It’s hard to imagine any other service industry being run like the airline business, but then there is no other business like the airline business.

Following the recent passenger abuse incidents, FlyersRights presented a list of “essential air travel reforms” to the U.S. Congress and Department of Transportation last Thursday.

Paul Hudson, President and longtime Public Member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee noted that in the past month, about 1 billion people have viewed on video the shockingly violent removal of Dr. Dao from a United Airlines flight on April 9th for refusal to give up his seat, followed by:
  • Removal of a mother with two babies after an apparent assault and battery by an American Airlines flight attendant.
  • Followed by Delta Airlines removal of a passenger for using the restroom during a long tarmac delay.
  • A family of four removed, with a one and two year old, over the use of a paid-for seat and then threatened with arrest, jail and removal of their children so their seat could be used by a standby passenger.
  • Last Monday, Spirit Airlines passengers mutinied at Fort Lauderdale Airport after the airline repeatedly canceled about 300 flights blaming weather when the real reason was lack of pilots.
  • And, last weekend, JetBlue booted a family from a flight over a birthday cake.
It is obvious that airline passenger mistreatment is not isolated and will not be solved by relying airline promises or voluntary policies.
The same plea to Congress was made in 2000 after a publicized tarmac confinement incident in Detroit by Northwest Airlines involving 4,800 passengers, but was found to be totally ineffective after it was discovered in 2008 that at least 150,000 passengers per year were be held against their will on the tarmac for up to 12 hours to prevent “passenger migration”.
This abusive airline practice was only stopped by the DOT enacting our Three Hour Rule effective in 2010.
Accordingly, in addition to the comprehensive reform proposals contained in the Flyersrights Airline Passengers Bill of Rights 2.0 – FlyersRights believes the following measures are essential to prevent hundreds if not thousands of incidents of unjust, unnecessary removal or bumping of passengers by airlines and to mitigate the effects of increasing frequent mass flight cancellations.
  1. Suspend overselling of seats and require airlines to justify need for this exception to normal contract law, in contemplation of repeal of the oversales rule.
  2. End involuntary bumping especially when passengers have boarded aircraft.
  3. Repeal or modify Patriot Act provision that makes ignoring or disobeying flight crew instruction a federal felony (inference with flight crew) punishable by 20 years in prison, now used to threaten, eject and have passengers arrested for minor non terrorism  related matters (prior to 2001 generally punished by FAA fines or under state criminal laws)
  4. Modify or eliminate rules that allow airlines to charge high change fees or forfeiture of paid ticket reservations for name corrections or substitutions

Basic Due Process for Passengers:

  • Mandatory written notices and warnings to passenger with their rights, remedies (the soccer ‘Yellow Card’ solution) and obligations prior to removal or bumping, with right of notice of infraction and opportunity for immediate appeal to captain.
  • Require captain to sign form finding Passenger ejection necessary for safety or security of flight and certifying that Passenger has been provided with written notice of rights and remedies.
  • Plain Language statement of passenger rights and remedies in Contract of Carriage and in seat pockets including complaint form and claim procedures to airline, DOT, and passenger assistance organizations, with mail addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and fax numbers, plus flight delay and baggage compensation rights under US and international law, plus posters in airports with contact information for detailed rights and remedies
  • Require that airlines offer cash or check for bumping compensation, not vouchers; and prohibit airlines from requiring passengers sign a liability waiver as a condition of receiving compensation.
  • Reinstate the reciprocity rule so that when passengers are excessively delayed by an airline they can use their ticket on a competing airline flight with available seats.
  • Stiff penalties for lying to passengers about the reasons for delays and cancellations.

DOT Secretary Elaine Chao: “I am very concerned about the rights of the passenger”

Flyersrights was glad to hear that Secretary Chao is “concerned” about passenger rights. Now is the time to turn that concern into tangible action and leadership, by convening a task force to with passenger representatives and by acting on the many consumer rights proposals that have all languished or been rejected by her predecessor since 2013.

Otherwise, continuing with unfair or no rules that protect airlines but not passengers and the national interest will continue. America needs safe, convenient, reliable and affordable air transportation. The downward spiral of US airline service needs strong leadership from Secretary Chao and President Trump to be arrested and reversed. The airlines only expressed solution is to grant them even power over passengers and to rely on their voluntary and often empty promises.

This is an important test for the Trump Administration: the powerful DC Swamp Creature, A4A, (as the airline lobby is known) vs. the public interest of the 700 million passengers who board US airliners each year.

Paul Hudson

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