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Preview: An Air Travelers’ Bill Of Rights

The idea of a passenger bill of rights has been around for more than a decade, gaining and losing prominence in lockstep with the airlines’ perceived levels of mis- and malfeasance.

The latest chapter in the saga comes from Representative Janice Hahn, a California Democrat. According to The Hill, Hahn plans to introduce a bill establishing a passenger bill of rights “in the coming days.”

In the meantime, Hahn has sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx outlining her concerns and requesting his support for her upcoming bill designed to address them.

Among her complaints: the “over-the-top” severance package received by disgraced former United CEO, Jeff Smisek; persistently high airfares, even as fuel costs have declined by 50 percent; shrinking legroom; and the profusion of nuisance fees.

Clearly, not all of Hahn’s issues would fall within the purview of a bill of rights. But she does hint at what the bill’s focus will be:

I urge you to stand up for our nation’s airline passengers and ensure the airlines provide passengers with the acceptable legroom and seat size. If people cannot receive a free bag of pretzels, at least they can have a more comfortable flying experience. With this in mind, I am planning to introduce a passenger bill of rights this month.

Can the government legislate reasonable levels of comfort? Are seat size and legroom parameters that the government can or should dictate? Perhaps, to the extent that health and safety may be compromised by overly-dense seating. But what should the standards be? A bill of rights that simply calls for “acceptable levels of comfort” would be toothless.

As readers of this blog well know, I’ve been criticizing the airlines’ too-tight seating for years. And when it comes to government regulation, I’m generally in favor of more rather than less. But given what we know about Hahn’s bill so far, I’m not optimistic about its chances of achieving the desired result.

Notwithstanding that pessimism, anything that sheds light on the sorry state of airline travel is to be welcomed. Thanks, Representative Hahn, for that.

Reader Reality Check

What should a passenger bill of rights include?

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