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A Break for New York Fliers?

Cindy Loose

New York's legislature decided not to wait around to see if Congress does anything about that passenger bill of rights that advocates have been pushing. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer recently signed a bill that would require airlines to provide fresh air, lights, waste removal services, and "adequate" food and water once a plane full of passengers sits on the ground for more than three hours.

The bill also provides a special office to help resolve consumer complaints. The text of the law, and reasons for passing it, are below.

The New York bill stops way short of the bill being pushed by a consumer group at the federal level, a copy of which is at www.flyersrights.com. For one thing, it demands that passengers be given the option of deplaning after a wait of more than three hours. The airlines point out this could delay passengers even further. Say, for example, you've waited three hours and you might be able to take off in 15 more minutes -- except other passengers want to get off the plane.

Bottom line is that the airlines will likely challenge the state's jurisdiction in this matter, but it's interesting to contemplate what, if anything, government should do about those horrible waits on the tarmac.

Here's the text of the New York law, including its justification::

S251-g sets forth a bill of rights for airline passengers - whenever
passengers have boarded an aircraft but have been delayed from takeoff
for more than three hours, the carrier must provide services including
electronic generation for the purpose of providing fresh air and lights,
waste removal services, and adequate food and drinking water. All carri-
ers must clearly and conspicuously post consumer complaint information,
including explanations of passengers` rights and contact information for
Federal aviation agencies and the Office of the Airline Consumer Advo-
cate.

S251-h creates the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate under the
auspices of the Consumer Protection Board and sets forth the powers and
duties of the Office. The Office is empowered, in conjunction with the
Board, to assist in resolving consumer complaints concerning air travel,
to investigate violations of the bill of rights, and to refer cases to
the Attorney General for potential legal action. The Attorney General
can seek a civil penalty of up to $1000, or up to$l 000 per passenger
for violations involving failure to provide required services to strand-
ed passengers.

> S251-i provides that Article 14-A shall not be construed to require
taking any action in contravention of any written directive of the
Federal Aviation Administration or other federal authority.

> S251-j sets forth the legislative intent regarding the severability of
the various provisions in the bill.

SUMMARY OF AMENDMENTS:

The bill has been amended as described above to maximize consistency
with other statutory and operational parameters relating to the Consumer
Protection Board, and to provide a flexible approach that will facili-
tate protection of consumer rights in this area.

EFFECTS OF PRESENT LAW WHICH THIS BILL WOULD ALTER:

There are no current statutory requirements for minimum airline passen-
ger rights, nor any specific authorization for a state official to advo-
cate on behalf of such passengers. The absence of any specific legal
protections has created unhealthy and unconscionable conditions for New
York consumers.

JUSTIFICATION:

Several incidents that occurred during the winter of 2007 involved
airline passengers who were detained on the runway for many hours. On
Valentine`s Day, passengers were held aboard a JetBlue flight at JFK for
10 hours without food, water, fresh air, or the ability to use the rest
room. Several other JetBlue flights were similarly stalled on the
runway. Subsequently, on 81. Patrick`s Day, at JFK passengers were stuck
on board a Royal Air Maroc flight at JFK for more than 14 hours. People
on a Swiss Air flight to Zurich were trapped on board for eight hours, a
Virgin Atlantic flight to London left 9~ hours late, and a Cathay Pacif-
ic flight to Vancouver was finally canceled after more than nine hours
of waiting at JFK. Passengers were also stuck for seven hours at JFK on
board a Korea-bound Asiana Airlines flight.

These episodes demonstrate the need for statutory changes to protect
airline consumers from this type of treatment. In spite of carriers`
voluntary commitments that these episodes will not recur, passengers
continue to be subject to lengthy detentions on aircraft without basic
services. New York is home to some of the world`s busiest airports, and
so should take the lead in adopting common sense measures that empower
consumers and prevent outrageous incidents like these from recurring.
The bill of rights and the creation of an independent advocate for
airline passengers will provide a needed measure of consumer protection
in New York`s airports.

By Cindy Loose |  August 14, 2007; 10:15 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose
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