Federal Court Overturns NY Passenger Bill Of Rights

A sad day for air travelers:

A federal appeals court has rejected a law requiring airlines to provide food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers trapped in a plane delayed on the ground.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that New York’s new state law interferes with federal law governing the price, route or service of an air carrier. It was the first law in the nation of its kind.

The appeals court said the new law was laudable but only the federal government has the authority to enact such a regulation.

The law was challenged before the appeals court by the Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade group representing leading U.S. airlines.

Apparently the ATA thought providing “food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers trapped in a plane delayed on the ground” was too onerous a requirement. New York is planning to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Court overturns passenger rights law [AP] (Thanks to Brandon Savage!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. IamTCM says:

    Goodnight sweet prince.

  2. Honus says:

    “The appeals court said the new law was laudable but only the federal government has the authority to enact such a regulation.”

    Grand. So now we’ve gotta wait for the feds to regulate the industry? The same one it bails out constantly…

    Bad news.

  3. LorneReams says:

    They’re right…if it’s in conflict with federal law, it needs the fed to make the mandate. It’s practical too, you don’t want differing laws on a nation wide carrier where the laws may change every 20 minutes as you land and pass over other states. Next step is congress (LOL yeah right).

  4. BalknChain says:

    The feds are very busy making sure all inmates have cable. To not have that for them is inhumane.

  5. kbarrett says:

    Easy enough to fix.

    Just encourage passengers stuck on the tarmac in NY to dial 911.

    Then have the local SWAT team break into the plane with battering rams, free the passengers, and arrest the flight crew for kidnapping.

    The airlines will cut a deal after the first few loads of passengers get rescued.

  6. huadpe says:

    What NY could do if they’re serious is to translate this into something in the criminal code. States can and do have the power to prohibit unwilling detention, and an amendment to the statute banning kidnapping could satisfy this situation. The problem with this is that it would put the liability on the flight crew as opposed to the airline. The AG could sue the airline for criminal conspiracy, but the pilot and flight attendants could be charged with a very serious felony.

    The legal reason NY can’t do this through civil legislation is pretty solid. States aren’t allowed to regulate interstate commerce, so they can’t regulate flights that leave NY State. If states could regulate interstate commerce, then New York could impose a tariff on Pennsylvania, which would be absurd. This was a real concern when they wrote the constitution, but is less so now.

  7. thesabre says:


    I don’t believe you can accuse someone of kidnapping if you voluntarily get onto the plane.

  8. IrisMR says:

    Well, in the best of worlds the airlines would apply that simple bill anyway and treat us like human beings. Of course, they won’t do that since they’re assholes and they like torturing whoever gives them money.

  9. snowmentality says:

    @thesabre: Sure you can. If you got into a taxi and the driver refused to take you where you wanted to go, instead drove off somewhere and refused to let you out of the car, that would be kidnapping, wouldn’t it? Even though you voluntarily got into the taxi.

  10. NightSteel says:


    Maybe not the specific crime of kidnapping, but it’s still a crime to detain someone against their will.

  11. Heyref says:

    @thesabre: You ask me for a ride to the grocery store and voluntarily get into my car. I pull out of your driveway and stop at the curb. Four hours later, we are still sitting there, and I refuse to let you get out of the car. I’m pretty sure that would get me arrested for kidnapping in most places.

  12. The Count of Monte Fisto says:

    @kbarrett: That’d be a good way to get yourself arrested for filing a false report. But by all means try it out and report back to us.

  13. Bladefist says:

    it would be nice if it was a federal law. Actually i would be nice if we didnt need this law and the airliners took care of this on their own. Since that obviously wont happen, federal law is 2nd best because it helps everyone everywhere instead of having each state have their own version of the law.

    Welcome to America.

  14. The Count of Monte Fisto says:

    @Heyref: I don’t have a ticket it front of me, but I’m guessing there’s stuff in all that fine print that differentiates between getting stuck on the tarmac and getting kidnapped by strangers bearing candy.

  15. bigvicproton says:

    one person (hero) gets chest pains and you all get to go back to the terminal extra pronto…something to keep in mind. nobody is ‘trapped’ they just want you to think you are trapped.

