A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled against a New York law, in the infancy of its implementation, that assured airline passengers fresh air, water, food and the ability to use an at least somewhat clean restroom if they're trapped in an airplane on the tarmac for more than a few hours.
In its ruling, the court said that such a law must come from federal lawmakers, not individual states legislatures. The airline industry successfully argued the Airline Deregulation Act prevents states from making laws "about prices, routes and services," according to Gannett News Service. It also argued that providing such amenities would cost too much.
Last year, I wrote about my own watered-down version of being stuck in a plane. I was glued to the tarmac for a mere three hours, but in that time I found myself parched, cranky and eventually in dire need of a restroom I could see but not reach.
It was unforgettable.
Although the new decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, there's a simpler solution. Congress should quit watching the case and provide a federal solution.
It wouldn't solve the airlines' angst about the cost of changes they'd have to make. It would absolutely prevent a mishmash of different regulations for different jurisdictions should an appeal change the ruling yet again. Ah, we're in New York, so we'd better treat the passengers like the frail creatures they are. It's Ohio. Who cares?
I can live without food for a fairly extended period of time. Water, too. I'd certainly be willing to pay for such consumables. I can even manage with stale air if I must. But the inability to use a bathroom when the need is urgent is not something I've figured out how to overcome. I don't think I should have to wear a diaper when I travel.
The airline industry says events like the unfortunate string of temporary strandings that occurred over Valentine's Day a year ago, when passengers on 10 flights were stuck for from four to 10 hours, is very unusual. The Coalition for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights at the time countered that it's not as rare as we'd all like to believe, because of the way the count is done. The Department of Transportation said that for all of 2006, only 36 planes were held on the ground for five or more hours. (And I was miserable after three. What a wimp.) CAPBOR replied that DOT only included flights that finally took off, not those that were ultimately canceled. It put the count over a six-month period at closer to 135 planes, brimming with passengers, some of whom were probably themselves brimming.
I'm not unsympathetic to the challenges the airline industry faces, including rising fuel costs. And I adore airplanes as a form of travel. They put the world within reach and when things move along as they're supposed to, it's enjoyable. I also actually take seriously industry worries about the high cost of meeting laws that limit how long passengers can be stuck on board without amenities.
I totally get that bad weather happens and is out of everyone's control. No one wants a plane to take off if it's not safe.
But I don't understand why the airlines don't return passengers to the terminal to wait when hours have already elapsed and there's no take-off in sight. Skip the food and water and bathroom if those are cost-prohibitive barriers. Just start over. Anyone who flies much knows all about long waits in the terminal. They're doable, if unwelcome.It's a practical solution upon which Congress and the paying customers should insist.
Deseret Morning News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com