You Can Help Pass our Airline Passenger Bill of Rights
Grassroots action will defeat the airline
We are a democracy and
as crass and self serving as our elected representatives may
seem to be, they are still ultimately sensitive to their
realize that the time has come to turn their backs on
airline lobbyists and airline perks and to work with us to
give us the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights we so
Part 3 of a 4 part series -
explains why we need a Passenger Bill of Rights, and
part 2 proposes the details of
Part 4 is the electronic
petition that we need you to sign as one way of registering
There can be no doubt we need
an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights - not to give us extra and
special rights, but simply to restore to us the rights that we
have in most other contexts when buying goods and services, and
to change the current dynamic where it is more financially
profitable for an airline to trample on what few rights we may have
rather than to fairly recognize them.
This can be done without
creating massive new government bureaucracies. This must
be done. With your help, it can be done.
Here's what we need to do.
Why You Should Help
Think back over the last
however many years. How many times have you been unfairly
treated by the airlines? How much time have you and your
family wasted waiting on hold, waiting in line, waiting for
flights, waiting for baggage? How often have you felt
unfairly taken advantage of? Have you ever suffered
missing or damaged or lost luggage and been inadequately
With service standards
getting steadily worse - the airlines are flying more flights, with more
seats full, but employ fewer people than ever before - you
the amount of hassle you've had in the past to predict what
you'll get in the future.
Does that thought appeal?
Haven't you ever thought 'there's got to be a better way'?
There is a better way - imposing some basic obligations to be
fair on the airlines, and giving you some basic rights if the
airlines don't live up to those obligations.
The bottom line - why should
you help? Because you will be one of the immediate
beneficiaries. There's no need to do this for
altruistic reasons - do it for strictly selfish ones. You
need your rights!
What We're Up Against
The airlines are one of the
most successful lobbying groups in the country. They are
also (and this is not a coincidence) one of the most generous
lobbying groups. According to
this website, the air transport industry spent $59 million
in accountable lobbying costs in 2005.
But there's almost certainly
a lot more that has also flowed from the airlines to our
legislators that never appears on any list of lobbying
Do you think legislators
stand in line to buy tickets? Have you ever seen your
senator waiting at the gate to board the plane, and then finding
nowhere in the overhead to put their carry-on bags? For
that matter, have you ever seen him/her in a middle seat in
coach? Do you think they wait on hold to speak to a
customer service agent who then refuses to help them?
If you've ever been an elite
level frequent flier, and if you then suffered the anxiety of
not being sure if you'd requalify for that elite level next
year, if you developed what is almost an addiction for upgrades,
lounges, special phone numbers and services, and everything else
that goes with being an elite level flier, then you'll have some
idea how our legislators feel today.
We need to break our
legislators free of the seductive embrace of the airlines, and
get them to risk losing their privileges by voting in our Bill
of Rights. They need to understand that if they don't vote
in our Bill of Rights, we'll elect people who will, and then
they'll be stripped of their political privileges and wishing
they'd done more to protect themselves as once again ordinary
Our legislators have no idea
what type of travel experiences we ordinary people suffer.
We need to share our problems with them, and we need to break
through the high level of interference from professional
lobbyists who are currently setting their perceptions and
That takes ongoing and
repeated contact from you to them. Here's what you should
First of All - Sign our
This is not the most
effective means of getting your opinion to lawmakers, but it is
at least a start, and it is quick, easy and simple.
click here and sign
the petition in support of a Passenger Bill of Rights.
But as soon as you've done that, please come back here and
continue through the other ways to show your support, too.
(Needless to say, the
information you provide in the petition will be kept
confidential and shared only with the various officials we'll
send the petition to.)
And, please, get all your
friends to go sign the petition too!
Who to Approach part 1 - Help
Build a Groundswell of Popular Support
Ultimately, we all want to
see a Bill of Passenger Rights passed. To do this, we have
an up-hill battle to fight - we need to convince our law makers
that this is an important issue that people care about, and we
have to fight the $50 million plus in lobbying by the air
To do this, we need to get
as many other people supporting us as possible, and we need to
get our message in front of the legislators every way we can so
they understand it is a popular issue of the day.
Friends, neighbors, colleagues
This might seem obvious, but
it can be the most effective way of building a grass roots
campaign of all. Speak about this, one on one, with people
you come into contact with, and ask them to join you in actively
supporting the need for an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.
And don't just stop there.
After you've got their support, ask them in turn to go out and
ask their friends to join the crusade, too. If you can get
three friends, and three days later, they each get three
friends, and so on, guess how long it would take for the entire
300,000,000 people in the country to be demanding a Bill of
Rights? A mere two months!
With email, you can spread
the word to a lot more than three people, and a lot more
quickly. If we grew six people at a time, every two days,
we'd be past the 300,000,000 mark in just three weeks.
Local Opinion Leaders
Are you a church goer?
Why not ask your church minister to support the concept with a
mention in his weekly sermon and announcements.
Do you belong to Rotary or
some other service group? Get it mentioned as a meeting
announcement there, too.
