22 December 2009

3 Hour Rule: Is It Enough & Will It Work?

With much heralding the US DoT has implemented effective April 2010 a new rule that limits tarmac delays of more than 3 hours. While itself a victory for Kate Hanni and her FlyersRights group, it doesn't do a lot of things.

Firstly it is not a law. Let's hope the Boxer/Snowe Bill becomes law this session. Secondly international is not subject to this. Effectively letting JFK and the Transatlantic carriers off the hook. Thirdly this is far from a comprehensive Passenger Bill of Rights that many (me included) have been seeking. The Boxer/Snowe bill from the fine Senators from California and Maine must pass. Event then it is not as comprehensive as the EU legislation.

Being a frequent flyer and at the same time working within the industry, I have perhaps a more heightened awareness to the issues of operational nature that affect flight operations. The US Air Transportation System is a finely tuned animal moving 3/4 of a billion people annually on its scheduled apparatus. Europe's traffic (as represented by the ECAC countries) is now approaching a similar size and has a far more complex infrastructure due to the national jurisdictions that it covers. However the EC has been able to pass and implement a far more comprehensive set of rules than the USA. For which successive Administrations must accept responsibility.

For a comprehensive set of rules and how to implement them as an example - I suggest dear readers you go and visit the Relevant European Community Transport Website - Passenger Rights

As to whether it will work, I am somewhat skeptical due to the nature of some airports and the ways in which some airlines have the peaks and hub banks. Like all services - there needs to be a better way to manage these peaks and the onus needs to go back to the airports to implement this. Today they have a vehicle for collecting a passenger head tax - PFCs some of which are used to line City Coffers rather than directly related to services provided. Each airport has the right to charge a peak slot time price. What the DoT has failed to do here is to make the policy have greater teeth by only putting the onus on the airlines. The airports too must be part of this equation as indeed must the DoT itself through its management of the FAA.

For regular readers of this column - I am still angry (make that livid) at Secretary LaHood's recent screw up over the BA India Fare debacle. Perhaps he is trying to deflect attention away from that by announcing this "Rule" now.

In the long run there is no substitute for a comprehensive set of rights and rules that can be justly applied. There are no arguments that can be levied by any of the supply side players (Airports, Airlines, FAA etc) as the EU's code has been implemented and has shown a materially improved level of service to the travelling public.

So to answer my own question. The answer is No and No. But it is a move in the right direction. Let's hope it is not the only move.


With thanks to the Brisbane Times for the most appropriate picture.

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