There’s only one thing worse than being a stranded motorist, and that’s being a stranded airline passenger.
While the airlines are still apologizing to everyone who was stranded during St. Patrick’s Day weekend due to winter storms, the Federal Aviation Association is looking to Congress to enact a passenger bill of rights.
With strong support from members of Congress, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has pledged his support in favor of a bipartisan bill called the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act that allows passengers to safely exit a plane if it’s grounded on a runway for more than three hours. It also mandates that adequate food, water and other supplies be available to the passengers.
It’s been a bumpy year for airlines, as they have faced strong criticism for their mishandling of delayed and cancelled flights this winter. Last December, JetBlue Airways announced they would be instituting a customer bill of rights after an American Airlines flight left passengers stranded on a runway with no food or bathroom facilities for nearly 10 hours. It’s an effort to preserve damaged reputations and to ensure passengers that nothing like this would ever happen again.
Everyone knows that weather is unpredictable this time of year and is especially bad in certain parts of the country. Yet, even with the winter storms that forced thousands of flights to be cancelled over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, there’s no reason why, for a second time in just under three months, passengers were forced to wait inside the planes instead of being transported back to the terminals.
In a post-9/11 world, it’s dangerous to keep passengers waiting for hours while the pilots wait for clearance. People can’t be expected to wait for an unspecified amount of time while the airlines figure out what to do. It should have been clear that the weather was not going to clear up when the passengers were kept waiting at John F. Kennedy International Airport. By refusing to provide accommodations, the airlines were doing an incredible disservice to the passengers onboard.
While JetBlue has made a serious commitment to taking responsibility for the problems, other airlines need to step up. So far, U.S. Airways, Delta Airlines and Continental Airlines have only made formal apologies and promised to reschedule flights. This is simply not good enough for the thousands of people who were kept waiting. Free trips or money should be given as reparations for causing passengers so much unnecessary trouble.
For years, the government has wrestled with the idea of establishing an airline passenger bill of rights. With all the problems airlines are facing, it’s the only sensible solution.
While many people feel there’s no need for a federal law to be passed, many more think this newly minted bill is finally a step in the right direction for passengers’ rights.
“While we can’t do anything about the weather, we can make sure that airline passengers are not subjected to the terrible conditions we witnessed last month,” Feingold said in a press release.
He and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Wash., serve as co-sponsors of the bill.
Although airlines have long been held under public scrutiny for poor management, a bill of rights would put most concerns passengers have about flying to rest. Being treated fairly and equally is a right that all should enjoy. Flying is a luxury for some, but a necessity for many. A passenger’s safety and comfort go hand-in-hand. Passengers will only feel relieved when they know they are in the hands of a competent staff who will keep them well-informed.
There’s nothing reassuring about waiting
inside a stuffy airplane for hours. Flying should be an anxiety-free experience. A bill of rights seems to be just the ticket to getting airlines back on track and into people’s good graces again.
Megan Suermann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.