Grassroots group argues for airline passenger bill of rights (01/23/2007)

By Andrew Compart

A group of air travelers, complaining they were stranded on an American Airlines aircraft on the tarmac in Austin, Texas, for nearly nine hours Dec. 29 with overflowing toilets and almost no food, said they are forming a coalition to push for airline passenger rights legislation in Congress.

Congress previously considered a passenger bill of rights in 1999 after passengers complained of being stranded on a grounded Northwest flight under similar conditions, and amid rising delays in the air traffic system and complaints about service. But the airline industry was able to forestall the legislation by agreeing to a voluntary bill of rights.

The Coalition for Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights, which is planning a grassroots campaign to add to its ranks, claims the voluntary measures haven’t worked, and held a teleconference Jan. 23 to make its case. In addition, the coalition has started a blog at

“We feel that enough is enough. This is not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that this kind of degrading treatment is visited on passengers,” said Kate Hanni, one of the passengers from American flight 1348, said in a press release issued by the new coalition Jan. 22.

“Thousands of legitimate complaints by travelers mistreated by the airlines are regularly dismissed or inadequately addressed by the industry.”

American said thunderstorms across the entire length of Texas, “one of the most unusual weather circumstances we’ve seen in 20 years,” forced the flight diversions that left passengers stuck on numerous aircraft.

“We have apologized to customers who remained aboard any of our diverted flights for three hours or more, and we included compensation in the form of vouchers in the apology letters. We have examined our reaction to the weather that day, and we have re-emphasized areas of our procedures that will help ensure that the situation never happens again,” American spokesman Tim Wagner said.

That wasn’t enough for some of them, and 15 of the American passengers signed a letter sent Jan. 21 to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“On behalf of passengers of American Airlines flights 1348, 534, 1008 and anyone who has been forced to sleep in a terminal because of airline delays, anyone who has experienced mind-numbing delays and cancellations, anyone who has experienced the blithe and dismissive rudeness that too frequently accompanies the poor service, we are hopeful that you can help us light the fire of a new and long overdue consumer movement that will give air travelers the respect and fair treatment we deserve,” the coalition wrote.

The group also wants the Transportation and Justice Departments to condition the merger of US Airways and Delta — if the US Airways proposal reaches that stage — on the adoption of a passenger bill of rights. It contended consumer-related conditions on mergers are commonly adopted, including most recently with the AT&T/BellSouth merger.

The proposed bill of rights would include a requirement that airlines “establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gates when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.”

It also would require that airlines “provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.”

Some of its other proposed rights would require airlines to:

Publish and update monthly, on each company’s public Web site, a list of chronically delayed flights — meaning those flight delayed thirty 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 more than 12 hours by a refund of 150% of the ticket price.

Create a Passenger Review Committee, including passengers and consumers, that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.

To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to

25 comments on “Travel Weekly Article Quotes Coalition

  • Man, is this a good law! You cannot imagine the nightmare I was put through while leading 22 people on a Catholic pilgrimage to Rome. Delta bumped all 22 people on our return journey to NYC. Imagine trying to get that many people to remain clam after telling them we’re stuck in Rome! And then I had to go through the hoops of fire to get them all them home. What really bugged me was that Delta made it seem as if it was our fault. Granted we were stuck in traffic and ended up about half-hour late to the allotted security time at Fumicino. But heavy traffic is beyond our control. We were there within one hour and half of departure time. By the time we got to the airport and by the time we ended up at the check-in counter the airline had bumped us! To compound matters they didn’t offer to find us rooms at local hotels or a food per-diem. Fortunately they did get most of us home the next day. But the majority of us had to sleep in Fumicino airport that night. I wrote Delta a letter and they told me to take a hike! I carbon copied my letter of various politicians including Sens. Schumer and Clinton. I never heard back from either one of them! However, I did hear back from a representative with the FAA. And I also heard back with a beautiful letter from a representative with the European version of the FAA, who declared that Delta was at total fault. Unfortunately he also explained that there was very little they could do since this was an American carrier heading back to the states. Imagine that a European was kind enough to write me back but no one from the Schumer or Clinton office did! (figures) The secretary in my parish was relentless and demanded compensation. Delta finally fessed up and gave all of us a $750 voucher with a very kind letter of apology. The Europeans have a passenger Bill of Rights. We need one as well. These airlines need to be held accountable for some of the things they get away with. It’s stressful enough flying these days especially since 9/11. Who knows what radical lunatic is going to be on a plane. Do passengers need any more stress while flying? I’m behind this Bill of Rights 100%!

