“Treat them like citizens and paying customers – not cattle,” says Hanni.

– Days before millions of Americans board aircraft for the Memorial Day holiday, airline passengers’ rights advocates from both Canada and the United States joined forces on Capitol Hill today demanding that both countries impose enforceable limits on how long commercial airlines can keep passengers onboard aircraft sitting on the tarmac.

“The House is about to take up reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, but their bill allows the airlines themselves to decide how long we should sit on the tarmac,” said Kate Hanni, founder and Executive Director of FlyersRights.org, America’s largest consumer organization representing airline passengers. “There aren’t any limits, and airlines get to decide how long passengers can be held — 6, 7, 8 hours or even longer.”

At a Capitol Hill news conference, Hanni was joined by Hon. Jim Maloway, a New Democrat Member of the Canadian Parliament from Manitoba, who has introduced a tough “Airline Passenger Bill of Rights” bill modeled after a similar measure in effect since 1991 in the European Union, which he says has reduced overbookings and flight cancellations significantly. “American and Canadian international airlines — Air Canada or American or Continental – have been operating under the European laws for their flights in Europe since 1991. Why should an American or Canadian passenger receive better treatment in Europe than at home?” Maloway asked.

Under his legislation, Canadian passengers would receive compensation in the event of cancellations or overbooking; be provided food vouchers in the event of a flight delay longer than two hours; be given lodging if the delay lasts overnight; and passengers could get off the aircraft if their flights are delayed on the tarmac for longer than one hour. Additionally, passengers would receive $500 for each additional hour that their flight is delayed. Food, water, working bathrooms and temperature controls would also be required. Information and details on MP Maloway’s bill are available at http://www.jimmaloway.ca/airline.html.

Bruce Cran, President of the Consumer Association of Canada, noted that in reaction to Maloway’s bill, four Canadian airlines have voluntarily established a 90-minute limit on tarmac delays. “If four of the Canadian airlines can deplane their passengers after 90 minutes on the tarmac, they can all do so after one hour,” he said.

In contrast to the stringent requirements of the European Union and Maloway’s Canadian proposal, the bill scheduled to be debated in the House of Representatives tomorrow would merely require airlines to provide food, water, and temperature controls during tarmac delays and to disclose records of their delays.

Yet no statutory limits on tarmac delays are contained in the bill, Hanni noted. “Under the pending FAA Reauthorization bill, the airlines themselves will decide how long we have to sit on the tarmac,” she charged.

In remarks prepared for delivery later today before the House Aviation Subcommittee, Hanni acknowledged what she called “improvements” in the legislation compared to a similar measure last year, but implored the subcommittee to “not break our arms patting ourselves on the back for requiring that an airline provide basic human necessities like food, water, temperature controls and working bathrooms – not when passengers are being stranded on a tarmac for seven, eight, even nine hours.”

Urging Congress to include a “single, enforceable, industry-wide limit on the amount of time passengers can be held on board an aircraft on the tarmac,” Ms. Hanni asked lawmakers to “imagine 8 or 9 hours inside a sealed tube: the screaming children, the people in coach, In the middle seats. For them, these are not the ‘Friendly Skies.’ It’s time they’re treated like citizens and paying customers, not cattle.”

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