Air passenger rights bill draws concern

Legislation that would help those stranded on airport runways draws concern that language doesn't go far enough.

By Jeff Cox, contributing writer

NEW YORK ( -- While the Senate moves forward to pass an airline passengers' bill of rights, consumer groups remain wary that its language may not be tough enough to help stranded fliers.

The bill of rights, approved last week by the Senate Commerce Committee, mandates that airlines supply basic services to passengers stranded during flight delays. Among the requirements are that the carriers provide food, water and adequate restroom facilities while planes are grounded.

But the rules the committee adopted did not include a provision that passengers be given the option to get off planes that are delayed more than three hours for takeoff. Instead, the bill allows airlines to devise their own timetables.

A passengers' rights group said Monday it will continue to lobby to have the three-hour requirement put back in the legislation.

"If this were the final version it would be very disappointing from a minimum standards standpoint," said Kate Hanni, spokeswoman for the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. "We have to fight for stronger language."

Hanni said her group is willing to allow for some compromise that would take into account instances when the three-hour requirement isn't feasible. She noted that the minimum standard had included two 30-minute extensions that could be called for at the discretion of pilots, such as when they believe deplaning would be unsafe, or if the pilot has reason to believe that takeoff is imminent.

But despite the disagreement over that portion of the bill, Hanni and other advocates said they were generally pleased that the bill of rights was moving ahead.

"Along with thousands of other passengers left stranded for eight to 10 hours or more in non-hygienic planes, I am very pleased that the committee has moved an airline passengers' bill of rights closer to takeoff," Hanni said.

Edmund Mierzwinski, of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said his organization also will be working with the legislation's sponsors, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), to make sure the tougher language is included.

In addition, Boxer said she has sent letters to airline carriers requesting that they submit proposals to address tarmac delays within 30 days.

The passengers' bill of rights was included as part of the FAA reauthorization bill.

Officials at several airlines as well as industry representative group the American Transportation Association were not immediately available for comment Monday. Top of page