  • Back in 1998, when a terrible blizzard hit the Midwest, I was stuck on an Air Canada flight on the tarmac in Toronto for seven hours. Luckily for me, it was Air Canada and we were in Toronto because some of the US FAA rules didn’t quite apply. The flight attendants were rushing to and fro trying to make us as comfortable as possible…even offering free drinks. The co-pilot came back into the cabin a number of times to talk with folks so, with their help, it was as enjoyable as possible, but we could not get off the plane because the entire airport was grounded and there were too many planes at the gate already. We all understood that…but because the Air Canada staff was so pleasant, accomodating, and free with information about what was going on, it went okay. Just treat us like humans…not cattle.

  • I take care of myself – and fly about 180,000 miles a year. Your “rights” need to include fat people taking up too much space, and screaing @#%$# kids. I applaud Southwest for kicking that spoiled brat off the plane a few days ago – I do not think I should pay the prices I do to be so miserable….

  • What the passengers should do in this case is see if they can get the Travis County Attorney or the D.A. to bring False Imprisonment charges (a misdemeanor under CL) against the A.A. agents: Here are the elements.

    1. UNLAWFUL-confinement is unlawful unless it is specifically authorized by law OR by consent of person (sure you consented at first, but that doesn’t mean you can’t withdraw consent at anytime)

    2. CONFINEMENT-this requires that the victim was made to go where he doesn’t want OR remain where he does not wish to remain.(that is met)

    3. WITHOUT VALID CONSENT- similar to element 1 but different. Consent must be freely given and by one with capacity to do so. (i.e. no coercion, threats, deception, incapacity). Maybe coercion or distress or threat????

    What say you Ronnie Earle?
    District Attorney
    Ronald Earle, District Attorney
    Phone: (512) 854-9400
    Fax: (512) 854-9695
    509 W.11th St
    Austin, TX 78701

  • I was about to bring up unlawful confinement, also. I think such charges are not only appropriate in a case such as this but should be pursued with vigor. A small group of protesting airline passengers will not change the minds of anyone in the airline industry – a serious prospect of prison time will.

  • Upset because you had to sit on the plane, upset because you didn’t gett everything exactly how you , yes, you wanted it. Did you think about the pilot who probably wanted to get off the plane, or the flight attendant that might have wanted to get home to her family? No, because you are so focused on how poorly the airline treated you. So try this, next time, choose another airline, and don’t pick it because it’s the cheapest. Go to the FAA website and see which flights have the best on time ratings. But remember, you are going to get what you pay for.
    Besides, you probably would have been a lot more upset if they had tried to fly you into DFW during some of that weather and you ended up in pieces across the runway.

  • you gotta be kidding me… who exactly forced all of these coalition members to opt for air travel? just because a means of travel has become accustomed, doesn’t mean people who OPT to travel that way should have special rights.

    and flying during the winter, everyone knows you risk getting stormed in so either don’t fly or be prepared to deal with delays… and that means showing up at the airport with some food, drink, and any medications you need already in your carry-on.

    the lady who had her diabetes meds in her luggage, well anyone who travels at all (and the airlines) will tell you to always carry medication in your carry-on bag and not in your checked baggage…

  • Did you think about the pilot who probably wanted to get off the plane, or the flight attendant that might have wanted to get home to her family?

    The pilot did get off of the plane. They have limets on flight times and after 10 hours they would have timed out.

  • GOOD for you!

    I was stranded for two hours on a tarmac in Houston once because of a thunderstorm and cannot imagine being stuck for ten.

    That is inhumane.

    I would actually rather sleep in an airport chair than be trapped in an aircraft.

    Thank you for pushing for this legislation.

  • Last August, we sat on the tarmac in Chicago for 5 hours with the same . . . we’ll know something shortly” comments from the cockpit and totally indifferent service from the AA inflight staff.

    Only after confronting the rude and indifferent flight staff, did we even get drinks served because people were really getting angry.


  • I hope the final draft of the bill of rights includes some measure for enforcement of carrier responsibility. I’ve reported American to Federal Authorities for their denial of reasonable accommodation based on my disability. I spent hours providing information and no action was taken.

    Bottom line: as long as air travel is this cheap, decisions about how passengers are treated will be driven by the slim profit margin associated with each of us. That means they own us on the aircraft, which squeezes the profit margin every time it moves.

