Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mike Thompson Steps Up

Righting Wrongs

Flying on America's commercial airlines stopped being enjoyable some time ago. As airlines cut back service and airport security rituals became a major headache, you were lucky if it was merely annoying. Now flying is becoming so stressful and chaotic that what used to be routine travel is routinely hazardous to your health and safety.

It's bad enough that in a cross-country trip I just booked, which involves several stops, crossing three time zones and more than 12 hours, there is not a single meal offered on any flight. That, along with the dry air and poor ventilation, makes these flights a health hazard, and adds to the effects of jet lag. (You're supposed to drink a lot of water, but how can you do that when they don't let you take water on board, and they don't give it to you?) But the spectre of passengers incarcerated in a plane on a runway for eight hours, as happened several times last month, goes well beyond the pale.

JetBlue, the airline with the most notorious delays and incarcerations, responded with its passenger Bill of Rights, which the business boosters immediately lauded. But its provisions were so weak as to be insulting. Why, they promised to keep you locked up on the runway for no more than five hours! Their compensations were on the order of free fries with your next purchase of a big mac.

The only rights passengers can get will come from the federal government, and apply to all airlines, which taxpayers as well as frequent flyers subsidize. So it's significant that a passenger Bill of Rights has been proposed by our own Member of Congress, Mike Thompson. And it's a very reasonable proposal. For example, from Thompson's website:

These standards include allowing passengers to deplane after three hours on the tarmac, while providing pilots with flexibility if takeoff is imminent, and providing passengers with adequate food, safe drinking water, clean and sanitary facilities, air ventilation and a reasonable temperature while waiting on an aircraft. Airlines must also keep passengers fully informed about the timing and cause of flight delays and cancellations.

Also: Calls on the FAA to work with airlines to allow long-delayed flights to offload passengers who choose to disembark – without losing that flight’s position in the departure sequence.

These and other provisions are sensible, and should become part of the contract that airlines enter into when they sell tickets. In this way passengers can expect the same standards on every airline, and no airline is singled out for a particular burden the others don't have to bear. That's the whole logic of government regulation.

Mike Thompson is also getting support for his bill to set a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq--some 45 bipartisan cosponsors so far. Thompson, a Vietnam vet, authored the bill with Rep. Patrick Murphy of PA, an Iraq vet. It is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Barack Obama, and in that regard will be a test of his leadership as he contends for the Democratic Party nomination for President. But here in Humboldt HR 787 is Mike's bill:

I’ve been against this war since the beginning and think our troops should have been redeployed long ago,” Thompson said. “Our troops have done everything we’ve asked of them and they shouldn’t be in the middle of Iraq’s civil war. The Iraqi government should step up and take responsibility for securing their country.”

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