What Would a Passenger Bill of Rights Include?

December 22, 2015 Amanda Johnson

Many of us have stories of travel frustrations. I was thirteen years old, racing through the Detroit airport because our connecting flight was delayed. I arrived at our gate in time for the final announcement that they were closing the gate door. I begged the gate agent to wait for my mother, who had told me to run ahead at least a terminal back. The agent shook her head and said I had to either board the plane without my mom or stay in Detroit.

In a moment of triumph, my mother rounds the corner, and we manage to board in the knick of time. Our fellow fliers glared at us, ostensibly the reason they had yet to pull away from the gate and begin the journey to their respective destinations. My mother and I buckled our seatbelts, the plane moved away from the gate… and parked, in view of the terminal, for another hour. Have I mentioned yet that the plane’s air-conditioning was inoperable on the ground?

My story ends with only an hour of being hot and miserable while waiting on the ground to depart. I am glad I was not one of the people who have sat on the tarmac for five or more hours due to weather delays. Still, 13-year-old me felt the situation was unfair.


Bill McGee, travel journalist, wrote a column for USA Today recently on increased complaints against airlines, according to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics. Consumer advocate groups and Congress members are pushing for a U.S. Passenger Bill of Rights, similar to those that give additional protection to flyers in Europe.

After a particularly bad 2010 blizzard left thousands of passengers stranded on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport, some for up to 11 hours, the DOT put new rules into place, penalizing airlines with fines for domestic flights that remain on the tarmac for over three hours.

While fines may be a start to protecting consumers, what about shrinking leg room? Refunds for canceled or altered itineraries? Rights to information updates? In one of McGee’s other columns for USA Today, he analyzed the shrinking seat width of the major airlines. As of 2014, you could expect 17-18.5 inches of seat width in economy on the major airlines. In comparison, as of 2002, the average human hip size for the United States was 20.6 inches.

Crowded airplanes and limited leg room is more than just a nuisance, increasing public dissatisfaction. It can also be dangerous. In September, the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections made several recommendations for improving air travel. In these, the committee revealed that they’d discovered that no emergency evacuation testing has been performed with the real-world cabin seats most economy flyers occupy.

So what might you expect from a Passenger’s Bill of Rights in the U.S.? Flyersrights.org broke their demands into six sections. Some highlights of the six sections include:

  1. True fare transparency through uniform reporting standards of airfares and fees.
  2. Mandatory fines for excessive travel delays, with a portion of those fines payable directly to affected travelers.
  3. Greater effort from airlines to contact owners of lost luggage, eliminating an airline exemPassenger Bill of Rights?ption in the Uniform Abandoned Property Law used by many states.
  4. DOT responses to passenger complaints and consumer protection from financial burden of litigation.
  5. Airline reporting on benefits and statistic of frequent flier programs, prohibiting devaluing of these benefits without prior notice.
  6. Regular DOT and Government Accountability Office reporting to Congress about airport efficiency.

Additional petitions for change from Flyersrights.org include lowering airline change fees and minimum standards for passenger space, including seat width and leg room.

Many airlines already offer compensation in case of certain travel delays, as well as other traveler protections. A good idea is to read the airlines’ policies and procedures carefully to know what rights you have in case of travel disruptions.

In addition, United announced recently that they’re reinstating snacks in economy on their flights. While flyers may prefer more leg room and fewer canceled flights, at least some Stroopwafels seem like a small step in the right direction.

Have an air travel story that has fueled your desire for a Passenger Bill of Rights? Share with us in the comment section or @TandTNews. And remember, booking through Travel and Transport means you have an advocate on your side.


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