Federal Appeals Court strikes down NY “passenger bill of rights” law
After an abysmal managerial performance by JetBlue in keeping passengers stranded away from the terminal at JFK last Valentine’s Day, New York’s legislature passed a law that got dubbed a “passenger’s bill of rights.” The law mandated that airlines provide food, water, toilet facilities, and fresh air to passengers stuck in the planes for longer than a set period of time. The Air Transport Association of America challenged the law on the basis that only the Feds can regulate pricing, routing, and services provided by an airline. The 2nd District Court of Appeals agreed:
A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down a state law requiring airlines to give food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers stuck in delayed planes, saying the measure was well-intentioned but stepped on federal authority.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said New York’s law — the first of its kind in the country — interferes with federal law governing the price, route or service of an air carrier.
As much as the incident angered even former airline employees like myself, the court’s decision was correct. In their ruling, the court wrote that the acceptance of the NY law would permit other states to start passing their own laws requiring the airlines to start or stop providing all manner of of services, such as the court’s examples of banning soda or requiring only allergen-free foods be served. Such a patchwork of laws could easily result in contradictory laws being passed, putting the airlines into a Catch-22 situation.
It will fall to Congress to make such a law. It will stick if issued at the federal level. Of course, the airlines will swear on a stack of Bibles that no such law is needed, that they are policing themselves. As I wrote in my post on the JetBlue fiasco, that requires the airlines’ management to truly adopt a customers-first attitude:
JetBlue’s issue was not the weather-related cancellation or delay of flights. While there are plenty of idiots out there who think the airline should get them where they’re going on time – early would be preferable – regardless of the conditions, the fact is that most people are very understanding about the airlines’ erring to the side of caution where weather is concerned. The problem people in New York had was in being locked in a plane for 6 to 9 hours. The reason for that was not the weather. The reason for that was the decision by the airline to push flights that were loaded with people out from the gate to allow incoming flights to come in and then to not let those flights that had pushed but were not allowed to take off to come back in.
So, what should they have done? They should have put the passengers ahead of their own convenience. They should have considered what their own reaction would likely be at being locked into a small space with lots of other frustrated people with insufficient food, supplies, and bathrooms. They should have realized that, once they had more planes on the ground than they had gates, their choice was between having a plane and flight crew stranded away from the terminal or having a plane, a flight crew and a full load of passengers stranded away from the terminal. In short, they should have pushed an empty aircraft away from a gate and gotten one of the loaded ones back in there.
And they should have done it a damn sight sooner than 6 hours.
If they’ve honestly changed their ways, that’s great. The problem is they’ve shown already that they didn’t have that attitude in mind. The only way we’ll know for sure if they do or don’t is to wait for the opportunity for them to prove it. If they haven’t, there’s going to be a lot of really unhappy people and we’ve passed laws to protect the public from a lot less.
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