2010-04-09 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER It has been said that flying is the safest way to travel, but when one hears reports of lost luggage, delayed flights, and passengers being stranded on the tarmac for hours, it sometimes seems as if flying is also one of the more frustrating ways. As a consumer, you can take comfort in knowing that both the state and federal government have taken action to address these issues.

In 2007, I supported, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed bill A.8406-B, sponsored by my colleague Assemblyman Michael Gianaris. This bill required airline carriers to provide electric generation for the purpose of providing fresh air and lights, waste removal services, and adequate food, drinking water and other refreshments to passengers who have boarded an aircraft but have been delayed from takeoff for more than three hours. The law also established an office of airline consumer advocate within the Consumer Protection Board to assist airline customers in resolving complaints with carriers. Even though in 2008 the United States Court of Appeals held that the law was preempted by federal law, the passage of this bill served to draw attention to the rights of airline passengers and helped spur the federal government to take action.

In December 2009, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a new rule, going into effect this spring, which strengthens the rights of airline passengers. This rule requires airlines to provide food and water to passengers within two hours of the plane being delayed on the tarmac; they must also maintain operable lavatories. After three hours, U.S. airlines operating domestic flights must deplane the passengers, and international flights that depart from or arrive in the United States must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers. The only ex-ceptions allowed are for safety and security reasons and if air traffic control informs the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. The rule also prohibits airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights and requires them to respond to consumer complaints in a timely and substantive fashion, provide information to consumers on where to file complaints, display on their website flight delay information, and adopt customer service plans.

In addition to these protections, the DOT has redesigned its Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforce-ment website. This website, which you can view at http://air consumer. dot.gov/index.htm, has a wealth of consumer information. You can compare the on-time and baggage mishandling records of airlines, obtain information about DOT rules and enforcement actions, receive travel tips, learn which airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection, retrieve information about the DOT’s complaint handling systems, file consumer complaints about airline service, and much more.

In addition to being able to obtain information on the website, you can also call the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division at 202-366-2220. Furthermore, both the Transportation Security Administration (1-866-289- 9673 or http:// www.tsa.gov/travelers/ index.shtm) and the DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration (1-866-TELLFAA or http://www.faa.gov/passengers/) offer up-to-date information on the many federal regulations pertaining to air travel.

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