Passengers' Bill of Rights Enacted in New York, Considered in Other States

It all started last Valentine's Day, when flights at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport were grounded due to massive ice storms that swept the entire New York area. Passengers in some flights by JetBlue and American Airlines were kept contained within their planes, waiting to either finally take off or be let off, for 10 hours.

During that time, passengers were reportedly only given the equivalent of just a cup of water and a bag of peanuts, while the holding tanks for bathrooms on board the flights quickly filled up, causing toilets to overflow and passengers to be treated to the foul stench of human waste for a good duration of their time stuck on board. Not anyone's idea of a romantic holiday.

Now a dual-pronged effort from outraged citizens and legislators is attempting to make sure such an incident never happens again, or at least if it does, passengers have clearly defined rights that would make the airlines face harsh penalties for their disregard for basic and decent treatment of passengers.

Currently, a passengers' "bill of rights" is being considered or implemented in a handful of states, and Congress has been voicing its opinion that the airline industry make such a provision national in scope. The spread of this awareness of the document has been aided by a concerned citizen, Kate Hanni of Napa Valley, California, who started the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.

New York, the site of the Valentine's Day debacle, has gone ahead with its statewide passengers' rights bill with an effective date of January 1st of this year, despite a lawsuit by major airlines protesting that the requirements contained in the bill would be too harsh on their industry, which has seen massive increases in flight delays, lost luggage and complaints for things they claim are out of their control.

The New York bill's requirements mandate fresh air, lights, functioning restrooms and sufficient food and drinking water to be provided to passengers whose flights are delayed three hours or longer. It also provides for close regulation of incidents with a consumer advocate office to receive and investigate complaints, which can administer stiff fines of up to $1,000 per passenger for violations of the code.

And other states are taking the cue from New York. Currently , Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey and Rhode Island are all considering implementing some version of a passengers' bill of rights for airlines flying to airports in their states.

And on a national level, when Congress convenes to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, likely in February, it could make its own version of the passengers' bill of rights at the federal level. Whatever the case, and whatever the scope of the passengers' bill of rights, whether at a state or federal level, it's good news for passengers. With a clearly defined bill of rights, with definitions of expected and acceptable behavior, passengers will have greater recourse in the event that the airplane drops its responsibility and they unfortunately have to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for an injury.

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