Commentary: Airline passengers deserve bill of rights

This editorial appeared in The Olympian. Disrupted air travel across the country during the holidays is likely to play into the hands of consumer advocates and air travel industries pushing for a national bill of rights for airplane passengers.

Between Dec. 19 and Dec. 28, U.S. airlines canceled 9,000 flights, which was up 70 percent from the year before. It means more than 1 million passengers' plans for the holidays were thrown into disarray.

Granted, severe weather on the West and East coasts and Midwest played a major role in the air travel mess.

But the airlines were their own worst enemy in some cases. They cut their holiday flight schedules by about 10 percent in 2008, compared with 2007, leaving little, if any, slack in the system. Operational glitches from not being fully prepared for the bad weather didn't help either. For instance, some airlines ran out of the fluid used to de-ice jet wings to avoid ice buildup and crashes.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the recent addition of a third runway didn't provide relief. For the 10 days around Christmas, Sea-Tac had the second-worst on-time record for flights of all major airports in the country — a dismal 33 percent, which tied Portland International Airport right behind Chicago O'Hare at 31.9 percent.

Once again, airline passengers were at the mercy of the weather, air-traffic congestion and financially pinched airlines trying to keep their planes in the air.

Two years ago on the Friday after Christmas, more than 13,000 passengers found themselves stuck in planes circling closed airports or idling on airport runways and aprons for up to 11 hours, short on food, water and patience.

Some of those disgruntled passengers didn't forgive, or forget. They formed the Coalition for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights and crafted legislation that has yet to find enough support in Congress to make it into law.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Olympian.