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Congress Takes Passengers for a Rideno - it's not a hairpiece, just a bad haircut           back to TTN home page
by Joe Harkins
- Mar 03, 99

   "I'll sue." Oh, how delicious that phrase feels in the mouth when you confront an airline employee after something goes terribly wrong.

    Let's say, you are refused boarding beacuse your long standing reservations for the vacation of a lifetime aren't in the check-in desk computer or your dog hasn't been seen since you checked him in as baggage in a carrier box three plane changes ago or you've been sitting for six hours in an airplane, on the ground, a mile from the terminal building, in a snowstorm, waiting for a unloading gate.

"I'll sue your airline for every penny you've got." Yeah, sure. You'll fix 'em. A hometown jury of your local peers will award your matador of a lawyer two ears and a tail. You'll get a cash settlement so huge you'll be able to buy your own airplane, hire your own crew and be liberated from any future indignities of this sort.

    As we say here in New York when confronting foolish delusions,
fuh-geh-dah-bow-dit. Airlines have great immunity from lawsuits and they know it. Worst of all, they often act like they know it.

    When Congress deregulated the airline industry, it prohibited States from enacting or enforcing any law relating to rates, routes, or services. The result, according to
American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), is that the airlines have become a veritable law unto themselves, immune from State Court law suits seeking to hold them responsible for harm to passengers. At the same time, says ASTA, the airlines remain free to call upon these same State's laws against other parties when their own interests are served.

    As a result of travelers' growing frustration, a number of proposed Federal laws recently have been widely publicized. There's the
Airline Passenger Fairness Act, S383 sponsored jointly by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and McCain (R-AZ) and HR752, by Rep. Towns (D-NY).

    The text of that bill and all the others mentioned in this article are online at the Government Printing Office. Simply select 106th Congress and in the search field, type in the name of the bill (e.g.: Airline Passenger Fairness Act) and click enter.

    And that's not the only legislation supposedly intended to restore some equality to the struggle for peace, justice and legroom.

    There's also the
Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 1999, HR 700 by Rep. Shuster (R-PA) and the Passenger Entitlement and Competition Enhancement Act of 1999, HR 780, by Rep. Dingell (D-MI) as well as the Airline Competition and Lower Air Fares Act, HR 272, by Rep. Slaughter.

    The ASTA site offers summaries of each bill, as well as background and action history. Just one provision of Shuster's bill should gladden any road warrior's heart. An airline would have to pay compensation to passengers held inside an aircraft for more than two hours prior to takeoff or after landing. Penalties would start at double the ticket price. At three hours the penalty would triple, at four hours quadruple, etc.

    If that impresses you, you have probably been paying too much attention to recent sensational events in Washington DC without knowing what really goes on. Maybe you should read
Public Campaign's exposť of how certain legislators supervised the killing of airline consumer protection legislation in last year's Congress. Recognize any names?

    One of the dirty little secrets in the US Congress is that legislators have been known to introduce a bill that, if enacted into law, would threaten the profits or unbridled actions of a well financed industry. The
Political Action Committees (PACs) for companies and organizations in that industry make campaign contributions to that legislator and certain members of the committee that controls the bill's language and fate.

    The bill either dies in committee or is so emasculated in the process that it sings for it's supper in high soprano. The "law-maker" gets to strut for a while as a friend of the abused traveler and the folks who make the multi-million dollar contributions get the multi-billion benefit.

    Am I suggesting that's what happening here? 

    Please, just go read the Center for Responsive Politics list of multi-million dollar donations from air transport PACs to members of Congress. Compare the names of the legislators sponsoring some of those so-called "passengers rights" bills and members of the relevant legislative committees to the list of those on the dole from aviation PACs.

    Again, I ask; recognize any names?

    Make up your own mind about the likelihood which, if any, of those bills get out of committee and become law.

    Meanwhile, if you are looking for legal relief from the sovereign arrogance of some airlines, fuh-geh-dah-bow-dit.


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