WASHINGTON — Seizing on the public's frustration with airline delays, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called on her colleagues Thursday to finally approve an air passengers' bill of rights.
The legislation, introduced last year, would require airlines to provide food, drinking water, cabin ventilation, toilet facilities and access to medical treatment to passengers stuck on planes waiting to take off.
Airlines would be required to develop contingency plans for allowing passengers to deplane within a specific time frame. In the absence of such a plan, passengers would have the option, as long as safety was not compromised, of getting off a grounded plane three hours after the aircraft doors had closed.
"All of us know that delays happen," Boxer said. "What we are concerned about is how people are treated after the delays happen."
The proposal would not protect passengers from the kinds of flight cancellations seen this week, Boxer acknowledged.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved the measure in May 2007 as part of legislation reauthorizing funding for the FAA. Its co-sponsor, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), said a dispute between members of the Finance and Commerce committees over airline fees and unrelated funding questions was preventing the bill from coming to a vote in the full Senate.
A renewed push for federal legislation came last month after a federal court struck down a 2007 New York state law -- similar to the one being considered in the Senate -- on grounds that only the federal government has the right to regulate air travel.
"They put the ball in our lap, and here we are -- led by quarterback Boxer," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Elizabeth Merida, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Assn. of America, which represents airlines and opposes the proposal, said carriers need flexibility to address situations on a case-by-case basis.
"We believe that a strict law set forth by Washington would actually inconvenience passengers even more in the end."