New York “Passenger Bill of Rights” Struck Down by Federal Appeals Court

A federal appeals court this past Tuesday struck down New York’s so-called Passenger Bill of Rights, which requires airlines to provide food, water, working toilet facilities and fresh air to passengers stuck on the ground for more than three hours. The law, which took effect January 1, 2008, and signed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, was supported by consumer groups angered by lengthy delays that they said trapped passengers on airplanes for hours, sometimes without food or water. It was the first law in the nation of its kind.

The decision of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision of New York Northern District Court Judge Lawrence E. Kahn. The appellate court said that the new law was laudable but only the federal government, and not individual states, has the authority to enact such a regulation.

The appeals court in Washington wrote that if the law was allowed to stand, “another state could be free to enact a law prohibiting the service of soda on flights departing from its airports, while another could require allergen-free food options on its outbound flights, unraveling the centralized federal framework for air travel.”

Although it seems reasonable that airlines should not have to deal with complying with 50 different states’ rules, equating the service of soda with, to use the words of Judge Kahn, a legitimate use of state police power to protect the health and safety of its citizens, is a stretch.

Federal legislation mandating that airlines provide passengers trapped on grounded airplanes with food, water and working toilet facilities, as well as the right to deplane, is stalled in Congress, congressional aides and aviation experts said Wednesday.

The “Passengers Bill of Rights” passed the House but remains tied up in two Senate committees, with little chance of gaining approval this year. Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D N.Y.) issued a statement agreeing that the matter is an issue that should be dealt with by the federal government. (Note: Subsequent to the posting of this blog, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, on March 30, said he will push for swift passage of the legislation creating the first-in-the-nation passenger bill of rights. We’ll see.)

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