March 26, 2008 in Nation/World

Federal court nixes N.Y.’s ‘Passenger Bill of Rights’

Frank Ahrens Washington Post
 

A federal appeals court struck down a New York law Tuesday designed to make life a little easier for airline passengers stuck on tarmacs for hours on end.

In response to record delays at U.S. airports over the past two years, New York enacted a “Passenger Bill of Rights” requiring airlines to provide food, water and bathrooms for passengers stuck inside a grounded aircraft for more than three hours.

The law, backed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, was thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which ruled that individual states cannot make laws regulating airlines.

Although the goals of the bill of rights “are laudable and the circumstances motivating its enactment deplorable, only the federal government has the authority to enact such a law,” the court wrote.

Cuomo’s office said it is reviewing the court’s decision. New York was the first state to enact a passenger bill of rights, though at least nine others are considering similar laws. It was upheld by a federal court judge before being struck down by the 2nd Circuit.

The law was fought by the Air Transport Association, the trade group of the major airlines.

“The court’s decision vindicates the position of ATA and the airlines – that airline services are regulated by the federal government and that a patchwork of laws by states and localities would be impractical and harmful to consumer interests,” the association said in a statement.

The New York law was prompted by a massive backup on Valentine’s Day 2007 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where thousands of passengers were stuck for as long as 10 hours on JetBlue Airways flights.

Growing delays have provoked a nationwide passenger rebellion. One California passenger, Kate Hanni, was stranded on an American Airlines plane in Austin, Texas, last year for nearly 10 hours as tempers flared and toilets overflowed.

Hanni launched a grass-roots passengers’ rights movement eventually backed by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who sponsored a bill to that effect.

Thompson said Tuesday that some of the bill’s language made it into the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization, which passed the House and is now in the Senate.

In the reauthorization bill, airlines must provide food, water, circulating air and potable water to passengers regardless of how long they are stuck aboard an airliner. It also includes language aimed at allowing passengers to leave the plane after a certain amount of time on the ground.


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