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Who Represents Airline Passengers’ Rights?

Who represents your rights as an airline passenger?

Most travelers would be hard pressed to answer that question. Certainly not the airlines. The government? The court system? Travel journalists, like myself, who cover the industry from a consumer-advocacy perspective?

At best, it’s a patchwork of individuals and organizations with discontinuous and sometimes conflicting areas of interest and responsibility. Which at least partly explains why there’s no meaningful [% 2811413 | | Passenger Bill of Rights %] in this country.

But there is a new contender for the title of Passenger Rights Representative, the Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR). According to the organization’s website, its purpose is “to educate policymakers on travel-related information important to airline passengers, improve accessibility for passengers with disabilities and protect the consumer rights and responsibilities of airline passengers.” They point out that, unlike the airlines themselves, pilots, and other travel-related groups, flyers lack coherent advocacy. And the group promises to “level the playing field by representing the interests of airline passengers.”

Sounds good. But isn’t there another organization that claims to do precisely what AAPR promises—the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights (CAPBOR)?

CAPBOR was formed in the aftermath of the widely reported December 2006 incident in which an American Airlines jet sat on the tarmac for over eight hours, within spitting distance of the Austin Airport terminal, as food ran out and toilets backed up. Kate Hanni, CAPBOR’s founder and very visible spokesperson, was a passenger on that flight.

CAPBOR’s proposed bill of rights significantly overlaps with the measures recommended by the AAPR. In other words, there’s significant redundancy between the two self-proclaimed right groups.

There’s also significant rancor between them. According to Trebor Banstetter’s Star-Telegram blog, Hanni has questioned the very legitimacy of the AAPR, suggesting it’s a “faux consumer advocacy group,” and challenging the media to “pressure them into divulging their income source.”

The dustup is all rather unseemly, suggesting a nasty power struggle between organizations that purport to be guided by a higher purpose. My take: But for egos and narrow self-interests, the two organizations could best serve the traveling public by combining forces and acting in unison to keep consumer interests well represented before Congress, as well as state and local legislative bodies.

Unfortunately, the imbroglio provides no answer to the question: Who’s representing your rights as an airline passenger? On the contrary, it leaves the waters muddier than ever.

What say you, fellow flyer: Who should speak for us?

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