Republicans Have Killed The Passenger's Bill Of Rights. Long Live The Passenger's Bill Of Rights!

Get ready to spend nine hours on the tarmac without food or water. Senate Republicans yesterday shoved the Passenger’s Bill of Rights into the chamber’s overhead bin, killing off hope that the bill will pass before the elections. Even worse, the shot-down bill had transformed into a gleaming marvel of consumer protection.

Here’s what happened: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a motion for cloture—Senate-speak for shut-up and stay on topic—which requires a supermajority of 60 votes for approval. Without cloture, Senators can yack forever like a bunch of riled-up monkeys. The vote on cloture failed 49-42, empowering Republicans to filibuster our beautiful piece of legislation into the ground.

What protections have Senate Republicans stolen from you? Let’s look at Senator Rockefeller’s (D-WV) substitute amendment sporting the new, improved Passenger’s Bill of Rights:



(a) IN GENERAL.–Chapter 417 is amended by adding at the end the following:


(a) IN GENERAL.–Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2008, each air carrier shall submit a contingency service plan to the Secretary of Transportation for review and approval. The plan shall require the air carrier to implement, at a minimum, the following practices:

(1) PROVISION OF FOOD AND WATER.–If the departure of a flight of an air carrier is substantially delayed, or disembarkation of passengers on an arriving flight that has landed is substantially delayed, the air carrier shall provide–

(A) adequate food and potable water to passengers on such flight during such delay; and

(B) adequate restroom facilities to passengers on such flight during such delay.


(A) IN GENERAL.–An air carrier shall develop a plan, that incorporates medical considerations, to ensure that passengers are provided a clear timeframe under which they will be permitted to deplane a delayed aircraft. The air carrier shall provide a copy of the plan to the Secretary of Transportation, who shall make the plan available to the public. In the absence of such a plan, except as provided in subparagraph (B), if more than 3 hours after passengers have boarded a flight, the aircraft doors are closed and the aircraft has not departed, the air carrier shall provide passengers with the option to deplane safely before the departure of such aircraft. Such option shall be provided to passengers not less often than once during each 3-hour period that the plane remains on the ground.

(B) EXCEPTIONS.–Subparagraph (A) shall not apply–

(i) if the pilot of such flight reasonably determines that such flight will depart not later than 30 minutes after the 3 hour delay; or

(ii) if the pilot of such flight reasonably determines that permitting a passenger to deplane would jeopardize passenger safety or security.

(C) APPLICATION TO DIVERTED FLIGHTS.–This section applies to aircraft without regard to whether they have been diverted to an airport other than the original destination.

(b) POSTING CONSUMER RIGHTS ON WEBSITE.–An air carrier holding a certificate issued under section 41102 that conducts scheduled passenger air transportation shall publish conspicuously and update monthly on the Internet website of the air carrier a statement of the air carrier’s customer service policy and of air carrier customers’ consumer rights under Federal and State law.

(c) REVIEW AND APPROVAL; MINIMUM STANDARDS.–The Secretary of Transportation shall review the contingency service plan submitted by an air carrier under subsection (a) and may approve it or disapprove it and return it to the carrier for modification and resubmittal. The Secretary may establish minimum standards for such plans and require air carriers to meet those standards.

(d) AIR CARRIER.–In this section the term `air carrier’ means an air carrier holding a certificate issued under section 41102 that conducts scheduled passenger air transportation.”.

(b) REGULATIONS.–Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall promulgate such regulations as the Secretary determines necessary to carry out the amendment made by subsection (a).

So what’s different from the old versions?

  • Compliance: Airlines now have 60 days, not 90 days, to get their act together and slap together a contingency plan;
  • Advertising: Congress wants this Bill of Rights placed “conspicuously” on each arline’s website. No burying the Bill of Rights in a site index;
  • Not Just For Departures: The substitute amendment now covers delayed arrivals.

We’re not wild about the absence of civil penalties, or empowering pilots to stall if they “reasonably determine” that take-off is less than 30 minutes away. As compensation for these losses, Senator Rockefeller tossed in this gem of a sweetener:


Section 41722 is amended by adding at the end the following:


(1) PUBLICATION OF LIST OF FLIGHTS.–An air carrier holding a certificate issued under section 41102 that conducts scheduled passenger air transportation shall publish and update monthly on the Internet website of the air carrier, or provide on request, a list of chronically delayed flights operated by the air carrier.

(2) DISCLOSURE TO CUSTOMERS WHEN PURCHASING TICKETS.–An air carrier shall disclose the following information prominently to an individual before that individual books transportation on the air carrier’s Internet website for any flight for which data is reported to the Department of Transportation under part 234 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, and for which the air carrier has primary responsibility for inventory control:

(A) The on-time performance for the flight if it is a chronically delayed flight.

(B) The cancellation rate for the flight if it is a chronically canceled flight.

(3) CHRONICALLY DELAYED; CHRONICALLY CANCELED.–The Secretary of Transportation shall define the terms `chronically delayed flight’ and `chronically canceled flight’ for purposes of this subsection.”.

If an flight is chronically late, not only must the airline broadcast their shame on their website, but they must also warn travelers before selling tickets that their flight will likely be delayed.

The Passenger’s Bill of Rights was tacked onto a much larger bill reauthorizing the FAA. Members of Congress could rip out the Bill of Rights and and pass it separately, but the Congressional calendar crowds up before elections, and our important little bill has little hope of standing out.

Like a Price Is Right Danger Price loser, we don’t get the contingency plans; we don’t get the food or water; and we don’t get the chronically delayed flight notifications. We get nothing. Thanks, Senate Republicans!

Air safety, passenger rights bill hits dead end in Senate [AP]
On the Cloture Motion (Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Rockefeller Amdt. No. 4627 (Subst.) to H.R. 2881 ) [U.S. Senate]
(Photo: Getty)