  16. GearheadGeek says:

    Nice. The ATA on the website declares this a “Decisive Victory for Airlines and their Customers.” I’m not sure who they THINK the airlines’ customers are, but this definitely doesn’t seem like it has any direct benefit to customers at all. I just love the way sleazy trade organizations spin garbage into gold… like AT&T’s twisted definition of “Network Neutrality.”

  17. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:

    @The Count of Monte Fisto:
    It’s not a false report if you honestly thought you were being held against your will.

    However, I have a suspicion that airlines have something in their fine print and/or terms of service…where you consent to let them hold you on a plane for hours.

    But I’d still call 911 and complain, and urge other passengers to do the same.

  18. huadpe says:

    @thesabre: I proposed changing the kidnapping law to make this included. Kidnapping is whatever the law says it is.

  19. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    Dred Scott.

  20. John Whorfin says:

    What happens when you want off the plane when conditions deteriorate?

    Can the passengers unionize?

  21. Hateshopping says:

    What is the law that says the airline can’t just pull back up to the gate and drop the passengers into the departure area again? Say, if the delay is going to be more than 45 minutes? You’d think it’s forcible confinement if they won’t let you off the plane when you have an implied contract to depart once you board the plane.

  22. SeraSera says:

    Sooooooooooo next semester I really oughta intern with a congressman and put this DC-for-college thing to good use. Any suggestions on consumer-issues friendly congressmen to try and sign up with to push federal issues like this with?

  23. legotech says:

    My parents were flying to France and on landing at their connection at Heathrow, they were told that someone had run onto the runway and that the airport was locked down…no place to get them off. Someone three rows ahead of my parents collapsed with chest pains. They got off the airplane.

    I wanted to know who it was so I could send him presents.

  24. oakie says:

    captain obvious seemed to have missed this post completely. no way does it imply NY cares not for passenger rights… a state simply cannot impose on a federal regulation.

    too bad the people who brought this to court in a state judicial system were idiots.

  25. Red_Eye says:

    Since NY has no authority to force them to provide a minimum of service I suggest NY shut its airport down until such service is guaranteed.

  26. consumersaur says:

    so they aren’t taking passenger’s rights “very seriously?”

  27. Amelie says:

    @GearheadGeek reported: “The ATA on the website declares this a “Decisive Victory for Airlines and their Customers.”

    I wish some community-oriented hackers would shut the website down for that blatant lie!

  28. .
    I believe the court erred.

    Yes, airline regulation is the job of the feds, so the states are not allowed to add regulations for fear of a confusing state-by-state patchwork of laws. I get it.

    But, providing a passenger with a bottle of water during an 8-hour delay is not directly related to “price, route or service of an air carrier.” Saying that an airline cannot confine passengers on the ground for hours at a time DOES NOT affect the services an airline chooses to provide. Rather, it sets a minimum standard for basic human needs. Still, it’s the only argument the airlines could muster. They went before a federal court arguing that it’s federal law which should apply, not New York’s. Guess who won with those federal judges?

    In an era of government standards for sanitation, safety and other basic human needs, it’s amazing to me that this problem cannot be fixed. But, no airline wants to voluntarily set a standard for detainments because that will cost more money. It’s that simple. Want backup water bottles on every flight, just in case? That costs more gasoline. Want the legal right to deplane after sitting hours and hours on the tarmac? That costs money, too, and would put any one particular airline at a competitive disadvantage.

    Either ALL of the airlines have to fix this or NONE of them will. So, government laws seem like the only solution because it levels the field and forces all airlines to incur the cost of meeting basic human needs. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS FAILED to pass a law because the airline industry lobbied against it and won out over Joe Passenger.

    Finally, a State like New York steps in with a sane bare-bones solution, but the airlines win again because federal judges toss the problem back to Congress and into the laps of the lobbyists.

    The detainment of passengers on the tarmac for up to ten or more hours with no water, nutrition or working toilets — and no end in sight — is perfectly legal and something I believe should strike we Consumerists right between the eyes. It’s the perfect example of how the system is broken and how consumers are screwed — just when they’re most vulnerable — unless they unite and fight back.

    Congress has failed passengers.
    Courts have failed passengers.
    The States have tried, but failed.
    What’s next?

  29. Beerad says:

    @BalknChain: “The feds are very busy making sure all inmates have cable. To not have that for them is inhumane.”

    Wow, I guess the star means that a commentor is a jerk, huh?

