Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Federal Task Force On Tarmac Delays Does Nothing

The federal government, showing all the wisdom of an airline CEO, put together a task force paid for with tax payer dollars, to address the problem of people stuck on the tarmac for hours on end.

The task force, ironically made up of people from the airline industry, which is the equivalent of putting together a board of cats to address how to protect mice, spent two years and came up with no solutions to the problem. This should come as no surprise since no one in the airline industry has ever come up with any solution to any problem that ever made any sense.

Passengers who had hoped for stronger protections were left empty-handed by the guidelines.

"You have to admit that the game is still heavily weighted to business as usual," Kate Hanni, a passenger rights advocate, told her fellow task force members before voting against adoption of the report.

Passenger rights advocates said the report of the tarmac task force, as it is informally known, reflected demands by airline members that they have the flexibility to design their own response plans and not be pinned to a time limit for holding passengers on tarmacs.

Task force member Daniel Rutenberg of the International Airline Passengers Association also expressed disappointment at the lack of "time-specific triggers" for allowing passengers to return to gates and appealed to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to address the issue.

Transportation Department Assistant General Council Sam Podberesky, the task force's chairman, said the department is working separately on a rule that will require airlines and airports to have contingency plans and include a time limit.

Federal rulemaking is a lengthy process, guaranteeing the issue will be among those waiting for the Obama administration.

The report "is a set of best practices, but there's nothing enforceable where a passenger can say, 'I won't be held up for more than three hours or five hours or eight hours, or without a glass of water or a sandwich,"' said Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.

The task force report recommends that:

* Airlines update passengers delayed on tarmacs every 15 minutes even if there is nothing new to report.

* A secure room be provided for passengers from diverted overseas flights so they can avoid having to go through security checks when reboarding an aircraft to their final destination.

* When practical, refreshments and entertainment should be made available to passengers confined aboard aircraft awaiting takeoff.

* Airlines should make reasonable efforts to be keep airplane restrooms usable.

The Transportation Department's inspector general last fall recommended setting a limit for how long airlines can force passengers to wait on planes that have been delayed taking off.

The 36-member task force was created in December by Peters to develop model plans for after several incidents in which passengers were stuck for hours before their flight took off or before they were allowed to get off the plane.

Task force members said it quickly became apparent that the group -- dominated by airline industry and airport representatives -- would be unable to come up with a model plan acceptable to a majority of members.

"The airlines don't want it, and the airports -- several of them major airports -- believe they already have plans" to deal with passengers stuck aboard aircraft, said task force member Paul Ruden, a senior vice president at the American Society of Travel Agents.

The smartest thing the government could have done to save everyone time instead of putting together a task force made up of people who are the problem is to just set fire to the money on the capital steps and be done with it.

An alternate plan would have been to put the task force members on a regional jet in the middle of summer sitting on the tarmac without an water and an overflowing toilet until they come up with a solution, I am betting it wouldn't have taken a year.

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