Following a string of passenger-rights incidents, the push for legislation in Congress seems to be picking up steam, culminating in a passenger rights summit last week in Washington, D.C. I caught up with Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org and perhaps the most influential passenger-rights advocate working in Washington, and she gave me her take on the meeting, the progress made so far in Congress, and the obstacles that lay ahead.
Unger: First of all, can you provide a recap of the proceedings today?
Hanni: We elevated the conversation quickly and succinctly from a passenger issue to a former Chairman of the Board issue [former American CEO Robert Crandall endorsed legislation] related to the airlines' failure to address these issues and the need for a three-hour rule.
Unger: Do you feel the stakeholder meeting accomplished its goals?
Hanni: I think this stakeholder hearing was a home run. Exceeded our goals. We gave the opposition the time to speak and they did. And it made no difference. They had unconvincing arguments about the problems that a three-hour rule would create for passengers, and offered no solutions other than further analysis of the problem. We have offered solutions to the problem and broad public and Congressional support, along with Robert Crandall singing our praises!
Unger: Can you explain how the FAA reauthorization act fits into the passenger rights battle?
Hanni: As we see it, the FAA Bill always should have included passengers' rights. One of the "unintended consequences" of deregulation has been this total disregard of passengers' rights. Passengers are the biggest stakeholder in the industry. We buy the tickets, we buy their stock. We pay all of the taxes and surcharges, we bail them out when there is a disaster like 9/11, and rarely do we complain. The FAA modernization bill will cost all airline passengers, and all Americans, money. All of the costs of the modernization will be paid for by the taxpayer. We at least should have a seat at the table and certain unalienable rights to freedom, water, food, a clean toilet, and temperature control.
Unger: Do you feel Congress is ready to legislate air passenger rights in some form, or is there still more convincing to do?
Hanni: There is always more convincing to do. There are about half a dozen senators who are in the pockets of the airlines who would like to defeat us. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jim DeMint are two of them. It will only take one senator to hold up the bill when it gets to the floor. We need all consumers who want rights during air travel to contact their senators and insist that, for once, they do the right thing.
Unger: What are the biggest obstacles left to navigate?
Hanni: The poor airlines, who claim to be losing so much money due to reduced travel and the economy, seem to have an endless amount of money to spend to defeat us. The biggest obstacle is keeping the pressure up on Congress; all Americans who travel and want to have their basic human needs cared for should call their senators and ask them to support S: 1451 and H: 674 with the three-hour rule in it. Without that, people may get a biscuit, water, and a clean toilet, but they will not have their freedom.