  30. Buran says:

    Why doesn’t a state have the right to regulate how businesses must operate in that state? I don’t think NY tried to tell the businesses how to behave in other states, but last I checked a state could regulate how businesses are run, and pull permission to operate if businesses won’t abide by state law.

  31. ellis-wyatt says:

    The way things are going, the airlines are going to become federalized anyway in the next few years. If you think airline service is bad now, just wait until that happens. The banks became federalized about 10 days ago with the Bear Stearns bailout. The airline bailout will happen as soon as the current financial system bailout is concluded.

  32. katylostherart says:

    i think the best part of this is this means airlines are refusing their own employees these things as well. when a plane is shut and stuck on the runway, the attendants and pilots are also stuck without food, water, fresh air and toilet access. that probably violates some sort of federal employment law in itself.

  33. katylostherart says:

    @Beerad: sarcasm doesn’t make someone a jerk. it’s a pretty reasonable to point out how stupid some things are.

    passengers and crew getting food and water is a no go.

    murderers get cable.

    that makes sense to you somehow? it is pretty ridiculous what the government will support and what it won’t sometimes, this is one of those times.

  34. LionelEHutz says:

    It’s called federal preemption.

  35. greatgoogly says:

    Another win for the “United Corporations of America” (formerly the United States of America).

  36. Beerad says:

    @katylostherart: “Murderers get cable”.

    1) A blanket statement about prison conditions seems pretty irrelevant to why an appellate court issued the ruling discussed in this post. Yes, I’m sure the reason the feds don’t address this is because they’re busy insisting prisoners have cable.

    2) A joke about “oh those inmates have it so easy” is not particularly funny. Ha-ha, those goofy prisoners! Why don’t they just die and save everyone money!

    3) An uninformed statement about federal lawmakers and what laws they pass seems particularly pointless and inane. Do you have any idea what any federal legistlative initiatives are related to either prison conditions or air travel conditions? No? Didn’t think so. But that’s okay, it’s the internets! Who needs facts?!

    4) No, sarcasm doesn’t automatically make someone a jerk. Posting ignorant, irrelevant statements that confuse the issue sure helps, though. Bonus points for making fun of unpopular groups.

    5) Gain additional points for poor causal connections. But the president gets all the pretzels he wants on Air Force One! Therefore, it’s unfair that this law was struck down!

    6) Gain a kajillion points for failing to RTFA or give it a moment’s thought. “it is pretty ridiculous what the government will support and what it won’t sometimes, this is one of those times.” Yes, yes, it is completely ridiculous that a federal appellate court struck down a state law as overstepping its constitutional bounds and interfering with the federal government’s superceding lawmaking authority. ZOMG, that’s soooooo crazy, you know? WTFBBQ?

  37. DeepFriar says:

    @Cranky Customer: toooooo long

  38. katylostherart says:

    @Beerad: i could be wrong about what he meant by that but you let that bee fly up your nose, not me. i’m sure the reasons the feds don’t address this is because they focus on a lot of inconsequential things too far up on the priority list anyway and this just isn’t at that point yet. prisoner basic rights should not be higher than law abiding citizen basic rights. one of the actual points of going to jail is you lose your rights as american citizens. it’s why you can’t do things like vote from jail.

    i never said it was funny. i just said it was a sarcastic remark with a reasonable point about how a lot of things make no sense.

    you took this out of proportion. if you find everything the government does as reasonable or proper you are in dealing with some heavy denial. if you find everything ANYONE does as reasonable or proper you are dealing with some heavy denial. the process of law making has no bearing on whether or not a law made is nutty or unreasonable. you’re still not allowed to flirt on the books of one town. in my state, you can’t bicycle over 65 mph. there are stupid stupid wastes of ink and paper on the books federally and in lower levels of government that have nothing to do with the validity of any legal process.

    re: making fun of unpopular groups – we’re still not a nation that lauds unauthorized murder. i’m not sure we should be a nation that lauds authorized murder either, but i know for a fact we don’t really like the form that was already stated as bad juju.

    it is pretty ridiculous that the government would not pay more attention to this. 8 hours is a long time without clean toilet facilities and fresh air. and back to the prisoner statement, you can’t get off the plane, does that make you illegally detained? does that make you a prisoner? maybe in some ways. so federal/state prisoners get food (vegetarian if requested), water, toilets, a rec room and cable and someone who is not allowed to leave a very small confined area but has not committed or been convicted of any crime is not allowed the same thing despite the fact that they have paid for a service they cannot call on and are not released to provide themselves with that service.

    did you even stop to ponder that effectively these people were prisoners for a certain amount of time and they didn’t even get the basic amenities provided to actual felons?

    yes, i think this is probably overblown, but if something has obviously happened once then it’s usually best to be prepared in case it happens again.

    i said nothing of the president and his pretzels, so at this point i guess your brain’s exploded because you fail to have a sense of humor. kudos for you.

    work on that.

