Air Passengers Rights Bill Introduced in Senate

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduces legislation to establish a bill of rights for all airline passengers. The bill would give passengers the option of leaving a plane once it has sat on the tarmac for three hours with the doors closed. It would also require airlines to provide food, drinkable water, and adequate restrooms if a plane is delayed on the ground.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Over the weekend, the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act was introduced in the Senate by Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democrat Barbara Boxer of California.

When I spoke with Senator Boxer earlier today, she said JetBlue's bill of rights doesn't go far enough.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): I just took a look at it, and I -I'm very glad they're doing something. But to be very honest, it misses the whole point of my bill of rights - mine along with Olympia - which basically you just cannot keep passengers on the plane for more than three hours without giving them an option to get off the plane. And it also guarantees that there will be food and water and clean toilets available. It just doesn't even go there.

BLOCK: And the idea of getting off the plane if it's been on the ground for three hours. Why three hours? How did you come up with that time period?

Sen. BOXER: Three hours seemed to be the common-sense approach. And there is a citizen group that's working out there for a passenger bill of rights, and it was interesting. They came up with that, as well. And we also give the pilot a chance, if he says look, we're going to definitely take off within 30 minutes, it gives him the right to extend that. But it also leaves it up to the pilot if there's a security issue or a danger issue in terms of whether that - he doesn't want to move the plane.

So we do give the pilot a lot of authority, which we think is the right thing to do.

BLOCK: Senator Boxer, there was a similar hue and cry after similar flight-delay problems back in 1999. Legislation did not go through, but there was a voluntary pledge by airlines to meet customers' essential needs. What happened to that pledge?

Sen. BOXER: Well, as I look at it, there's a few of those pledges that were just out-and-out broken in terms of the conditions on the aircraft during these long periods. They promised it wouldn't happen. They broke their promise. And I remember that was 1999, and we said we were going to do a bill of rights, and they all rushed and said not necessary, which is great.

Look, I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. BOXER: If the airlines are willing to do the right thing, I'm not a person that feels you need to pass a regulation. But they've had their chance.

BLOCK: I imagine you've heard this argument from the airlines, that with so many carriers in really deep financial trouble, that more regulation will really make things worse for them.

Sen. BOXER: Well, that's always the cry about - that you hear from the business community every time government tries to make things safer. But at the end of the day, we have to protect the people of the United States of America. We have to protect their families. We have to protect our children.

And now, post-9/11, it's very difficult for passengers to complain about anything because of the seriousness of what happened on 9/11. Passengers who cause any trouble at all can get themselves in a lot of trouble. So when you're on an aircraft, you're pretty much - have to comply with everything. And here you're in a situation where you're in a lock-down, almost a hostage situation. It's just unacceptable.

This is a very simple thing we're talking about. It's common sense. The airlines, I think, will benefit from it, and I hope we can get it done. I'm not naive about it. Every single time there's a regulation we propose, there's an outcry. The automobile industry didn't want to do seatbelts. They didn't want to do airbags. Now they take credit for it.

So, you know, there is a role for the government, since we are really responsible for licensing these airlines.

BLOCK: Do you think it would mean that ticket prices would go up some if airlines did have to lay in supplies like you're talking about?

Sen. BOXER: I would doubt it very much. I just don't really think it's that costly. They should have this water on board. They should have some snacks on board, and I don't see this as a major issue. I'll take them to Costco. We'll go shopping. It won't be that hard, you know?

BLOCK: Well Senator Boxer, good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

Sen. BOXER: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, one of the sponsors of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act.

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