    Hint: carry a small digital camera or cellphone that takes pictures. When situations like this arise, start snapping photos. You’d be surprised how quickly attitudes of the carrier employees change.

  • To the person with the Rome problem as well as those who say tough..passengers should not complain.

    Have you heard of a lawsuit ? Try it out sometime. It usually works well. You know…drag the airline into some local small claims county court and make them spend some money on legal counsel and drive up their own costs. Obviously, with a lawsuit, they have no choice but to respond and deal with whatever ticked off the passenger to begin with.

  • Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of more than 12 hours by a refund of 150% of the ticket price.

    Tell me ONE other industry that will compensate you 150% on anything! I’m waiting. I guess since our family stayed an extra 2 days in Florida this year to watch the Space shuttle launch, and it was delayed for days before being cancelled for months, I should demand that the government compensate us for that debacle.

    You people are definitely the uneducated masses that fly on the airlines these days. I especially love the leader, a Real Estate broker! That job only requires a High School Diploma or a GED.

  • ^^^^referencing the above post.

    Once again, I do not give a darn whether the airline compensates me. I will haul their butt into county court and make them spend some money on legal fees and I might even win. My cost…a small filing fee. Big deal.

  • ^^^^^in response to the above message.

    Hey. I agree with you too. But, I reiterate that instead of crying and begging for some idiotic passenger bill of rights, be tough and goto court and file a lawsuit if you feel you have been wronged and have suffered some damage. I have too much pride for one to beg Congress to do something or to ask the airlines to behave better. Nothing works better than a lawsuit as you get to make them waste money and time.

  • Today’s (Wednesday, February 1, 2007] New York Times has an editorial that supports the efforts of this blog. The editorial is as follows (
    Editorial – NY Times
    Indefinitely Grounded
    Published: February 1, 2007

    Travelers and airlines have a deal. In exchange for transporting them safely, passengers agree to give up a great deal of freedom of movement. Once aboard a plane, there’s no getting off until the crew says so. People have to sit when they’re told, buckle up and raise their seatbacks on command. In return, passengers expect the airlines to take care of them.

    But several high-profile failures this past holiday travel season suggest that Congress needs to intervene and set some ground rules to enforce this deal for people unreasonably stranded on aircraft. Delays at the gate are a hassle, but extraordinary delays on planes can be dangerous for the handicapped, chronically ill, elderly or small children.

    Take the passengers of American Airlines Flight 1348, whose flight from San Francisco to Dallas was diverted by bad weather to Austin, Tex. Obviously, weather is out of human control, and airlines rightly err on the side of safety rather than haste when it comes to bad weather or mechanical difficulties. Flying, particularly around the holidays, invariably entails a risk of delay.

    But there is delay, and then there is detention. The passengers on Flight 1348 were trapped on the plane after it landed for another eight hours. They say there was nothing to eat but a box of pretzels, and the toilets began to stink. Passengers say they overflowed. The airline says they didn’t. The difference is not worth debating.

    Passengers from that flight have revived the idea of a Passengers’ Bill of Rights, posting their ideas at Among the common-sense notions are procedures to get passengers back to a gate when a plane has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. When delays are that long, passengers’ essential needs — food, water, medical attention and sanitation — must be met. These proposals are a good starting point for eventual legislation.

    Following a similar incident in 1999, the airlines managed to avoid this sort of law through a voluntary customer service commitment. Congress should hold hearings to revisit their promises — and replace them with some requirements.

  • ^^^^^ In reference to anonymous stuck in Rome, rules say that for an international flight you must be at the gate 2 hours in advance of departure time. Airlines cannot help that you got stuck in traffic, and therefore they should not have to compensate you or your group one dime! Surely that is why your Senators didn’t respond either. If they got involved in every airline dispute when the passenger was at fault or not following the rules, they’d need extra offices to handle the work. As the saying goes “when in Rome”, at least allow for extra travel time when you’re in a city or country that is foreign to you.

  • What really bugged me was that Delta made it seem as if it was our fault. Granted we were stuck in traffic and ended up about half-hour late to the allotted security time at Fumicino. But heavy traffic is beyond our control. >>

    Ah, I see. So, you should not be penalized for something beyond your control, but the airline SHOULD be. Interesting.

  • When i was stranded recently by AA. They did not offer any drinks, food, and I got racial profiled and yelled at by an off duty Attendant, for saying out loud that they should have let us off.

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