Please No "Passenger’s Bill of Rights"

Cite this Article
Thomas A. Lambert, Please No "Passenger’s Bill of Rights", Truth on the Market (February 19, 2007),

Soledad O’Brien said a (sort of) bad word on American Morning this morning. I was watching when she said it. I didn’t notice the word, but it’s plain as day in the transcript below (omissions noted by ellipses):

O’BRIEN: Our top story this hour, the problems of JetBlue. … JetBlue is still reeling from last week’s snow and ice storms that left passengers trapped on planes for hours.

CNN’s Allan Chernoff is live for us this morning at New York’s JFK airport. …


Of the flights that are scheduled to depart and arrive from JFK airport here in New York this morning, four are delayed so far. JetBlue is going to have to do much better than that if it hopes to revive its battered reputation.


CHERNOFF (voice over): JetBlue’s reputation as one of the nation’s most efficient, most comfortable small airlines has come plummeting back to earth five days after a winter storm left its passengers stranded and trapped on runways for up to eight hours. The company says they still needed to cancel almost a quarter of flights on Presidents Day weekend. …

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night our flight was canceled last minute going to D.C. We were put on a 2:00 a.m. flight here to JFK. We arrived, our baggage was missing. We’re told it was put on another flight. We had to go home, come back, pick it up. It’s been a brutal two days, definitely, with JetBlue.

CHERNOFF: The problems with JetBlue all started on Valentine’s Day, when northeast ice storms left planes and hundreds of passengers literally frozen on runways for hours, which then triggered what the company said was a domino effect, causing them to cancel hundreds of flights since Wednesday. …

GEORGE MATRONI, STRANDED JETBLUE PASSENGER: If the CEO of JetBlue is watching, I would like to say, either your resignation should be tendered, or you should implement a new dynamic within JetBlue.


CHERNOFF: Well, the chief executive has apologized, and tomorrow he plans to announce a passenger bill of rights which will include the right to actually get paid if you are stranded on an airplane — Soledad.

O’BRIEN: Allan Chernoff for us this morning. He’s at Kennedy airport.

Thank you, Allan.

About 20 high school students from the Boston area are pretty angry about some airline problems themselves. They’re now home, but they’re supposed to be in Spain for a class trip.

The students and their teachers say Delta Airlines gave away their seats. Delta says the group showed up late, the seats were already claimed by others. So as compensation, the kids got $200 vouchers for future travel on Delta.

Oh, yes, they’re pissed.

ROBERTS: They’re what?

O’BRIEN: Angry is what I was trying to say. Well, you know what? They always give you this voucher. And you could not be more furious with the airline at the moment that they hand — I don’t want to ever fly you again. Don’t hand me a voucher.

I can say that. That’s not a bad word.

Anyway, Congress, of course, is now looking — like you have never said that word in your life.

ROBERTS: I have, but not on television.


ROBERTS: I say it all the time. Not with the cameras looking at me.

O’BRIEN: My children know not to say that, not to repeat mommy.

The proposed law actually starting moving through the House and the Senate over the weekend. Among some of the recommendations, it would give you the right to get off a plane that’s been delayed on the ground for more than three hours. The bill would also force airlines to tell you about a delayed or canceled flight before you buy a replacement ticket.

I didn’t notice Soledad’s gaffe because I was thinking, “Man, this is TERRIBLE publicity for Jet Blue and Delta.” Then Soledad said the bad word and I might have noticed, but she then said something even more provocative: Congress feels the need to regulate here?!

Alas, it’s true. When I got to school and logged on to my computer, the first headline I saw on was: A traveler’s ‘Bill of Rights’?. That article, which explains Sen. Barbara Boxer’s plan to introduce legislation that would regulate how airlines must handle tarmac delays, was located right next to the headline: Singing the Jet Blues: CEO ‘humiliated and mortified’ as delays, problems continue.

Does Congress really think it can do a better job than market competition at policing the airlines’ bad behavior? I don’t. Any “Passenger’s Bill of Rights” will consist of a set of mandatory contract terms that will have the effect of increasing the cost (and thus the price) of air travel.

As American Morning noted, the humbled Jet Blue is planning on adopting its own bill of rights. Should we believe Congress will do a better job at determining which “rights” are cost-effective — that is, which rights customers will value at least as much as the cost of guaranteeing them? Surely not.