Meeting News - March 1, 2010 - (Page 20)

Travel Dashboard The U.S. Department of Transportation in late April will enact rules that require U.S. airlines to allow passengers to deplane if a tarmac delay reaches three hours. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently spoke with MeetingNews senior editor Jay Boehmer to discuss the rules’ details, importance and implementation. MeetingNews: What will happen procedurally before DOT’s tarmac delay rule takes effect? Ray LaHood: We’re in the comment period, where people can submit comments if they think we need to make a change or an adjustment. It’s really more of an opportunity for people to realize this rule is a real enforcement, that we’re not messing around here, that we’re sick and tired of people having to sit on planes without any explanation, without any food, without any water and not have the ability to get off the plane if they want to. We suspect there will be lots of comments and probably even some from the airlines. We know the airlines don’t like this rule, but that’s irrelevant, because our job is safety, number one, and looking out for passengers. MN: Would you change the rule in any material way? LaHood: We think we put together a very good rule. At the moment, I can’t think of anything I would change. The rule is a very good rule that reflects the idea that people have been treated shabbily for years by the airlines and that, in most 20 MeetingNews March 1, 2010 By Jay Boehmer DOT Secretary Ray LaHood Battles Airport Tarmac Delays instances, there’s no excuse for someone sitting on an airplane for more than three hours, particularly no excuse for not giving them a glass of water or something to eat or an explanation. I think if you look at the wording of the rule, that’s what we really tried to address: the rights of passengers when they’re cooped up on airplanes and all that can take place when that happens. MN: There are concerns that the 120-day implementation period is too short. Could you offer airlines a grace period or an extended compliance deadline? LaHood: Enforcement starts at the end of the 120-day period. We could make some adjustments, but as I said, I don’t know what adjustment I would make at the moment. But that’s the purpose of the comment period. MN: Does DOT have the mechanisms to fully enforce these rules? LaHood: Absolutely we do, but the airlines have to self-police themselves on this. They have to notify us at the point that they have not returned to the terminal at the three-hour period, and our enforcement folks kick in any investigation we would take and any penalties we would deem appropriate. MN: Passenger bill of rights proposals have floated around Congress for a while. What prompted DOT to propose the rule instead of allowing one to be legislated? LaHood: This is really the only way to get it done. To wait for Congress will take forever. Look at what happened to those people [on an August 2009 ExpressJet flight that held passengers a runway overnight in Rochester, Minn.]. If an ounce of common sense was used by airline officials to say, we can’t let people sit on a plane all night when they can easily sit inside the terminal or get a cab or decide if they want to take another flight. That was just the tip of the iceberg. We know there are many other incidents, some widely MN: Sen. Barbara Boxer (DCalif.) said, “As good as this rule is, it doesn’t give passengers permanent protection because it could be overturned by a future administration.” Do you encourage advocates to continue this battle in Congress? LaHood: I’m not a member of Congress anymore. I’m the Secretary of Transportation, so I’m doing what I think is the right thing on behalf of passengers and the flying public. If Congress decides that it wants to figure out the right way for both houses to pass it and get it signed, more power to them. But we’ve been waiting for that even while I was a member of Congress. MN: The delay rule rould requires airlines “to display on their Web site flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate.” Does that have to be in front of passengers when they book flights? LaHood: Absolutely. It will drive people in certain directions. If you can go on the Web site and find out that the flight from Washington, D.C., to Chicago is late 80 percent of the time, then you’d obviously look to another airline. It would be good motivation for airlines to train their people in how to treat passengers courteously and make every effort to be on time. Some things like weather can’t be helped. As a member of Congress, I flew on United all the time from Chicago, and if there was a dark cloud hanging over Chicago, there was a delay. But people need to have that information. ❍ Ray LaHood publicized, but many others that have never been reported. I was a member of Congress for 14 years. I know that it takes forever to get big things done in Congress, and this is a big thing. This is a big sea change, and it involved the airline industry. The airline industry has been fighting against this. I supported this type of legislation when I was a House member, and we’re tired of sitting around waiting for other people to take action. It’s our job to do this, and that’s the reason we decided to do it.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Meeting News - March 1, 2010

Meeting News - March 1, 2010
Meetings Spotlight
Event Profile
Meeting People
Travel Dashboard
Construction Cites
MeetingNews Research
Citywide Meetings
Dateline: Florida
Mid-America Regional
Dateline: Tennessee

Meeting News - March 1, 2010