Do you subscribe to
Consumer's Reports? Why not contact them and suggest they
support this issue.
Part of getting this message
to other people can be done by
doing something simple like writing a letter to the editor of
your local newspaper calling for ordinary rights to be restored
to airline passengers, same as we have in other ordinary
commercial dealings, buying and selling goods and services.
And any time something
relevant to air passenger rights makes it into the news, write a
letter to the editor linking the news item to the need for our
Bill of Rights.
When writing letters to the
editor, email or fax them, and write the letter as
quickly as possible. News stories - and letters to the
editor commenting on news stories - only remain interesting for
a day or two - if you don't get your letter in their hands while
the story is still interesting, it will be ignored.
And if you have a favorite
columnist in your local newspaper, and if this person writes on
topics that, by no more than a reasonable stretch might include
an Air Passenger Bill of Rights, why not approach them and
suggest they write on the subject for a future column.
Refer them to this website for more information they can draw
from to help prepare an article.
Radio talk shows
Call local radio talk shows
two different ways. Firstly, call the radio station
directly and ask to speak to the producer of the talk show and
suggest they feature the subject of air passenger rights on a
future talk show. It is an issue that affects most
listeners, and it is a subject many people feel strongly about -
it is ideal for talk radio.
Secondly, if there is ever
an opportunity to raise the issue by actually calling live into
a talk show, do so. You should rehearse what you're going
to say. You want to confidently and concisely state your
opinion, and back it up with an interesting fact or two.
Try and get what you'll say compressed down to 15 to 30 seconds
- if you spend more time than that, you are trying to say too
much up front, and the host will probably interrupt you.
After you've had your
prepared 15 - 30 second 'mini-speech', the host might ask you
more questions, and you should try and answer these as best you
can also in short 10 - 20 second replies. On talk radio,
the shorter the time you talk, the better your message will be
received, and the more the host may continue to ask you
Radio/television news and
Call your local radio and
television stations and ask to speak to the producers of your
favorite current affairs and consumer news type shows, and
suggest they do a feature on the need for a Passenger Bill of
Rights. If there's been some recent news story that makes
it topical, that would make for an interesting story, and if it was
something local, that makes it even more interesting.
You'll need to quickly
explain to them the present problem in simple terms they can
then repeat back to their audience - a phrase like 'people
spending thousands of dollars on an airfare have fewer consumer
rights than people at the local grocery store' and 'due to no
passenger rights, airlines make more money by providing bad
service than by giving fair service' is another good concept.
Add to that the suggestion
that these problems are getting worse - 'with airline travel up
to the highest levels ever, and with the airlines' massive
cutbacks in staffing, particular in customer service areas, the
situation is bad and getting worse'.
Tell them that people such
as myself and other travel writers are available to talk on the
topic, and also suggest they can readily find people at any
airport who can report recent problems they've had with flight delays, lost
luggage, or some other element of bad airline service.
Doesn't that sound like a
great story for your favorite local television or radio station?
Chances are they'll think so, too.
Who to Approach part 2 - Fellow
Are you stuck waiting for a
delayed flight? Are you with a group of people waiting for
baggage that never seems to arrive? Here's a great idea -
print out a supply of these little
(each sheet can be cut into three mini fliers) and hand them to your fellow fliers.
Maybe leave a few around the
airport, and in the seat back pocket of planes you fly for
future passengers too (but of course don't litter).
And next time you visit your
local travel agent, ask them to hand out fliers to all their
Who to Approach part 3 -
Currently airline operations
are covered by federal law. In theory, there is no point
in speaking to local legislators, because there's nothing they
can do. But, in practice, we need to be just like the
airlines and their own lobby groups - we need to give feedback
at all levels of government.
Local legislators are
generally plugged in to their party's overall networks, and so if
you have a relationship already with any local legislators, next
time you're talking to them, share your concerns about this
matter and urge them to pass your comments up the party
organization and to the national level.
Tell them you know there's
nothing they can personally do, but tell them you're seeking
leadership from their party on a national level about this.
Congressmen and Senators
Of course, any legislative
relief will have to be passed in both the Congress and Senate,
and then signed into law by the President. So you're going
to have to get in touch with your four elected representatives -
your congressman, your two senators, and the president.
tells you who your congressman and senators are and gives you contact details for each of
Phone in to the
White House's Comments phone line, and send the President a
Sure, there's almost no
chance the President will get to hear your message or read your
fax, but some very junior aide will receive it, and the nature of your
comments will end up in a summary describing the types of calls
and issues being called in.
Your call will help to get
this issue on the President's radar screen, and will be
Members of the Congressional
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
This is the Congressional
Committee that is most closely aligned with aviation issues.
You should contact
this committee's chairman, its ranking member (from the
minority party), the subcommittee chairman and ranking member
Aviation (sub)committee, and perhaps all the members of
the Aviation subcommittee too.
