FAA: Airlines Are Not Customers

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Passenger-rights advocates are hailing the announcement made last week by FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt that "when we say customer, we're talking about the flying public," but they're not entirely satisfied. Business Travel Coalition and FlyersRights.org applauded the decision, but stated their shared belief that the FAA "should completely remove the term 'customer' from its lexicon" lest it remain "a trigger for confused behavior." The groups called the airline-as-customer notion "misguided" and a source of dysfunction in the industry. It is the groups' view that "the FAA needs to be a strong regulator with a mission to protect the flying public, period." Toward that end, the groups hope to see more progress this coming Tuesday when a passengers' rights stakeholders hearing will take place in Washington. The groups hope that meeting will be followed with the attachment of proposals to the FAA reauthorization bill that will effectively set a passengers' bill of rights. But at this time, the language of the proposals may not be specific enough to be enforceable.

The House version of a passenger bill of rights would require airlines to allow passengers to get off a plane after it has experienced "excessive delays" not otherwise specified. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Olympia Snow, R-Maine, have sponsored a bill that sets the limit at three hours of delay. Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation in November released a report recommending that airlines establish their own time limits.