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Passenger Rights Takes Center Stage, Again!

August 11, 2009 By: George Dooley

The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) is surveying more than 400 industry colleagues to provide expert industry perspective on proposed Senate passenger rights legislation. The legislation would allow passengers to disembark after three hours on the tarmac, should a captain decide it is reasonable and safe to do so. BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell said BTC wants to hear from supporters and opponents of the legislation.

Mitchell noted that the issue of tarmac delays and passenger rights is again in the news and cited a recent incident in which tarmac delays by a Continental Airlines operated flight stranded 47 passengers for more than six hours in a small jet. The Rochester, MN incident occurred as Congress is considering legislation that would force airlines to deal with the issue.

“I would ask your assistance in helping BTC formulate its position," Mitchell said. "Please take a few moments to share your views at  his is very important; it’s time to deal with this problem one way or another.”

Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation (DOT), commented on his blog, “Welcome to the Fast Track,” that the DOT is concerned, saying “…reasonable people are outraged at the idea of being stuck on a small plane for seven hours. I think it means that flyers and those who are considering flying want to know that should a delay occur, they will be treated respectfully.” The DOT has sent a letter to Continental probing the incident and gathering facts beyond news reports.

The secretary noted that, at the recommendation of the DOT Office of Inspector General, the DOT established the National Task Force to Develop Model Contingency Plans to Deal with Lengthy Airline On-Board Ground Delays. The model plans suggest what steps airlines and airports may take to alleviate passenger discomfort, but the Task Force could not require any action by airlines, the DOT said.

“However, DOT has a rulemaking in progress that proposes to require airlines to take certain steps to deal with lengthy tarmac delays, including establishing contingency plans that meet basic passenger needs during a lengthy tarmac delay," LaHood wrote. "Some have proposed that DOT go further and set a time limit for carriers to deplane passengers. While I can't comment on the merits of the proposed rule yet, we will use the information Continental provides to help us reach a decision about what direction to go in that rulemaking. Whatever shape any rule might take, I want readers to know that DOT is trying to help reduce the discomfort--and the resentment--that can turn a lengthy delay into a nightmare.”

Legislation is pending in the Senate but action is not expected until September. ASTA has taken an active role is shaping passenger rights legislation that impacts the clients of travel agents.

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