Schumer, Gianaris advocate bill of rights for air travelers

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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), acting after a jetliner was delayed for six hours on the Kennedy Airport tarmac, have called for support for a bill of rights to protect air travelers.

A passenger protection bill, authored by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), is already before Congress. It would ensure travelers can no longer be trapped on airliners for long periods of time or deprived of food, water or adequate restrooms.

“While the FAA has in the past had a ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ approach to addressing the unbearable flight delays crippling New York City area airports, it’s the passengers who feel the pain,” Schumer said.

“But until the FAA does something about those delays, the least we can do is ensure that passengers are treated respectfully while they wait on the tarmac. This plan gives iron-clad rights to the millions ofpassengers who have been stranded and left on the tarmac for hours.”

About 100 Sun Country Airline passengers were stuck on the runway at JFK for six hours Friday before departing for the Twin Cities on a flight that lasted only 2 1/2 hours.Airport officials attributed the delay to construction and bad weather.

Gianaris said, “Enough is enough. The abuse of America’s airline passengers has gone on too long.”

Just weeks earlier a Continental Express flight from Houston to Minneapolis was forced to land in Rochester, trapping 47 passengers in their seats for six hours. The Department of Transportation has launched an investigation into the incident.

According to the latest federal statistics, passengers aboard 278 planes endured tarmac delays of three hours or more in June alone, with 90 of those flights in and out of New York City airports. Since January 2007, 200,000 domestic passengers have been stuck on 3,000 planes for three hours or more waiting to take off or taxi to a gate.

The bill before Congress would require airlines to offer passengers the choice of safely leaving a plane once that plane has sat on the ground three hours after the plane door has closed.

The airline industry challenged the state law bill in courts, which struck it down on the grounds that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction in regulating the airlines.

The proposed federal law would allow the pilot to deny passengers permission to leave a plane if the pilot reasonably believes their safety or security would be at risk. If the pilot determines the flight will leave within 30 minutes after the three-hour period, the pilot can delay the deplaning option for an additional 30 minutes.

Under the proposed law, airlines would be required to develop and submit to the U.S. secretary of transportation their own programs, incorporating medical considerations, to ensure passengers are provided a timeframe under which they will be permitted to deplane from a delayed aircraft.

Such plans would be available to the public.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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