  39. ChuckECheese says:

    @LorneReams: You’re right; I don’t want different rules. So we should settle for the lowest common denominator? How about settling for uncommon decency?

  40. Silverage says:

    Assemblyman Gianaris has not given up. He and his staff will continue this battle. Maybe all the readers of this blog should send an e-mail of support to the Assemblyman, thanking him for what he is trying to do to help the consumers!

    gianarm@ assembly.state.ny.us

  41. Bladefist says:

    @greatgoogly: yup, but don’t forget who pays most of americans paychecks. Don’t be so quick to hate. :)

  42. geoelectric says:

    Airlines buy routes and space at airports, don’t they?

    Isn’t there a contractual way this could be implemented instead by kicking them out of the airport (as leases expire) unless they agree to the conditions? Attach a lease breach condition/charge to it to keep them compliant.

  43. MarvinMar says:

    Attention, this is your captain speaking
    You seat cushens can also be used as urin sponges.

    Seriously, If they dont want to give you access to clean non-overflowing toilets lets see how they feel when you take a dump in your seat or in front of the cabin.
    I bet after that happens a few times they wile start to take the comfort of their passengers seriously.

  44. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @Bladefist-안녕: Well, shit, take the rest of my civil rights too.

  45. @geoelectric: Yeah, they do, but then the costs of keeping the facilities functional would fall back to someone else, namely the taxpayer. Now, you could recoup that by leasing vacated space to other airlines, but since part of the reason why NY has so many of these damn incidents where people get stuck for obscene amounts of time on the tarmac is the fact that the gate space and air traffic control schedules are maxed beyond capacity, you would undoubtedly end up back where you started. As there is no real room to expand any of the greater NYC area’s airports that isn’t much of an option either.

    There seem to pretty much be two options – institute a federal law, which would probably result in raised prices across the board as airlines try to recoup the costs involved, or have NYC reduce the number of flights allowed to take-off and land in the major airports (assuming NY chose to act unilaterally), which would also result in raised prices as available seats would be fewer. The former would not reduce the number of incidents but would make them much less unpleasant, the latter would reduce the number of incidents and greatly improve service (no more average waits of an hour on the JFK tarmac!) but make booking or rebooking a ticket less convenient. Dunno which option I’d pick, honestly.

  46. BalknChain says:

    @katylostherart: Thank you for seeing the point and agreeing with me.

  47. DogTown says:

    Saying that this is a job for the feds to take on, is just another way of saying that the airline lobbies now get to take another series of shots at suppressing anything that might make them have to be responsible for providing any basic human needs to people being held hostage held hostage in their fuselages.

  48. Bladefist says:

    @doctor_cos: Don’t take my comment out of context. What I said hardly means what you reacted to. I’m just say there are people in America who hate corporations, hate the word corporate. This has been going on since hippies. I’m just saying, dont be so quick to hate. I’m not saying they can do whatever they want.

  49. GearheadGeek says:

    @Bladefist-안녕: The problem, in the last 7 years, has been the corporations’ undeserved place at the government head table. If they don’t like a regulation, they just toss George a banana and go talk in the back room with Cheney and voila, lax regulations or nonexistent enforcement. It’s not a problem that corporations exist and make money, it’s a problem that they now do so in a more-laissez-faire-than-legal environment.

  50. MisterE says:

    Perhaps if passengers start crapping near the cockpit, the airlines might let them off the plane. When civility, common sense, and basic rights are denied to people, sometimes the only recourse is to act uncivil.

  51. JerseyJarhead says:

    Please, please, please join



    If we can’t get some FEDERAL legislation pushed (or is it “putched?”) through, we will all continue to suffer at the hands of these fuckers.