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State Law Clouds Issue of Smoking on Flights

September 27, 1987|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles.

The California Legislature has passed a law that figures to cause a stir among smokers, tobacco industry lobbyists and the state Department of Transportation.

The new law, approved less than two weeks ago and now awaiting Gov. George Deukmejian's signature, bans smoking on intrastate buses, trains and airplanes.

Smoking sections on public transportation vehicles have already been shrunk to almost nothing by state and federal edict, but this latest move in Sacramento removes them entirely. And the transportation companies aren't at all happy about it.

Air Transport Assn., the trade group of the domestic airlines, has asked the department to advise the governor and the legislators that any attempt to enforce an intrastate transportation smoking ban is unlawful. According to the association, state law is superseded by the Federal Aviation Act, which gives airlines the right to offer a smoking section.

Intrastate vs. Interstate

That act does not cover buses and trains, but Amtrak and the motor-coach companies believe they have justification in existing federal legislation to resist the ban.

One of the problems of the new California law is that it does not clearly define what is intra state, as distinct from inter state, transportation.

PSA, for example, operates a San Diego to Seattle flight. It is advertised, promoted and sold as such. But it makes a stop in Los Angeles en route.

Is it, as PSA insists, entirely an interstate flight? Or is the San Diego-Los Angeles leg considered intrastate as it relates to the no-smoking law?

A PSA spokeswoman asks, "Will we tell our passengers they can't smoke between San Diego and Los Angeles but that they can between Los Angeles and Seattle, even though we consider it to be a direct, interstate flight? That has to be clarified."

Two Intrastate Routes

Amtrak has only two unquestionably intrastate routes, Los Angeles-San Diego and San Francisco-Bakersfield. But what about its coastal service that goes to the Pacific Northwest from Los Angeles, with stops in other California cities?

Or those that go to Las Vegas and Arizona and elsewhere in the interior by way of California points?

In terms of passenger inconvenience the airlines have it easiest. The longest nonstop flight within California is probably not much more than an hour.

But Amtrak and bus operators carry passengers without a break for much longer periods, and they're worried that the smoking ban will divert people to the airlines where they won't have so long to suffer between puffs.

Another question is who will enforce the law? A Delta Airlines spokesman asks, "Will our flight attendants become policemen? Do we hire a Brink's security guard?"

In the end, the unenforceability of the law, if it is approved by Deukmejian, may be its undoing. Meanwhile, though, you haven't heard the last salvo in the California transportation smokeout battle.

-- -- --

Remember Hawaii Express? The low-cost California-to-Honolulu air carrier went out of business in December, 1983. A post-deregulation entrant into the air transportation field, it went bankrupt trying to compete in a cutthroat market against established competitors with a lot more financial backing.

Now one of those competitors, United, may help passengers (who were left holding Hawaii Express tickets after the bankruptcy) get at least some--if not all--of their money back.

For those Hawaii Express passengers who filed claims as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, here is the latest information:

United will allow those holding Hawaii Express tickets to buy, for $125, vouchers that they may exchange for one-way transportation on its Los Angeles-to-Honolulu service. If you are holding a round-trip Hawaii Express ticket, you can buy a round-trip United voucher for $250.

A Valuable Settlement

The vouchers will be freely transferable one time for whatever the market will bear. And that's what makes the Hawaii Express/United settlement more valuable than it might appear at first glance. Given today's air fares to Hawaii, the vouchers--for those who choose to sell them--could be worth several hundred dollars.

The vouchers are good for travel on a space-available basis, with restrictions.

Reservations must be made at least 24 hours--and not more than 14 days--in advance of travel. Only the United reservations center, or airport counter, can handle the voucher transaction; no travel agent will be permitted to get involved.

A $25 charge will be made for itinerary changes or cancellations after the voucher-generated ticket has been issued. Tickets must be used within a year, and blackouts will be imposed around holidays and during peak summer periods.

If you're holding a Hawaii Express ticket, you don't have to buy a voucher from United. You can hold onto your ticket, stand in line with the rest of the creditors . . . and you may be able to get about $20, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The Hawaii Express estate trustee is getting ready to circulate news of the settlement among creditors/ticket holders. One estimate of the total value of the Hawaii Express tickets held (not all holders have filed as creditors) is about $1.8 million.

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