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Calif. Assembly adopts airline passenger bill of rights

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May 01, 2008

SACRAMENTO—California lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation requiring airlines to provide passengers with food, water, lights, air and working toilets when they're stuck on airport tarmacs for long periods of time.
The measure cleared the Assembly by a 54-16 vote, with critics challenging whether California has the authority to regulate airlines. It now goes to the Senate.

The bill by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, follows a series of incidents in New York and Texas where passengers were stranded in grounded airplanes with food or water.

"It is a bill about human dignity and respect," Leno said on the Assembly floor.

The law would require airlines to ensure that passengers have basic amenities if planes are stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours.

It applies to California airports and is modeled after a New York law struck down by a federal appeals court in March. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the airline industry and ruled that only the federal government had the authority to pass regulations governing airlines.

David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association of America, the airlines' main industry trade group, said the legislative attempts by California and New York constituted state regulation of airline customer service, which is pre-empted by federal law.

"If enacted, we will not rule out our right to sue," Castelveter said Thursday.

It was the likelihood of a legal challenge that spurred several lawmakers to vote against the California bill.
"This idea of piecemeal and patchwork laws across the country is not the most effective way," said Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, R-Clovis. "We should let Congress be take the lead. It's a national issue."

Supporters said California's bill was narrower and addressed passenger health, which is a state concern. The New York law also addressed regulations governing passenger safety, Leno said.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, added that California shouldn't follow a ruling issued by a New York appeals court. California is covered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

New York enacted its law last year after thousands of passengers were stranded on Valentine's Day aboard several Jet Blue Airways flights at Kennedy International Airport for more than 10 hours with no food and overflowing toilets.

A month later, hundreds more passengers of other airlines were stranded aboard planes at JFK after a daylong ice storm.

The industry has long promoted voluntary measures, arguing that federal mandates might result in unintended consequences for passengers. For example, a plane might be forced back to a boarding gate after a three-hour delay even if it is within minutes of being cleared for takeoff.

Calif. Assembly adopts airline passenger bill of rights

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