What do you want to see in a passenger bill of rights?

April 7, 2010

northwestairline To the roaring cheers of jilted airline passengers everywhere, new rules to protect travelers will take effect on April 29.

These new rules, being issued by the Department of Transportation, focus mainly on the length of time domestic airlines are allowed to keep passengers locked on a plane on the tarmac.  Some may recall the incident last August when passengers were forced to remain on a plane in Rochester, Minn for six  hours  without a working toilet. After April 29, after three hours of being stuck on a plane, domestic airlines will be forced to let passengers deplane — unless there are safety or security issues.

But the strain on airline travelers never seems to end. In addition to the ever-present delays, the long lines at security checks and the cutbacks by airlines on food offerings, Spirit Air decides it will experiment with carry-on bag fees. This means that travelers will be charged $45 for items placed in the overhead bin. Some analysts, not surprisingly, anticipate a customer backlash.

Is it time to take back the joy in air travel? Reuters.com wants your suggestions on what you think must be included in a passenger bill of rights. Send in your ideas. We’ll compile your suggestions and create an audience inspired bill of airline traveler rights. The best ones will be added to a poll that readers can vote on.

Pictured above: A Northwest Airlines airplane departs Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, November 25, 2009.  REUTERS/Joshua Lott


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I travel overseas often, and am fed up with cramped seats. There should be an extended minimum leg space area, especially for flights longer than two hours.

Posted by LAJ | Report as abusive

It would be worth something never to have to hear the as-it-were words “deplane” or “momentarily” (when they mean: soon) ever again.

Of course some extra legroom, full restoral of smoking privileges, drinking, merriment and generally having a good time might be nice, too.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

I am also interested in hearing the suggestions people may have.

Keep in mind though that one of the main factors in the performance of an aircraft is the weight it must carry. Any physical alterations to an aircraft that affect its flight characteristics are costly and must be re-certified by the FAA (which we all know whenever the Feds get invovled it becomes a very time consuming process). To extend leg room (as HBC and LAJ suggested) would be done so at the sacrifice of maximizing seats available. Less seats to sell, the more per seat must be charged.

I am not defending the way some airlines are run in and of themselves. Yes there are vast inefficiences, poor management decisions, and anything else usually associated with any business. It is the aircraft itself that people often misfocus their resentment towrds. Unlike a car or bus or truck that does not have to worry about gravity being a factor, an aircraft does and that makes a world of difference on what can and can not be done to make it perform as efficiently and SAFE as possible and how much it costs to operate.

Posted by iflydaplanes | Report as abusive

“Full restoral of smoking privileges”
Never going to happen; there just isn’t a way in a plain to filter the air sufficiently to prevent issues with other passengers. As someone with an allergy to smoke, this is a significant health issue to me. Now, adding a smoking-allowed restroom, or some other enclosed compartment that highly filters the air would be fine with me, but that would cost significantly to add.

Bill of Rights:
The right to fly on a plane that has a working restroom for flights who have door-to-door times over 2 hours. (Actual time, not predicted time. This includes long ground delays.).

The right to not be trapped on the tarmac for over 1 1/2 hours (without security issues). 3 hours is good, but still too long.

The right to carry on a bag for free. Also, for that bag to be of some reasonable minimal size (at least as large as a reasonably sized back pack and/or roll on).

The right to check a single item for no more than a minimal cost (this cost needs to be small enough that people will use the service, rather than try to stuff everything into carry on baggage — say 5-10$/bag or less, modified by inflation).

The right to free in-flight beverages. These need not be carbonated soft drinks, but a very minimal of water and something simple and relatively healthy with sugar (lemonade, various juices). Coffee and tea would also be nice, but not required. Ice should be free, as well.

The right to not be gouged on in-flight food options. Seriously. 2.50$ for a candy bar? In-flight food is more expensive than movie theaters. If I’m paying 10$ for a small sandwich/6″ sub, it better be amazingly good.
I acknowledge the days of free in-flight meals, and even free snacks, may be gone, but it has gotten ridiculous in the other way.

The right to pay for in-flight expenses with CASH. “For all debts, public and private.” I flew as an unaccompanied minor well before I had a credit card, and there are plenty of people who attempt to live their lives without one (either due to privacy concerns, bad experiences with them, or bad credit histories).

The right to have rescheduling fees waived due to serious medical conditions (your own or close relatives), “acts of god” (major weather, earthquakes, etc.), and similar conditions. Yeah, this is unlikely.

The right to be informed before the first leg of your trip if the airline has a good reason to believe you will miss another leg in your flights, and to reschedule flights for free/reasonable fees in such cases. This is especially true when such delays would not require the airline to provide accommodations. (In other words — don’t make someone take a flight to a new city, where they’re going to have to sleep in the airport or hotel, because their connection is going to leave early, or be canceled due to weather).

The right to be re-booked on another airline should your original flight be delayed by 3 hours or more due to reasons that are not “acts of god”. (If maintenance issues delays my flight by 4 hours, you should let me rebook on another airline rather than make me wait.)

The right to reasonable repatriations should my flight be overbooked.

There are probably more I’m not thinking of, right now.

There are also a long list of Rights that would need to be allowed by the FAA or the TSA, rather than the airlines, but they should also be addressed.

The right to bring liquids onto planes/through security, again.
The right to security based on prevention, rather than theater and intimidation.
The right to use cell phones and other devices that transmit or receive signals — airplanes have had shielded wiring for decades, and the current systems don’t use broadcast strengths that would impact flights.
(hell, what do you think WiFi is?)
The right to put a book or similar in the pocket of the chair in front of a passenger.
The right to not be gouged at airports.

