New York Leads the Way for Air Passenger Bill of Rights

New York governor Eliot Spitzer signed into effect this week an air passenger bill of rights. The bill, which becomes law in January 2008, makes New York the first U.S. state to compel airlines by law to provide passengers with “food, water, fresh air, power, and working restrooms on any flight that has left the gate and been on the tarmac for more than three hours.”

The need for an air passenger bill of rights emerged after last February’s grounding of planes in the Northeast by JetBlue, a fiasco that resulted in delays for thousands of travelers who found themselves stuck on crowded planes for hours without proper nourishment, water, or access to restrooms.

The new law governs flights at busy New York area airports and promises to levy fines up to $1,000 per passenger for airlines that fail to comply. Many within the airline industry have questioned the efficacy of the law, arguing that situations like the one that beset JetBlue in February are extremely rare and that airlines should have measures in place to mitigate delays. The Air Transport Association is considering a legal challenge to the bill.

Other states are currently arguing for their own air passenger bills before U.S. Congress. Some of them, including one in California, stipulate that passengers can deplane if detained more than three hours. The New York bill carries no such provision.

Chris Culwell