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Passenger Rights Bill Upheld in Senate

March 23, 2010 By: George Dooley

The Senate version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization act— approved by a 93- 0 vote — contains a passenger bill of rights requiring airlines to provide food, water and other amenities to passengers kept waiting due to tarmacs delays. Passengers could deplane after three-hours.

If enacted, it would give legal status to the Department of Transportation (DOT) rules adopted in December that limited tarmac delays to three hours and levy fines against the airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for violations.

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) praised the Senate’s passage of the bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill, which includes the long-overdue Airline Passenger Bill of Rights the two senators championed.

The Airline Passenger Bill of Rights provisions include requiring airlines to provide passengers with food, potable water, comfortable cabin temperature and ventilation, and adequate restrooms while a plane is delayed on the ground.

Airlines would also be required to offer passengers the option of safely deplaning once they have sat on the ground for three hours after the plane door has closed. This option would be provided every three hours the plane continues to sit on the ground.

Airports and airlines would be required to develop contingency plans for delayed flights to be reviewed and approved by DOT. The bill also allows the DOT to fine air carriers and airports that do not submit or fail to comply with contingency plans. It also directs the DOT to create a consumer complaint hotline so that passengers can alert the agency about delays.

The bill provides two exceptions to the three-hour option: the pilot may decide not to allow passengers to deplane if he or she believes their safety or security would be at risk due to weather or other emergencies. Additionally, the pilot may delay deplaning up to 30 minutes beyond the three-hour period if he or she reasonably believes the flight will depart within 30 minutes.

In a related action, the Air Transport Association (ATA) applauded the Senate’s approval of the legislation and cited the rejection of a hike in the Passenger Facility Charge to $7. 

“We are pleased that the Senate passed legislation that accomplishes many of the key priorities needed for a healthy and competitive aviation industry. The bill is a vast improvement on legislation passed by the House of Representatives,” said ATA president and CEO James C. May. “The Senate demonstrated much appreciated leadership and bipartisanship by including language authorizing the FAA to issue grants to help fund NextGen avionics equipage – a critical first step in ensuring that the benefits of air traffic control modernization can be realized sooner rather than later.”

May added that he is extremely pleased the bill recognizes that passengers and commercial air carriers already are bearing a disproportionate tax burden by rejecting any increases in taxes and fees.



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