Posted by marphod | Report as abusive

I’m disgusted with what is going on with airlines today, starting with the body scanner. This is a violation of our freedoms and rights, it is perverted and unnecessary for all passengers. The airlines cannot scan for every known weapon, anyway, and if somebody wants to do damage, they will probably find a way from the inside, or use some other hi-tech means. Remember the days when flying was a luxury and people were treated as special? People dressed up for flights. Nice meals with real silverware were always included. Pillows, blankets, socks, eye masks, earphones were readily available. Airline workers were polite and not paranoid. Passengers were polite. Everything from luggage, to meals, to bathroom use was included in the price of a ticket. And this is how it should remain. This is how it is in Europe and other places in the world. But, the U.S. has become trashed and I have no interest in flying anymore. From having to wait in long lines and be treated as a potential terrorist, to having to pay extra for what is already included in the fare, to be stranded on a plane for hours with no food or drink scares the heck out of me. No thanks! And by the way, congratulations on letting the terrorists win this war. They have made travel hell for us and you have fallen for it.

Posted by ShamanNora | Report as abusive

I also would like to see smoking areas in airports, and not areas that mean one has to walk miles to get to! More legroom on flights longer than three hours is a must. Airports should have 24/7 restaurants and stores with real and healthy food available for all age groups and medical needs.

Posted by ShamanNora | Report as abusive

I agree with the bill of rights above. Do NOT agree with the liquids, security, cell phone suggestions. As a commuter who has to deal daily with cellphone and computer users who seem to think the world wants to know their (often intimate) personal business at high volume, I think the restriction of cellphone use is welcome on airlines. That being said, internet and similar uses without excess charges would be welcome.

Especially think there should be more legroom. I am a relatively small person (5’8″, 160), and I have a hard time with the tight seating these days. Also, let seats go back more (which would be a concommitant result of allowing more leg room).

By the way, what about wider seats. I really dislike the involuntary contact that occurs with my seatmates. Had a woman fall asleep with her head on my shoulder one flight. I didn’t mind the head, but the drool on my shirt was pretty gross.

Posted by Jsterjason | Report as abusive

Agree with comment #1: the biggest issue in flying economy is ever-shrinking seat pitch. It’s important to be able to move a little on long flights, both for comfort and venous health. Shakedowns for over-priced amenities are annoying, but there are work-arounds. Not so for seating – seats are like traps now that the TSA requires “no congregating” and staying seated. With planes loaded like sardine cans to maximize revenues, long-haul flying in coach is torture.

Posted by anemonefish | Report as abusive

I don’t understand the airline business at all. Is there any connection between the fares they charge and the service they provide? Why should it be cheaper to take a flight with 3 stops than with 2? I don’t know, wish we had a good train system in the US.

Posted by equality72521 | Report as abusive

Allowing smoking is a non-starter because the air is recirculated. Besides, smokers stink right after they finish smoking.

I would like to see more premium economy with increased legroom for overseas flights. For example, SAS offers Economy Extra which gives 38″ of seat pitch. Compare this to UA Economy of 31-33 or UA Economy Plus of 34-36″. Of course I expect to pay more for it.

I would like to see a total ban on cell phone use from the time the doors close to landing, i.e. continue the current policy.

I would like to see airline employees eyeing luggage and requiring gate-check for over-size bags. For instance, most airlines seem to have a length limit of 22″ but I see people with 24″ bags or odd-size things that take up most of an overhead because they end up being stored sideways. I am sure airline employees have a good enough eye to just eyeball bags; if the passenger objects, have a size-it template nearby.

Posted by saucymugwump | Report as abusive

As I read these comments I have to laugh – most are not rights, but wants – you can have almost all the desired wants – It’s called First Class, or your private plane! What are you willing to pay for food, room, baggage, no security check, etc? I fly the West Coast almost weekly and stick with Alaska/Horizon Air or Southwest – friendly people, good service, and at a reasonable price. When I am stuck on a legacy carrier, to the East Coast, I plan accordingly – rude service, rude passengers, probable delays. The only rights I want are the ability to leave the plane after 2-3 hours on the ground, and working bathrooms!

Posted by LBJ | Report as abusive

Just to be treated like a valued customer again… even bringing back the old dress code…. while putting an end to the airlines’ attitude that passengers are cash cows to be milked as often as possible… With regard to the paranoidal security — If the airlines had reinforced cockpit doors back in the 1960’s during that rash of hijackings to Cuba…. 9/11 could not have been done…. something else maybe… but not 4 aircraft. — Airlines should finally admit that the hub-&-spoke system may look efficient on paper… but one small hick-up throws scheduling out the window…. and return to point-to-point. [You will notice that discount and profitable airlines use point-to-point scheduling]

Posted by pdlane | Report as abusive

Sorry, but you want to talk about people who stink? Some people don’t bathe, and others douse themselves in awful perfumes and colognes and don’t seem to care who is allergic to it. Those of us allergic to those fragrances are stuck on a flight having to deal with those smells. I still say bring back the good old days of flying. It worked.

Posted by ShamanNora | Report as abusive

A passenger bill of rights?
The last thing the airlines, travel industry, and various security organizations want.
After all we now pack as many passengers on a plane as possible, have endless new fees, and make flying as inconvenient as possible.
Seats that a comfortable, similar to a decent car seat would be nice, along with decent toilet facilities.
After all, as train service is in most locations in the US unavailable, if the journey is less than three hundred miles it is better to drive there.
Also, instead of ‘deplane,’ and use disembark, momentarily use ‘in a moment,’ or soon.

Posted by The1eyedman | Report as abusive

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