Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

For Immediate Release:
December 10, 2009  
Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553

Boxer, Snowe Call on DOT to Protect Airline Passengers Rights  


WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) today wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and urged him to incorporate their Airline Passenger Bill of Rights as the Department of Transportation considers protections for airline passengers so that they will no longer be trapped on grounded airplanes for hours without access to food, water or adequate restrooms.


As the Senators’ letter makes clear, their Airline Passenger Bill of Rights is necessary not only to protect passengers but also to provide a clear and enforceable standard for airlines.


The full text of their letter is below:


December 10, 2009


The Honorable Ray LaHood


Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590


Dear Secretary LaHood:


As the Department of Transportation considers issuing a final rule providing airline passengers protection from lengthy tarmac delays, we urge you to enact strong regulations to provide passengers with long over-due fundamental consumer protections. We strongly urge you to incorporate the full language from our bill-S.213 the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, which was included as introduced in S.1451 the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, in the final rule.


Despite industry promises, passengers continue to be forced to endure hours trapped in cramped aircraft without access to basic services such as food, water, working restrooms and appropriate cabin temperatures.  In August, 47 passengers, including some traveling with infants, were forced to spend the night in an airplane when their flight from Houston to Minneapolis was diverted to Rochester, Minnesota. We were pleased by DOT’s decision to levy its first fine against the airlines involved in the Rochester, MN incident. DOT’s action sends a message to airlines that a six hour tarmac delay is unacceptable, and that airlines must protect passengers. However, we must do more and this incident is a clear example of why a strong federal airline passenger bill of rights law is necessary immediately.


Delays, including those where hundreds of passengers were forced to endure up to 11 hours trapped on aircraft with no food, water or working restrooms, are not only an inconvenience to passengers, but they also pose a serious threat to health and safety.  The elderly, those with medical conditions or those traveling with infants are all affected by travel restrictions that often limit the amount of medication or even baby formula that would be necessary to withstand a lengthy, unexpected tarmac delay. 


Airlines have been given every opportunity to voluntarily address lengthy tarmac delays; however, these incidents continue to occur. In the absence of a clear federal law, many states have tried to take action on behalf of consumers. However, last year, a federal court struck down New York’s Passenger Bill of Rights law because the court found that protections for airline passengers must be enacted at the federal level. We cannot rely on the airlines to fix this problem on their own. Passengers, airlines, and airports need to have clear, uniform guidelines about what to expect when a flight is delayed and what services will be provided to passengers.


Our legislation, which was incorporated in the Senate version of the FAA bill, provides strong protection to passengers and provides reasonable criteria for airlines to meet. The language also provides two important safety and security exceptions that would prevent a passenger from deplaning. Our language gives pilots the option to prevent passengers from deplaning if they believe passengers’ safety or security would be a risk or if the pilot determines the flight will depart within 30 minutes.


No passenger should be forced to spend hours trapped on an airplane without basic access to food, water, working restrooms, and comfortable cabin temperatures during a delay. We appreciate the DOT’s commitment to addressing this issue and look forward to working with the Administration to ensure that airline passengers are safely afforded basic consumer protections. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and we look forward to your response.




Barbara Boxer

United States Senator


Olympia Snowe

United States Senator