Friday, February 16, 2007

CNN Article #2
Plane strandings fuel passenger rights push

POSTED: 10:26 a.m. EST, February 16, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The stranding of hundreds of passengers aboard JetBlue Airways Corp. planes for up to 10 hours during icy weather Wednesday has revived calls to enact an airline customer rights law.
Rep. Michael Thompson, a California Democrat, said Thursday he planned to introduce a bill that would address delayed flights, time on the tarmac, cancellations, and lost or damaged luggage.
The airline industry beat back a similar push for legislation in 1999 after agreeing to a adopt a voluntary customer service initiative in response to a Detroit snowstorm that snarled Northwest Airlines operations.
"A lot of my colleagues who have heard about it have contacted me and expressed an interest" in the legislation, both in the House of Representatives and Senate, said Thompson in a telephone interview with Reuters.
Late on Thursday, the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Illinois Democrat Jerry Costello, called the JetBlue situation unacceptable and said a panel would hold hearings on airline customer service complaints.
Angry at similar incidents at other airlines in December, Costello said the industry now has two strikes against it. "The third strike will mean Congress considers legislation," he said in a statement.
JetBlue's chief executive said Thursday the airline would lose "many millions of dollars" after bad weather left passengers stranded on its planes at New York's John F. Kennedy airport. (Watch passengers describe their flight to nowhere )
"I don't blame our customers for being upset with this," David Neeleman told CNBC television. "It was one of these things that just spiraled out of control"
Neeleman said the airline was repeatedly assured on Wednesday that the icy weather was about to clear and the planes would soon be allowed to depart. "I think we'll learn from this and we'll certainly do better in the future."
One of Thompson's constituents, Kate Hanni, launched a drive for a passenger bill of rights after she was stranded on an AMR Corp. American Airlines flight in Texas on December 29.
Hanni and others want a passenger bill of rights to cap the time any delayed flight can languish on the tarmac without letting passengers get off. They also want the bill to specify compensation when airlines fail to deliver services as promised.
The Air Transport Association, a trade group of major U.S. airlines, said inflexible standards could do more harm than good.
"We think that one size doesn't fit all," said ATA spokesman David Castelveter. "We think the best solution continues to be to allow the flight crews and their operational experts to make these type of decisions."
Thompson said his legislation would provide a greater degree of comfort in air travel and do it without putting the airlines out of business.
"I think passenger anxiety is at an all-time high," partly fed by what he described as the drudgery of post-9/11 security measures.
Shares of JetBlue closed 4.7 percent higher Thursday at $13.85 on Nasdaq. Goldman Sachs added JetBlue to its "buy" list saying the carrier's margin expansion would outpace most carriers in 2007.
Copyright 2007 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

No comments: