Airline passenger rights adopted

Airline passenger rights were formally adopted by the Department of Transportation after years of neglect and more could be on the way.
DOT finally adopted rules on how long passengers can be kept prisoner aboard airliners sitting on the tarmac without food, water, operating lavatories or medical care.
The rule proposed in November 2008 was sent to be published in the Federal Register after the pre-Christmas snow storm that crippled the Northeast and affected air travel across the country and the world.
With timing only a bureaucrat can admire, the rule does not take effect until 120 days — a routine period — after being published, which takes it past the spring school break, another period for heavy family travel.
It is also the time when the weather that can cause the most trouble is at its worst.
Three hours is the most that planes can idle on the airport without allowing passengers to get off the aircraft. If they cannot leave, food and drinking water must be available within two hours, a lavatory must be maintained in an operating condition and medical attention must be provided, if necessary.
There are some loopholes — for safety and security issues and if the FAA says returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.
The new rule also requires airliners to take some actions that may not be apparent to travelers. They include airlines from scheduling flights that are chronically delayed that has been considered by the department as an unfair and deceptive practice; have an employee designated to monitor flight delays and respond to complaints; display delay information on each domestic flight on the website; adopt service plans and audit those plans. It also prohibits airlines from making changes in the fine print on the back of tickets that would have a “negative impact on consumers.”
Still to come, said the department, are more rules to protect travelers.
Under consideration are requirements for airlines to submit their tarmac delay plans for review and approval, additional reports, baggage fee disclosure and stronger requirements that ads disclose the full fares that must be paid.
In announcing the new rules on delays, the department noted that it had recently fined three airlines $175,000 for their Aug. 8 role involving 47 passengers on a single flight held on the ramp for six hours.
The 50-seat commuter airliner was flying from Houston to Minneapolis when it was diverted to Rochester, Minn. because of weather.
Tarmac delays have been an issue for more than a decade since a number of flights with many passengers were stuck aboard planes in Detroit in January 1999.
Only heavy fines imposed quickly will likely change the culture that has kept passengers imprisoned for hours, sometimes longer than the flight schedule.
The proposal on baggage fees and air fare ads is — in a way — a limited return to airline regulation when government approval on fares was required before they could be charged. Airlines were deregulated in 1978.
January in aviation history:
? Jan. 1, 1929 — Maj. Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, Capt. Ira Eaker and Lt. Elwood “Pete” Quesada, all to become World War II generals, along with Lt. Harry Halverson and Staff Sgt. Roy Hoge begin what was, for the time, the start of the world endurance record for a plane refueled in flight. They were flying the “Question Mark,” a Fokker C-2. The flight ended Jan. 7 after 150 hours, 40 minutes and 14 seconds over Los Angeles.
? Jan. 3, 1968 — PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, was formed, going on strike in June 1981.
? Jan. 8, 1944 — First flight of a Lockheed XP-80 jet with a deHavilland Halford H-1 engine. Milo Buchanan flew the “Lulu Belle,” a prototype developed in 143 days, faster than 500 miles per hour in level flight.
? Jan. 14, 1958 — The first complete around-the-world scheduled passenger service was started by Qantas (Queensland And Northern Territories Air Service) with Lockheed Super Constellations.
? Jan. 15, 1964 — Boeing, Lockheed and North American Aviation submit design proposals for a Supersonic Transport (SST) to be built in the United States. Engine proposals were submitted by General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Curtiss-Wright.
? Jan. 16, 1991 — The air attack on Iraq beings.
? Jan. 18, 1911 — Eugene B. Ely flying a Curtiss biplane make the first landing on ship, the USS Pennsylvania.
? Jan. 20, 1914 — Lt. J.H. Towers established the Navy’s first air station at Pensacola, Fla.
? Jan. 23, 1929 — The Navy begins its first fleet exercises with aircraft carriers, the USS Lexington and the USS Saratoga.
? Jan. 31, 1958 — The first American satellite to go into orbit was launched by the U.S. Army. Explorer 1 discovered the Van Allen Belt, transmitted data until May 23, 1958 and did not decay until March 31, 1970. The Soviet Union had successfully placed two vehicles into orbit, the second with the dog “Laika,” the previous October and November.

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