Should Tarmac-Delay Rules Become Law?
As someone who has spent a career listening to travelers complain, I know what you don't like when you're on vacation.
You hate being ripped off by airlines, car rental companies and hotels. Silly rules frustrate you, too. So does bad customer service.
But what you don't tell me is often just as important.
For example, even after a series of high-profile tarmac delays in 2008, in which planeloads of passengers spent hours trapped on aircraft without water or food, few air travelers were screaming for laws that would force flight crews to return to the gate. Sure, there were one or two loud voices calling for legislation, but mostly passengers responded to the problem with a collective shrug.
Still, government regulators heeded the calls and enacted measures to punish airlines for holding planes for more than three hours. The rule has all but eliminated tarmac delays, a problem that affected only a fraction of flights to begin with.
So I was more than a little surprised when I heard that a coalition of consumer organizations was pushing for additional legislation to address the issue. The groups, which include
"The contributions to the public good provided by the (
It's not that I'm against any of these things, per se. It's just that as someone who spends a lot of time talking to travelers, I'm not sure whether they're asking for any of this.
Take the hotline, which is in both the House and the
A phone number in 2011? Seriously? In an age of email and social networking, the idea of DOT operators answering phone calls from distraught passengers seems kind of old school. What's more, it seems likely that the agency would have to hire more workers to staff the call center, and since the law doesn't include any new money for it, it's unclear how the center would be funded.
Or take tarmac delays. In
Airlines don't want any new legislation, either. "Airlines proactively take steps -- such as canceling flights in advance of storms -- to minimize inconvenience and extensive delays and ultimately get customers where they are going safely and as quickly as possible," says
Additional tarmac-delay laws could hurt air travelers, research suggests.
"The actions by consumer groups will add cost to everyone's ticket," he told me. "Adding new regulations to an overregulated industry will only add more cost. More cost equals higher ticket prices."
I asked federal regulators what would happen if new consumer protection laws were passed with the
In other words, it could be a mess.
This is one of those rare times when I'm siding with the airline industry. Not because passing laws that supersede regulations is a bad idea. (Actually, it might be nice to get a full price on an airline ticket, but I'm content to wait until the DOT addresses that in an upcoming ruling, as promised.)
No, it's because I haven't heard any readers ask for these additional steps. Not a one.
I think that passengers would be best served by the passage of a slimmed-down
It's what air travelers want.
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