Standards proposed for stranded passengers

by Art Marroquin, Daily Breeze

Airlines would be required to provide water, food, clean restrooms and
other basic amenities to passengers stuck more than an hour on the
tarmac at California’s airports under a bill set to be introduced

Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-El Segundo, will formally announce his proposed
Airline Passenger Health and Safety Act, which would also require
airlines to publish an online list of chronically delayed flights and
recent runway incursions.

"A lot of times passengers feel helpless when they are forced to stay
on delayed planes, and the airlines don’t do anything to help them,"
said Lieu, whose district includes Los Angeles International Airport.

"Historically, passengers have been put at a disadvantage while the
service on airlines has gotten increasingly worse," he said. "This will
provide passengers with the health and safety they deserve."

Lieu’s proposal comes six months after a glitch in a single desktop
computer shut down the U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening
system at LAX on Aug. 11, followed by a power outage that knocked down
the system for a second time in less than 24 hours.

More than 19,000 passengers were affected by the outages. Many of them spent up to

12 hours trapped on airplanes and at the customs screening area inside
the international terminal. Although LAX officials have been credited
for providing food and water for the stranded passengers, Lieu said
more needs to be done to ensure that passengers are kept comfortable
during such incidents.

"It’s pretty shocking to see what passengers have been
subjected to, whether it’s 12-hour delays with no food or an inability
to get off a plane," said Zack Kaldveer, a spokesman for the Consumer
Federation of California, based in San Mateo.

"There is just no good reason that paying customers should be
subjected to that kind of treatment," Kaldveer said. "I think this bill
simply reflects what the people are demanding."

Lieu’s bill, AB 1407, also calls for the creation of an Office of the
Airline Advocate to investigate and resolve consumer complaints. Under
the measure, air carriers would also be required to compensate
passengers up to 150percent for overbooked flights, or if a person
misses a connecting flight due to a cancellation or postponement.

Lieu’s bill resembles a so-called Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
introduced earlier this month by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San
Francisco, and a measure already in effect in New York, where airlines
are required to provide stranded passengers with water, snacks, fresh
air, lights and clean restrooms. The New York law went into effect Jan.
1 and carries a penalty of $1,000 per passenger per violation.

The Air Transport Association, the trade group representing major
airlines, challenged the New York measure, saying the federal
government trumps state laws governing customer service. But a judge
upheld the law, saying that it primarily dealt with health and safety
rather than customer service.

The ATA plans to appeal the judge’s decision next month, said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the group.

"We don’t agree with a Passenger Bill of Rights because we believe the
airlines are doing what is necessary to improve the level of service
that is already provided," Castelveter said. "It’s an extremely rare
situation when you are on board an airplane for a long time with no
access to water or other supplies."

The plight of stranded passengers was brought to the attention of
California lawmakers by Kate Hanni, a Napa resident who was stuck
aboard an American Airlines MD-80 for more than nine hours at an
airport in Austin, Texas, on Dec. 29, 2006.

"At first we thought it would end quickly, but as time wore on we
realized that we were never getting off the plane," Hanni recalled.
"They kept telling us food was on the way, but it never materialized.
Everyone on board was getting crazy."

Hanni has since filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging
false imprisonment. She also formed the Coalition for an Airline
Passenger Bill of Rights.

"I’m doing this because I’m angry that the airlines are using their
money and clout to defeat the paying passengers," Hanni said. "Aren’t
we the ones they are supposed to please?"