Most everyone who has flown has been stuck waiting. Waiting in the airport wondering whether their flight will take off on time, or worse, waiting on the plane itself, trapped in a narrow seat wondering whether they’ll be forced to deplane altogether. Just our luck, one politician is ready to step in and protect us. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) has introduced legislation holding airlines more accountable when passengers are stranded by bad weather.
Recently, Jet Blue trapped people on planes for hours. Passengers were outraged, and felt like prisoners without even access to a toilet. Jet Blue attempted to deflect the bad press that would result by publishing its own “Passenger’s Bill of Rights.” They wanted to assure future passengers that this sort of thing isn’t the way Jet Blue does its business. Good press relations, but angry passengers weren’t satisfied, and obviously, neither was Mr. Thompson.
Airlines are not enthusiastic about canceling flights. A fully booked flight can represent over a half a million dollars in revenue, so if they can leave passengers on a plane and take it off 45 minutes later, that’s quite a bit of cash saved. Mr. Thompson thinks that regulating the way airlines operate their business will help avoid delays due to weather, but it’s the same nanny state attitude that wastes congress’ time over and over again.
The fact is, if you don’t like the regular practice of leaving you stranded on an overbooked airline, then perhaps you should consider another carrier. Southwest, for example, has fantastic statistics on on-time flights and lower cancellations. They do this by booking fewer flights. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer to fly a low-cost carrier like Jet Blue, it’s quite possible that you’ll be delayed. I am glad to have the choice since, after all, I’m not always in a rush. If congress agrees with Mike Thompson, then we’ll have less choice since airlines will be forced to behave the same. Jet Blue doesn’t mind this idea; after all, they could blame their business decisions on the government. Southwest president, Colleen Barret, isn’t as enthusiastic. She believes “if other airlines are leaving passengers on the tarmac for six or eight or 10 hours, it will be good for Southwest’s business.” Thompson would likely say that he’s just demanding that airlines do the right thing, but what he’s really doing is eliminating your rights to choose where to spend your money based on performance. I am not sure how he’s planning on regulating the weather though.
I doubt this will pass the house and certainly not the senate so it’s really a huge waste of time, but it constantly amazes me the kinds of things congress will work on. Funny thing is, the European Union already has such a silly law. Given Europe’s propensity toward controlling every facet it shouldn’t surprise me. By the way, theirs doesn’t work much either!