Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Passenger Rights And Canceled Flights

That old law of unintended consequences seems to be kicking in as flights are being canceled pro-actively, i.e. in advance of December storms that sometimes don't even materialize.

We're among those who've been horrified at the thought of being stuck in a plane on the tarmac for hours at a time awaiting clearance for takeoff. The toilets are overflowing, the children are crying, and the adults are rebellious.

Presto, after publicity regarding some particularly outrageous incidents, Congress passed a so-called "Passenger Bill of Rights" law. Fast forward to December 2010 and chaos ensues, including some fairly wholesale flight cancellations, affecting several of those near and dear to us.

A professor at the University of Michigan has written a sensible OpEd in today's New York Times that starts off like this:

The recent East Coast blizzard put the “passenger bill of rights” and its three-hour tarmac delay rule to its first real test. It should come as no surprise that airlines were more aggressive in canceling flights during this storm because of that Department of Transportation rule. The fines are simply too high (up to $27,500 per passenger), and there is simply too much ambiguity about when the D.O.T. will and won’t levy fines, for the airlines to take a chance in such unstable and unpredictable conditions as the recent storm.

What is less clear is how this has affected passengers. Consider the following choice: A: Having your flight canceled 24 hours in advance of your planned departure, or B: Having your flight board as scheduled, with a 50 percent chance of departing after several hours of delay sitting on the tarmac and a 50 percent chance of sitting on the tarmac for several hours and then canceling. Which option would you choose? Perfectly reasonable people might differ in their decisions.

You can read it all here.

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