Panel Opts To Let Carriers Decide On Guidelines
Anyone holding out hope the federal government would finally
add some teeth to guidelines on how airlines should handle
passenger strandings should probably stop reading now.
The Associated Press reports the so-called "tarmac task force"
-- a group made up of federal officials, airline executives and
passengers rights advocates that first met last December -- voted
Wednesday on a disjointed set of measures aimed at better treatment
of passengers during extended flight delays.
Alas, the commission couldn't even decide on the definition of
what a "lengthy delay" should be... and it only gets worse from
there. The task force did say airlines should update passengers
stuck on the tarmac every 15 minutes about their situation, even if
there's no news to report; that refreshments and entertainment
should be provided for stuck travelers 'when practical'; and that
airlines should "make every reasonable effort" to keep lavatories
If that language sounds somewhat less-than-authoritative, keep
this in mind: it really doesn't matter anyway, as the task force
also opted to allow airlines to determine whether or not they would
comply with the guidelines in the first place. And that grates task
force member Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline
Passengers Bill of Rights.
The report "is a set of best practices, but there's nothing
enforceable where a passenger can say, 'I won't be held up for more
than three hours or five hours or eight hours, or without a glass
of water or a sandwich,'" said Hanni.
"We were hoping at a bare minimum to come out of this task force
with a definition of what is an extensive on-ground delay."
Another task force member said it become immediately clear the
committee, dominated by airline interests, would be unable to reach
consensus on any meaningful standards.
"The airlines don't want it, and the airports — several of
them major airports — believe they already have plans" to
handle passenger delays, said Paul Ruden, a senior vice president
at the American Society of Travel Agents. "I had hoped we would do
Despite those protests, the final task force vote was 34-1 in
favor of the model contingency plan, said DOT Secretary Mary E.
"I deeply appreciate the time, efforts and thoughts of all the
representatives of airlines, airports, consumer groups and the
Department who served on this task force," Peters said. "As we
continue our efforts to improve protections for airline passengers,
this document and the viewpoints of all the task force members
should provide a valuable resource to minimize the hardships to
passengers resulting from lengthy airline ground delays. I look
forward to reviewing the document in the coming days."
Not surprisingly, the Air Transport Association feels the task
force reached its goal. "The success of the task force clearly
demonstrates that not every problem requires a new law or
regulation, especially when it comes to operational and
customer-service issues," said Elizabeth Merida, a spokeswoman for
the airline lobbying group.