Despite opposition from the airline industry and the California Chamber of Commerce, the California State Assembly passed AB 1943 (Leno) to protect passengers from lengthy delays on the runways without basic necessities such as clean water, food, access to clean bathrooms, lights and fresh air. Leno’s bill, which was supported by consumer groups including the Coalition for an Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights and the Consumer Federation of California handily flew off of the Assembly floor 57 to 17 with 44 Democrats and 13 Republicans giving it the liftoff. All 17 votes against it were from Republicans. It now lands in the Senate.
Currently, there are no statutory requirements for minimum airline passenger rights. The New York legislature successfully passed passenger rights legislation last year that is currently being fought by the airlines and their lawyers in the courts. The absence of legal protections has allowed for unhealthy conditions for passengers in California and across the nation.
The bill would also require air carriers to provide notice regarding passenger or consumer complaint contact information including contact information and the posting of the rights of airline passengers.
Leno said, “It is my hope that our state’s voice is heard and that it also becomes clear at the federal level that we need a national passenger rights bill for all airlines to follow when passengers’ health is at risk.”
When he introoduced the bill, there was praise from a national group. “When I was stranded for more than nine hours on the tarmac, I felt like I was a prisoner, not a valued customer,” said Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights (CAPBOR). “We are grateful to Mark Leno who is standing up for passengers’ basic needs, many of which, our report card shows, are being ignored by the airlines.”
Hanni was not happy that Leno took an amendment deleting language that could have allowed stranded passengers to sue under Business and Professions Code section 17200, the California Unfair Business Practices law. This amendment enabled the bill to receive Republican votes and is a pragmatic move to enhance the chances of a gubernatorial signature.
The CAPBOR annual report card tracks the strandings of the major airlines as well as how passengers were treated during delays. The report card is based on a combination of press reports, government statistics, and eyewitness accounts. Leno said, “The Coalition’s report card is further evidence that a comprehensive Bill of Rights is urgently needed for airline passengers. AB 1943 will require the airlines to treat passengers humanely.”
“It’s difficult enough to be stranded in an airplane on a tarmac for hours without any information about when the ordeal will end, but to not be provided drinking water, food or access to a clean bathroom is unhealthy and unacceptable,” said Leno. “No one should be denied basic necessities when stranded for hours on the tarmac.”
“Anyone who has flown on an airplane knows that as passengers, our fate is in the hands of the airline,” added Leno. “Our ultimate goal is to simply ensure access to basic necessities when passengers have no other recourse.”
Currently, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington are considering similar state laws.
Leno’s bill faced opposition from the Air Transport Association, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Mexicana, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways in addition to the California Chamber of Commerce.
Score this round a victory for consumers.
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