Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sorry, Passengers!

If you've traveled by air in the last year or so, you have almost certainly experienced the precipitous decline in the quality of the experience. Seats seem to be narrower (although that may just be a factor of your big, wide American backside), fewer flights take off or arrive on time, more luggage goes to the dreaded Black Hole of Vanished Bags, and you often have to pay for the yucky food that at least used to be free. Sometimes, as a result of weather, traffic jams in the air and on the ground, or scheduling errors, you can end up sitting on the tarmac for hours without food, water, air conditioning, or even working toilets. That's all bad enough, but the worst part of it is that the airline owns you during that time, and you have no recourse to compensation for discomfort, lost time, and general aggravation.

Things got so bad last year that the state of New York enacted a Passengers' Bill of Rights Law to address some of the more flagrant abuses. The airline industry, of course, objected to such a law, which would cut into profits already battered by the soaring cost of fuel.

And your Federal government, in the form of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has stepped in to help you. In a recent decision, the court struck down New York's law requiring airlines to provide food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers stuck in delayed planes, saying that while it was well-intentioned, it interfered with federal laws governing the price, route or service of an air carrier. The court's decision called the goals of the law laudable and the circumstances that prompted New York to adopt it deplorable, but said that only the federal government has the authority to pass such regulations.

Can you spell stupid? Few recent decisions so well illustrate the famous quote from Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, in which character Mr Bumble said that "the law is an idiot." While its legal reasoning is technically sound (Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution gives the federal government the authority "To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states..."), what we have here is a classic example of the states stepping in where the federal government has failed to exercise its responsibility. Instead of recognizing the problem and allowing the New York law to stand as a prod to Congress to start doing its job, the court simply struck down the law, saying it was a federal, not a state issue.

And you know, of course, how quickly Congress will move to protect your interests, as opposed to those of the airlines (which, as a general rule, contribute more to political campaigns than you do).

Think about that the next time you get ready to fly, and think about it again the next time you get ready to vote.

Have a good day. And try not to have it stuck in an airplane without basic services.

More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Dancing with the Stars update: magician Penn Jillette and tennis star Monica Seles were the first two stars eliminated from competition last night. Both decisions were righteous, although I hated to see Monica Seles go, if only because I liked her. Sigh.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

So glad I've never been on a plane and somehow this post makes me want to give it a go even less. So much for Vegas :(

Amanda said...

We have this relatively new budget airline in Asia (called AirAsia) that makes you pay for everything, including your baggage by weight for longer distance flights. This is not OVERWEIGHT...just whatever weight you happen to bring on board. I don't know what its like in other parts of the world but I found this one really strange.

Also, if you want to avoid the stampede, you can pay to board 5 mins before the rest of the people. No priority boarding for the aged, infirmed or babies.

Mike said...

Amanda, wait until they start weighing YOU. Everyone will be taking laxatives and making sure they visit the restroom right before the weigh in.

And Bilbo, come on! Of course we can spell stuped. Give your readers some slack, geeez.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I would have thought it was the passenger's fundamental right to at least one free meal, no matter how awful it is.

KKTSews said...

Amanda, We have a new airline in the US this year, called Skybus. Sounds like AirAsia. You pay for each bag, extra to board early, and it's completely no frills. Except for the food they sell. Get this, they PROHIBIT you from bringing on your own food, then try to sell you food and drinks. I'd rather pay $50 more and at least know the steward/ess is there for safety, not commissions.