The Business Travel Coalition, a group that represents about 300 corporate travel departments, has joined forces with nonprofit advocacy group FlyersRights.org to support passenger-rights legislation allowing airline passengers on domestic flights on U.S. carriers the option to exit an aircraft that has been delayed at least three hours on the tarmac.
If passed, the legislation—which is part of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Olympia Snowe (R¬-Maine)—would provide federal government oversight for onboard airline delays of three hours or more. Currently, the decision to allow passengers to leave an aircraft when it is delayed on the tarmac is determined by each airline and crew on a case-by-case basis.
BTC previously opposed Congressional intervention in this issue but has shifted its position after surveying 674 travel-industry professionals in August. BTC concluded that “there is evident market failure that can only be addressed by government intervention,” according to its published survey results.
The survey found that 82 percent of respondents support the proposed legislation, and 85 percent believe BTC should weigh in on the efficacy of passenger-rights legislation and support it. Fully 91 percent of respondents indicated that addressing extended tarmac delays should be a priority for airlines.
“BTC testified four times since 1999 in opposition to Congressional intervention,” said BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell in a statement. “However … consumers continue to be harmed and are without protections at the state level. As such, the only remaining remedy is a single passenger-rights standard emplaced by Congress that needs to do for passengers what the airlines have refused to do.”
The most recent numbers from the Department of Transportation show that 613 flights between January and June 2009 experienced tarmac delays of at least three hours. However, the issue has attracted greater attention after an incident last month in which 51 passengers were stuck overnight on a delayed Continental Express flight at the Rochester, Minn., airport with no food or drink, according to USA Today.
Of the 674 individuals who responded to BTC’s survey, 198 were corporate travel professionals, 187 were business travelers, 123 were travel management company execs, 25 were airline staff, and 141 were other individuals involved in the travel industry.
A Passenger Rights Stakeholder Hearing is planned in Washington, D.C., on September 22 to address both sides of the ground delay issue. Witnesses for and against the legislation will be present at the hearing, and a roundtable discussion will take place among members of the House and Senate who are interested in this issue. Attendance at the hearing is free; however, registration is required and seating is limited.