Flight delays are nothing new to airline travelers. Congested runways, inclement weather, aircraft problems - all of these factors can trigger delays that could easily run into hours. But after several recent incidents where airline passengers were stranded for six hours, the call to legislate a "passenger bill of rights" is ringing ever louder.
A passenger rights bill now circulating through the Senate would mandate a three-hour limit on tarmac delays, after which a flight would have to return to the terminal, unless the captain was reasonably sure the plane could depart in the next 30 minutes. The bill would also require airlines to provide additional food and water during long delays, and require airports to develop reviewable customer service plans.
Not surprisingly, airline carriers are up in arms over this proposed measure, arguing the regulations would further snarl runways and increase flight cancellations. In their defense, carriers often face difficult decisions on whether to wait out a long flight delay due to circumstances such as rapidly-changing weather conditions. Even if a plane returns to the terminal after a specified time, there's still the massive inconvenience of passengers having to scramble to find alternate flights, which are often already jammed.
But given the poor image many airline carriers have in the public eye, it might be a good idea if they react proactively instead of sniping. Airlines should review and revise their own guidelines on flight delay procedures instead of forcing the government to mandate them. Offer vouchers and other incentives to placate frustrated passengers. Most important, airlines need to clearly explain all flight delay situations to passengers, no matter how short or how long. Nothing frustrates airline travelers more than leaving them in the dark as to what is going on.
In less than 24 hours, I'll be jetting across the country. Hopefully, the airline I'm traveling on will be prepared to navigate smoothly through any delays.