Passengers stranded on tarmac using experience for advocacy

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Remember all those horror stories about passengers stuck in airplanes for hours on end without food, water, or the ability to get off the plane? Infants without food or diapers and adults without medications, but no — the airline, in the worst-case scenarios, wouldn’t let them off the plane. Kate Hanni was one of those passengers, and she turned the experience into a new life’s work: advocating for reforming how airlines treat their customers on board the airplane. Her group, FlyersRights.org, was formed after Kate was stranded with her husband and two children for nine hours on the tarmac in Austin, Texas. Kate vowed to organize other passengers to pass the long-stalled Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights.

In support of FlyersRights.org and the flying public, this week all the major consumer groups, including NCL, sent a letter of support for an amendment introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that would set out basic consumer protections that anyone should expect. The amendment would allow passengers the option of getting off delayed planes after three hours on the ground, and it requires airlines to provide adequate food, water, temperature controls, ventilation, and working toilets to accommodate a 3-hour delay.

This is a no-frills bill that offers basic protections to consumers, but those protections could be so much greater — in fact, the news media have been reporting all week about toxins on the fabrics upholstering many airplanes. The chemical that’s been found, Tricresyl phosphate, is a neurotoxin known as “TCP,” which is in engine oil, and its presence means toxic residue has collected on the surface of the cabin from either a prior fume event or from gradual, continual accumulation of toxins. It’s hard to quantify the risk to passengers and, of course, the crew that rides in these planes day in and day out. But that’s a subject for a different blog post. We wish FlyersRights.org good luck in seeing passage of the airline passenger bill of rights and thank Senator Boxer for her leadership on this important consumer issue.

This just in from Capitol Hill:

BOXER, SNOWE RENEW CALL TO PASS AIRLINE PASSENGER BILL OF RIGHTS

Saturday’s Tarmac Stranding of Passengers Flying from Los Angeles to New York Highlights Need for Passenger Protections

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) urged their Senate colleagues to promptly pass their Airline Passenger Bill of Rights after news that the passengers of Virgin America Flight 404, traveling from LAX to JFK on Saturday, were stranded on a tarmac in Newburgh, New York, for hours on end without adequate food or water.

Senator Boxer said, “It is inexcusable for passengers to be stranded on the tarmac for hours, forced to ration potato chips and given only a half cup of water to drink. This incident is yet another reminder of why we need to pass the common-sense, bipartisan Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, which is on the Senate floor this week. The Department of Transportation has also announced new rules to protect passenger rights that will go into effect next month. We need to make sure these important consumer protections become law.”

Senator Snowe said, “It is absolutely absurd that the passengers of Virgin America Flight 404 were forced to remain on the Newburg tarmac with limited access to food and water for more than four hours. Given this unfortunate incident, which further highlights the obvious decline of customer service for our nation’s traveling public, it is clear there has never been a stronger need to enact a Passenger Bill of Rights. The standards included in the Boxer-Snowe Passenger Bill of Rights are incorporated in the FAA Reauthorization, which is currently being debated in the Senate, and I stand ready to work with my colleagues to ensure our legislation is swiftly enacted into law.”

Senators Boxer and Snowe wrote legislation that would establish an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights – language that is incorporated in the FAA Authorization Bill that is on the Senate floor this week. In December, Department of Transportation Secretary LaHood announced a new DOT rule limiting tarmac delays that includes much of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights. However, the DOT rule does not give passengers permanent protection because it could be overturned by a future administration.

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