Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fer criminy's sake

Via Crab Apple Lane, a tale about your classic Flight From Hell. I've a good deal of sympathy for the passengers, having been in bad situations with delayed flights and airline ripoffs - but Rob's choice of Quote of the Day just... well... aarrrgh.

Now, they’re calling for the U.S. Congress to pass a passengers’ bill of rights.
Oh, baloney. Enough of this "X's Bill of Rights" crapola. Passengers already have a bill of rights. It's called the Bill of Rights.

I can't stand this classifying people to the nth degree. It makes us think of ourselves not as citizens under an equal rule of law but as aggrieved subsets who aren't getting special attention (wah wah) and why doesn't Congress do something?

Well, Congress isn't supposed to do something about everything. The whole point of the actual Bill of Rights and Constitution was limiting Congressional power and leaving the actual business of everyday living to the sovereign citizens of the country - us. Crying for a law every time one has a merely unpleasant experience, and then giving that cry equal status in name with one of the revolutionary documents in world history, is nitwittery.

Of course it's not your fault Rob, and I'm not yelling at you. This is just another whack at the piƱata for people who want the government to make life perfect forever and ever; who think that the moment you're dissatisfied someone has to be held liable. Even with cause (such as these passengers had) that's a dubious proposition.

Let's take this proposal (which I will NOT be calling the PBOR) one step at a time, shall we?

All American air carriers shall abide by the following standards to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their passengers:

OK - right off, I'd like to point out that any American air carrier that does poorly with safety, security, and comfort should not be patronized, and should go out of business quite nicely without more damned laws - many of which are probably already on the books in some form or fashion. It's not like fraud is legal.

• Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.

And who gets to decide what "appropriate resolution" is? Right now, it's you the consumer. If Delta jerks your chain, fly United. If United strands you in Pierre, South Dakota, fly Continental.

• Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.

If they ask, then a responsible airline should tell them. If not, then why annoy them? "Oh, we're going to be late, just GREAT," they huff; but if the delay's only 15 minutes, why make the passengers huffy? They probably wouldn't have noticed anyway.

• Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.

I'm not arguing in favor of stranding people in a plane indefinitely, but I can't conceive of major airports not already having procedures for these cases, because a life-threatening event requires it. The problem is that in many areas, one can always take another airline, but you're stuck with the airport - and the airport may suck.

The solution seems obvious to me. If the airport is the problem, then any law or revision thereof should target that and not the carrier.

• Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.
• Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.

These are, I think, already laws - you can't just lock people on a plane intederminately with no provision. More than that, it's common sense. You mean we need a law to tell us not to imprison our customers in an uncomfortable box all day?

Reading the original account, you see that American had unavoidable problems (technical and weather delays), and then made them worse by being understaffed around the holidays. For me the eye-opener, however, was that in some of the other cases cited, the delays were caused by well-meant laws badly applied. For example: international passengers stranded in a diverted plane, unable to stay because there was no customs service and unable to go on because the crew had reached their lawful work-time limits. How can the airline be made liable for that? On the flight in question, the captain was repeatedly denied permission to get to a gate and eventually did it anyway. But a nine-hour delay, however horrid, is preferable to the risk of a collision, certain to injure or kill many.

In either case, there are already all sorts of remedies in civil court, and the ultimate expedient, taking one's business elsewhere.

• Publish and update monthly on the company’s public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least forty percent of the time, during a single month.

Actually a decent idea; but again, usually airlines and airports analyze data like these and, to keep themselves in business, they work to avoid these delays. In other words, why make a law when it's something the airlines already need to do well? (Notice the trend here?)

My heart goes out to the crew. They're just as stuck, with the added fun of getting screamed at (or possibly threatened) by weary and frustrated passengers, and an obligation to be kind and patient in reply.

• Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price.

AHA. Sooner or later, we knew that this was going to have a "Gouge the Business" Provision.

• The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but [sic] rather passengers and consumers – that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.

And sooner or later, a new bureaucracy was bound to come into play.

Hey, dumbass lawyers - passengers and consumers already have formal ability to complain. They hired YOU, you useless dipwads. And there are plenty of non-airline executives with the formal ability to review and investigate complaints. They're called judges. BUT they can't do their jobs until you do yours, which is representing your clients' interests instead of grandstanding for some face time on TV.

• Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real-time.

Orbitz isn't easily accessed? They're so easy to access, half the time I do it without even trying because of the damned popups.

• Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.

Look, I'm not just ranting off the cuff here.

Continental's policy.
United's policy.

I found them pretty much in less than a minute. I had more trouble finding them for places like Jet Blue and AirTran, which didn't surprise me. They aren't major carriers and there's a reason why. In other words, consumers already are watching out for themselves, aided effectively by laws already in place.

In all of these cases, the policy is (quite sensibly) that you tell the airline that your stuff is gone, and then they get cracking. I've had my luggage misrouted, and it's a drag wearing the same outfit two days in a row until you get shopping, but really, did it break my arm? And then I had new clothes, so really, it was win-win in the end.

Note that all of these sites will, with only minimal trouble, tell you about handling policy beforehand, and they also warn you that the TSA assumes responsibility under certain circumstances - and they then give you links to their web site and a helpful toll-free phone number.

None of this has yet considered that for a major airline, one can always go to the counter at the airport (or call ahead) and ask about stuff. Like, "Where's my luggage, you crooks? And why am I routing through Cleveland for a flight from Dallas to Tampa?"

There's something at the end of this stupidity that said that the laws would also apply to foreign carriers (I think, I don't know what code-share partners are since I'm not in the industry). Again, utterly useless since doing business here already implies following the appropriate laws.

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