Another Government Mandate To Take Care of You

A reaction to the east coast snow storm this weekend where there were several incidents of plane travelers strandede in planes for extended periods of time was for the Department of Transportation to order airlines to let passengers off stranded airplanes or face fines. The fine would be $27,500 for each violation over a three hour limit. This would total $1,375M for a commuter plane carrying 50 passengers or $5.5M for a larger plane carrying 200 passengers. Is this reasonable? What is our government doing to us in making this mandate?

It is true that there are a number of unusual stories where, in specific instances, mistakes were made and passengers were inconvenienced and kept for an unusually long time. However, for the number of trips per day that are taken by air travelers in this country these examples are few and far between. THis doesn’t make it right but this new mandate will have significant ramifications to the relative low cost of air travel that the flying public has become used to.

Why will cost go up?

Unfortunately the airlines are not omniscient and will have significant difficulty predicting when disastrous snow or weather conditions will create a situation where it will have a “stranded” passenger condition. This occurs when the planes themselves either cannot move on the ground (ice and snow) or cannot land at their destination such as when airplanes are grounded due to fog resulting in too many¨aircraft for the existing facilities to handle. The latter occurred to me flying from Denver to Seattle. Seattle closed while we were en-route and the decision was made to land in Portland and wait until landing conditions improved. We waited 6 hours on the ground partly due to waiting for conditions to improve and then for the few jetways to be available to land passengers. We were in a DC-10 at the time and Portland only had equipment and staff to handle three of jetways at a time and many aircraft were ahead of us.

Consequently we will have airlines faced with enormous fines if they cannot get passengers off the planes within three hours. How many extra staff will need to be on hand in the event of a weather or other incident that could “strand” passengers.

What about baggage?

Security is not too keen on passengers and baggage being separated particularly if when they re-board the plane the same passengers are not on the plane. What happens if the pane is at an airport where they do not have an office and use other facilities. Will the other airline or operation have liability if it does not have the crew and equipment to meet the need even if the primary carrier has the plane ready to let the passengers off? What an enormous problem and a great opportunity to finger point.

In this instance we have a government bureaucrat, without any financial responsibility for the outcome, making a decision so that we can all feel better. The traveling public used to be capable of letting an airline know when its service level was bad by avoiding it. The airline either corrected its ways or went out of business.

Who will absorb the cost of this mandate?

You will!

Will we still have isolated instances where conditions beyond the control of the airline result in inconvenience?

Yes!

But we will do it at a higher price because of mandates and fines imposed by an ever increasing governmental role in the lives of its citizens and free enterprise.

Do you feel better?

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