Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Passenger Rights Is Put On Hold For Awhile

For those keeping score at home: Last week, Congress extended funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Extending the rights of airline passengers, not so much.

The split decision came down to stripping out previously proposed language that would have established a passengers’ bill of rights. Proponents were understandably upset; industry members were presumably pleased, and the issue is probably off the Congressional agenda until next spring.

All of which serves as a telling backdrop for passenger-protection proposals currently being considered by the Department of Transportation (DOT). With new reporting rules on tarmac delays going into effect this week and winter weather around the corner, inquiring minds want to know: Will DOT do what Congress could not?

The latest rule, effective October 1, requires airlines to report additional information on tarmac delays and closes a loophole that skewed the existing data on canceled and diverted flights. It was conceived in the wake of the serial meltdowns that subjected thousands of passengers to onboard delays of four or more hours in December 2006 and February 2007.

Amazingly enough, under current rules, those flights weren’t considered delayed at all. (Those stuck on board may beg to differ.) As soon as a flight was canceled or diverted, the airlines were no longer required to record it as delayed. At that point, says Sam Podberesky, DOT’s assistant general counsel for aviation enforcement, “All the information regarding tarmac delays disappeared into the system.”

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