Marketplace Scratch Pad

The airlines fight back

Scott Jagow Mar 11, 2010

Is it possible the airline travel experience could get worse? If you believe the threats some airlines are making, the answer could be yes.

Airlines are threatening to cancel flights if new rules that would prohibit them for keeping passengers on the tarmac for more than 3 hours take effect. Starting in late April, airlines could be fined up to $27,500 per passenger for violating the rule. More from the Wall Street Journal:

The threats could foreshadow significant changes in air travel, making it even less reliable for millions of road warriors and vacationers. By canceling flights, it could take days for all travelers to get home when storms strike.

Of course, the warnings from carriers could simply be posturing to pressure the government into leniency. Passenger-rights advocates say airlines are trying to scare fliers. And the Department of Transportation says carriers have a lot of other options to avoid fines.

Still, on Tuesday, Continental Airlines Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Smisek threw down the gauntlet, calling DOT’s rule “stupid.” Even though many passengers will risk long delays to get where they are going, “the government by God says, ‘We’re going to fine you $27,500,'” he said at an investor conference in New York. “Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to cancel the flight.”

Ouch. More:

Kate Hanni became a passenger rights advocate, founded and pushed for the three-hour rule after being stranded for 10 hours on an American Airlines flight three years ago. She says travelers prefer cancellations to the uncertainty of being trapped on a stranded airplane or stranded at an airport halfway through their journey.

“We don’t get complaints when people are stuck in airports, only when they are stuck on airplanes. It’s better for airlines to pre-cancel,” she said. “They are trying to scare everybody that canceling is some kind of horrific travel nightmare and it’s not.”

Do you agree with her, that it’s better to cancel than to be stuck on a tarmac for hours? As a passenger, where do you come down on this?

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