cancelled. If the delay was caused by weather (and most delays are) – the airline is not liable to do anything for you except book you on the next available flight. So, you’ll have to find a place to stay for the night (or sleep in the airport) and you are on your own for food. It depends on the individual flyer whether this is a better alternative to being stuck on a plane for 6+ hours.
Also, there is evidence that airlines are cancelling flight ahead of any tarmac delays to avoid getting fined. Recent US Airways and Continental flights have been canceled for weather related reasons prior to even getting on the tarmac. Certainly an unfortunate byproduct – but still better than sitting in a crowded airplane with an overflowing toilet for 6 hours!!!
Beyond Tarmac Delays
This passenger Bill of Rights thing seems to focus heavily on tarmac delays. Where I’m from, “rights” means plural; so let’s not stop at one new rule, there are a few more things I’d like to see airlines get forced to do (since we obviously need to tell them the obvious). Here’s my list of new rules and regulations:
- One Seat – One Person Rule – Fat people must buy two seats! I’m sorry – but if you cannot fit all of your meat within the boundaries of your own seat – you must either purchase two seats or cut me a check for the part of my seat you are using. I know, I know – hereditary, glands, etc. – that’s still no reason I should be crammed into the plane’s window like a can of sardines!
- BEA (Baby Enforcement Act) – Parents of crying babes should be fined if they neglect to stop the baby from crying. I get it, sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop a baby from crying. On the other hand, sitting there watching the child cry is not what I consider a good faith effort. Rock the baby, use a pacifier, get your ass up and go to the restroom – whatever. While your child is a bundle of joy to you – their non-stop crying annoys the hell out of the entire plane. While we are at it – little kids who kick the back of the seat in front of them should be ejected off the plane. I’m only half kidding here folks.
- Travel Suitcase Regulations (TSR) – Don’t allow airlines to charge you for your bag then claim your contents are not guaranteed as part of ticket. That garbage worked when the ticket represented a contract between your body and the plane. Now that airlines are actually charging for baggage – they need to own up and pay for ‘actual damages’ and any indirect costs of delays. You can’t be half-pregnant here!
- Ban Cell Phones – Prevent cell phones form being used in-flight – not for safety reasons but to prevent a number of ass whoopins which are sure to arise out of this. I can see it now – “Hey buddy, you mind shutting the hell up, I’m trying to sleep” “Up yours” cell taker replies – fight ensues. Save us all the trouble – and the headache.
- Quick Boarding Law – Remind airlines that there are TWO doors on every plane – it’s okay not to have a bottleneck due to everyone trying to board/deplane from a single door. Feel free to have your passengers use both of these doors so we don’t have to sit through 45-minute long seating events.
- Surname Imposition Act – There is no Federal Law that prevents airlines from changing the names on your ticket – none! The reason airlines collude (yea I said it) to impose this restriction is twofold – a) they don’t want to create a resale market for airline tickets and b) they make money on change fees. A small fee to change from your ex-wife to your new-girlfriend is acceptable. Charging $150 to correct the spelling from “Bill” to “William” is just ridiculous.
Those are just a few off the top of my head – please share a few new laws or changes to existing laws you have. Oh – and babies prefer cars.