Kate Hanni: Why We Still Need an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

By Robert Mark on December 20th, 2007

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While Kate Hanni’s name may not ring a bell in everyone’s head immediately, it certainly should for anyone who flies aboard a commercial airliner this holiday travel season … or any other time of the year actually. Hanni was recently named one of the most influential people for positive change in the travel industry by Travel Weekly magazine.

Hanni was a passenger aboard an American Airline’s flight last winter that diverted to Austin from Dallas due to weather. While the world’s largest carrier tried to figure out the next move, they kept Hanni, her family and more than a hundred other passengers captive inside the cabin on the ramp in Austin for over 9 1/2 hours before the flight left for DFW. No food, no water, no working toilets … nothing. More than 4600 American passengers were in the same fix that day.

That was a year ago. If the Air Transport Association, the trade group representing the major airlines has its way, little change can be expected this season despite the slap on the wrist the airlines received yesterday from DOT Secretary Mary Peters.

Mad as Hell

Within hours of last year’s incident, Hanni reincarnated the soul of the Peter Finch character in the movie Network. Remember him? He was the guy who commanded an already agitated TV audience to open their windows and yell, “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”katephotocap.

Hanni refused to accept the airline’s style of handling passengers like cattle. She knew, as the rest of us do too, that these incidents happen … a lot.

Once back at her Northern California home, she organized the Coalition for Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights. Right out of the gate, the group saw their mandate as pressing an airline industry that has – for the most part – been unwilling to alter the way it treats customers when problems occur.

                                                         (Flyers Rights Coalition’s Kate Hanni)

If you read the proposed bill the coalition developed, the recommendations appear grounded in common sense and something else many people traveling the airlines seem to have forgotten these days … manners.

First, don’t leave airline passengers trapped aboard an airplane for more than three hours without food, water and toilet facilities; respond to paying passenger questions within a reasonable amount of time and compensate people when you cancel their flight and leave them to their own devises to travel.

Doesn’t sound too radical now does it? How could it be if over 21,279 people have signed the coalition’s petition in the past 12 months?

That Was a Year Ago

If you’re thinking that enough passengers have been stuck on airliners over the years – perhaps yourself included – that the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights makes sense, you also know the folks in Congress or the airlines themselves couldn’t possibly go along with it. And for the most part you’d be right.

Federal legislation on the passenger bill of rights has successfully passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but is currently stalled in the Senate.

That’s why as the holiday travel season quickly approaches, Kate Hanni has remained a woman on a mission who you should get to know. Here’s the most important reason.

The Air Transport Association, the trade group that represents the major airlines, yesterday announced fresh opposition to anything that even sounds like rules for how to treat passengers. The group believes any new legislation will only make things more difficult for the airlines.

New York’s fiery new Governor Eliot Spitzer has taken the coalition’s mantra a step further by trying to organize a New York office to deal with airline passenger complaints.

Not surprisingly, the ATA is trying to squash those efforts as well by claiming states have no business trying to interfere with where the Feds. Except, of course, the Feds aren’t doing anything to kick the airlines along.

ATA’s President and CEO James May said last spring in response to the Coalition’s initial petition, “No passenger likes a delayed flight, but what they like even less is not being able to get to their destinations at all. The proposed hard limit on ground delays will force airlines to inconvenience planeloads of people to satisfy the demand of just one passenger to deplane.” The real reason is the the airlines don’t want to pay fines for treating passengers like dogs … wait, my dog gets much better treatment.

Mr. May has obviously never been curled up aboard an airliner full of outraged people for a day like Hanni. I spent four hours on the ground aboard an American Airlines flight once and people were practically at each others throats. I can’t imagine what eight hours must have been like.

So the fight for humane treatment of passengers aboard an airliner is not over by a long shot. Here’s how you can help.

If you’ve ever been stuck in an airplane with no way out, don’t wait another minute. If you’ve ever thought of what it might be like if you were stuck and realized you don’t need to experience the pain in order to demand change, join the coalition by signing their petition or calling the Coalition for Airlines Passenger Bill of rights at 877-359-3776.

Help someone else have a Merry Christmas. And pass this post on to anyone who has ever traveled aboard a crowded airliner. They just might be the next captive alongside you in row 14.

And this YouTube airline video is a joke … isn’t it Kate?

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8 Responses to “Kate Hanni: Why We Still Need an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights”

  1. Kate Hanni Says:

    Well Santa Clause came early to Airline Passengers’ in 2007. The New York Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights has been upheld in court and Judge Kahn saw through the absurdity of the ATA’s arguments that passengers don’t deserve a cup of water, a granola bar, hygienic toilets and air conditioning.

    The Coalition, represented by Kate Hanni, was there for the hearing, and it was clear that the airlines have a Callous Disregard for the Airline Passengers that buy their tickets on their airlines expecting basic human needs to be met, and a certain level of dignity, which is rarely if ever provided during long on ground delays.

    “The Coalition hopes that other states move quickly to adopt similar Health and Safety measures to provide airline passengers’ basic needs, and moreover that this will pressure the Federal Government and Congress into finally acting on behalf of the flying public that elected them!” Stated Kate Hanni, Founder

    “The Coalition for an airline passengers’ Bill of Rights may now claim it’s first victory for passengers’….but we have a long road ahead for uniform standards throughout the United States to protect the flying public.”

  2. Ken Smith Says:

    One way to get the airlines’ attention: if it’s a trip under a thousand miles, take Amtrak. Anyone can get on the California Zephyr, which leaves Union Station at 3:30 in the afternoon, and be at Denver’s Union Station by 9:00 the next morning. And the train can travel in weather that will leave airplanes (and passengers) sitting on the ground. Did I mention that your luggage gets there with you?

    If the airlines start getting a little outside competition and there’s even more jets sitting in that desert graveyard in Arizona, they’ll change their tune. And those who think that the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing rail travel conveniently forget that lucrative contracts to carry U.S. Post Office Air Mail kept the airlines afloat in the early decades of this century. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-thirties that they actually started making more money carrying passengers than mail.

    Okay, I’m down off the soapbox. But it’s amazing how many people never even consider taking the train, under any circumstances.

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