Fast Company

Work/Life: What Are the Chances for a Passenger Bill of Rights?

When the founding fathers endowed us with certain inalienable rights I would have hoped they had the foresight to assume these truths would have been self-evident even when sitting on an airplane.

Unfortunately, it seems like the folks who decide how long is too long to sit cooped up inside a plane on the tarmac never read the Bill of Rights. Following the high-profile flier imprisonment incidents of the past few years, it's clear that the policy which spells out travelers' rights once they cross the threshold of the jet way need to be formalized.

The Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney ("The Middle Seat Terminal") notes that the airlines have had a long time to solve the problem of long delays, yet no solution has been forthcoming. He also points out that the FAA comes in for its share of the blame. "All need to change their ways to avoid keeping passengers stuck for hours on end," McCartney says. He shares a bullet list of creative ideas that would go a long ways toward fixing things.

In fact, Scott just revisited the tarmac issue in his "The Middle Seat" column, in which he points out that many of the legacy carriers' peers don't think the problem is really that tough to solve. So said one of the members of a government task force formed last year to study the delays. To prove the point, McCartney pointed out that elsewhere in the world airlines commonly use remote parking and special buses to offload passengers who don't want to remain indefinitely on tarmac-stranded flights.

Since other airlines in other countries have already enjoyed success in addressing the tarmac imprisonment problem, common sense says American carriers should be able to do the same. Common sense, rational thought, and a slice of empathy should each play a part in formulating new ground rules for how airlines treat their passengers.

Certain carriers have already taken steps to deal with passengers stuck on planes. But each airline is doing it differently, and the inconsistency in policies is at the least confusing but more likely highly frustrating for fliers caught in the middle. There has been no industry-wide effort to standardize the rules. Last year's government task force didn't help things by recommending that each airline do its own thing.

Meantime, as Bill McGee reports in USA Today, Congress is moving on a separate track to try to solve the problem legislatively — which some in the airline industry fear will only cause more problems via the law of unintended consequences. The debate in Congress, however, assumes that a passenger bill of rights is inevitable and thus they are focusing on whether the deplaning cutoff period ought to be three hours or four.

I vote for three. I also vote that any bill of rights needs to include compensation for flight delays and cancellations. It also needs to establish sensible parameters for re-accommodation even during extraordinary events. Clearly, the time for waiting on the airlines has passed. Hopefully, by the end of this year we'll begin to see the end of passengers trapped in smelly and miserable tarmac-anchored planes.


Road Warrior • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com

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