Federal court overturns passengers’ bill of rights

Karla Amaya remembers helplessly pressing her hand against the airplane window after her 2006 flight from San Francisco International Airport was stranded for nine hours in Texas.

Amaya, 26, and her fellow passengers heading to Dallas were stuck in Austin without drinking water, food, fresh air or working toilets. With the plane locked down, all she and her fellow passengers could do was sit and wait.

“It was probably one of the most frustrating and horrible experiences that I could think of,” said Amaya, a photographer. “I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through something like that.”

But California passengers may continue to be denied basic amenities during long delays after a federal appeals court Tuesday struck down a New York law requiring airlines to provide food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers stuck in delayed planes. The decision comes only a day after a California state Assembly committee approved legislation modeled after the New York statute.

The New York law was the first legislation of its kind in the country and its reversal sets a precedent that individual states cannot regulate how passengers are treated, experts say.

“Clearly, if New York denied this, it bodes very poorly for such a law being passed in California,” said Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based aviation analyst with Forrester Research.

Despite the decision, Assemblymember Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat who co-authored the California bill, said he would continue seeking approval of the legislation. He said he is optimistic that the bill would stand up in court if made law. He also expects New York lawmakers to appeal Tuesday’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of reversing the precedent.

“We’re intent on moving forward,” Leno said. “We need to take action at the state level.”

Leno said the bill has already moved through a state transportation committee and is set for a judiciary hearing in a few weeks.

The Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade organization representing the leading U.S. airlines, appealed the original New York law that went into effect Jan. 1. The group would oppose the bill of rights in California or any other state, spokesman David Castelveter said.

“This clear and decisive ruling sends a strong message to other states that are considering similar legislation,” the organization said in a statement.

A recent federal report showed that about 24 percent of flights nationallyarrived late in the first 10 months of last year, which was the industry’s second-worst performance record since comparable data began being collected in 1995.

SFO was recently named the third “most miserable” airport in the nation in 2007 by U.S. News & World Report based on federal statistics on flight delays and plane occupancy among the 47 busiest airports in the United States.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Passengers’ rights

A bill in the state Legislature would require that passengers forced to wait on the tarmac for more than three hours in California have the following:

» Air

» Water

» Food

» Lights

» Working toilets

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