Lawmaker proposes air passenger bill of rights

JetBlue's problems with cancelled flights over the past week might boost prospects for an airline passengers' bill of rights that Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., announced last Friday he will introduce when Congress returns from its Presidents Day recess.

Thousands of JetBlue passengers were stranded after the airline did not cancel flights quickly enough during winter storms and then did not have the staff to move travelers to different flights.

"Flying will never be as comfortable as home, but passengers have a right to know what level of service they can expect on an aircraft," Thompson said in a statement. "I think the airlines will also benefit from having a set of rules to guide them through difficult situations, such as weather emergencies."

Thompson decided to draft the legislation after one of his constituents started an online petition demanding more rights for passengers after being stranded on an American Airlines flight in December, a spokesman said.

The bill would give passengers the right to deplane if they have been sitting on the tarmac for longer than three hours. It also would require airlines to inform passengers on "chronically delayed" flights at the time of ticket purchases, keep passengers better informed on the causes of delays, and provide passengers trapped in planes on the tarmac with food, water and clean bathrooms.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Commerce Committee said it has not yet determined if there is a role for Congress in ensuring passengers' rights, or if the FAA should take the lead. During a Commerce Aviation Subcommittee hearing last Thursday on the reauthorization of the FAA, many senators referred to the JetBlue debacle and cited a Bureau of Transportation Statistics report which said one out of every five flights in the United States arrived late, the worst rate since 2000.

Thompson's spokeswoman said Thompson plans on introducing the bill next week, and a spokesman for Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello, D-Ill., said there will be a future hearing on "aviation consumer issues."

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