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The Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights

Enter The Coalition for Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights
A one-woman juggernaut named Kate Hanni was on the American Airlines flight that was grounded in December, and has taken her story all the way to Congress. Hanni formed the Coalition for Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights, which is calling for a passenger bill of rights to be written into law; the organization's Web site is worth a look.

The Coalition's proposed Bill of Rights reads thusly:
All American air carriers shall abide by the following standards to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their passengers:

  • Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within two weeks.

  • Notify passengers within 10 minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on-aircraft announcement and posting on airport television monitors.

  • Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.

  • Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than three hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities and access to medical attention.

  • Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special-needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.

  • Publish and update monthly on the company's public Web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed 30 minutes or more, at least 40 percent of the time, during a single month.

  • Compensate "bumped" passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150 percent of ticket price.

  • The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but rather passengers and consumers -- that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.

  • Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flier program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real time.

  • Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.

  • Require that these rights apply equally to all airline codeshare partners including international partners.
  • Is this a fair response to years of shoddy treatment of the flying public? You bet it is. And is it better than what we have now? Absolutely. The current Customer Service Initiative mostly says "we'll try our best, but we don't really promise anything." It contains nothing whatsoever setting benchmarks, meeting deadlines, setting compensation amounts, requiring notifications, or just about anything hard and fast. It's all squish and slip.

    For example, read American's policies regarding "Essential Customer Needs During Extraordinary Delays"; it's clear that these promises rang extremely hollow in late December 2006. The biggest change in the new bill of rights is that these "policies" will become law. It will no longer be enough to say "it's not our policy to starve our passengers on the tarmac" and have the issue just go away.

    Is it unreasonable to ask this of the airlines? I don't think so, as, for the most part, the proposed bill simply holds the airlines to their own policies.

    Editor's Note: JetBlue has just voluntarily released its own Customer Bill of Rights, promising that passengers will never be stuck on a plane longer than five hours and that any passengers whose departures are delayed more than one hour will be compensated with vouchers for future travel.
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