Members of the Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
This is the Senate Committee
that is most closely aligned with aviation issues. You
should contact this committee's chairman, its co-chairman (from
the minority party), and perhaps the subcommittee chairman and
ranking member for three of the subcommittees - those on
Aviation Operations and Security, Interstate Commerce, Trade and
Tourism, and Consumer Affairs, Insurance and Automotive Safety.
The Senate website uses
difficult frames so it is not easy to give you direct links to
these pages, but it is easy to get to the information you need
home page here.
Department of Transportation
The Department of
Transportation (DoT) is the government organization in charge of
overseeing the airlines. The Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) is a part of the DoT.
The FAA has sometimes been
criticized as being too supportive of the airlines it oversees,
and some situations would seem to bear those criticisms out.
However, it does no harm to pass your concerns about our lack of
rights when we fly on to the
FAA's Administrator, but you should probably give higher
priority to sending your thoughts to the
Secretary of Transportation and perhaps to some other senior
officials such as the Assistant Secretary for Aviation and
How to Approach Your
The worst thing to do is to
send your representatives an email. Emails are so easy to
send these days that they don't impress the recipient as
indicating a strong level of conviction.
You could write a letter,
and this would work, although with mail security procedures in
letters can be considerably delayed.
Perhaps the best approach is
to do six things :
Firstly, send a fax.
Secondly, mail the
original of the fax.
Thirdly, make a phone
call to their Washington DC office and talk about your
concerns to one of their staff members and ask them to pass
your message and thoughts on to your representative.
Fourthly, make a phone
call to their local office in your district, and play up the
fact you are a local voter in their district, and have a
similar conversation with those people, asking them to again
pass your message and thoughts on to your representative.
Fifthly, go along to one
of their public meetings, and ask them a question from the
floor on the subject. If you're going to do that, you
should call their office before the meeting and tell
them you're going to ask that question, and tell them what
you hope the answer will be.
Your intention here isn't to trick or trap your
representative, but to draw out his public support, and if
you give him a chance to prepare the right answer and look
on top of the subject, you're achieving your objective
Sixthly, offer to pass
your representative information on the topic to help him in
his advocacy efforts. Become an active part of his
team of policy makers. Make it easy for him to support
What to Say
Bi-partisan or partisan?
If you're approaching
someone who belongs to the majority party, you'd probably wish
to tell that person that you're currently an open minded
supporter of their party and you feel that by taking a
leadership role on this issue they'll be affirming the issues
they stand for and strengthening your support for them.
If you're approaching
someone who belongs to the minority party, perhaps you should
tell them that you see this as an ideal bi-partisan platform for
leaders of both parties (such as the person you're speaking to)
to join together and show to an increasingly skeptical voting
public that there is a possibility for bi-partisan action to
jointly resolve broad problems.
Relevance to Committee
Check to see which
committees your representatives belong to (this is shown on
their profile pages on
this website). If they have a committee assignment
that seems like it has any sort of relevance to this issue, you
should mention that when you contact them.
Simple Short Summary Statement
This is important.
Your first communication is simply to get their attention and to
get your opinion noted. Your intention is only secondarily to persuade
them, and a first contact from you won't get
them to take any action.
Your objectives are to make
yourself seem like a sensible reasonable voter who your
representative would like to number among his ongoing
supporters, and to make the issue you're advocating seem like an
important issue that will on balance be easy for your
representative to take a side on and which will earn him general
kudos and appreciation back in his electorate.
So your needs are best
served by writing a simple short summary statement of the issue
along the following lines
yourself and say something polite and positive about the
person you're writing to - perhaps refer positively to a
recent vote they've cast, or issue they've spoken on (refer
to their website for details). Or perhaps refer to
their recent election victory (or their upcoming election
campaign). Take no more than two sentences for this.
If you've supported his campaign or his party in the past,
now is a good time to mention that.
2. Explain why you
are writing and call for their support. Take one
sentence for this.
3. Provide a bit
of background on the topic. Take a paragraph (no more than four
sentences) for this.
4. Explain why the
issue is important and of general interest to you and many
people like you. Take a paragraph (no more than four
sentences) for this.
5. Make a call to
action such as 'Please would you confirm your support for
this proposal' or 'Do you agree with this issue' or 'How can
you help solve this problem'. Take a sentence for
6. Offer to help
further, to provide additional information, contact people,
etc. Take a sentence for this.
7. Close with a
polite ending of no more than one sentence.
If you can fit all this onto
one page, that is excellent. If you can't, do not use more
than 1.5 pages. Anything more than 1.5 pages is too much,
and you're making yourself seem more like a weirdo single-issue
extremist, rather than a fair minded sensible voter.
If you're phoning, sketch
out what you're going to say into heading concepts much along
these lines, and plan for your phone call to be no more than a
couple of minutes in duration.
You, your friends, and I
don't have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on lobbying.
But we do have popular support (a January 2007 poll by the Fort
Worth Star Telegram showed 92% of readers in support) and
fairness on our side, and even in this day and age, if we use
these factors to our advantage, we have a good chance of getting
a favorable Airline Passenger Bill of Rights passed.
Will this happen? That
depends on what you do next!
Read more in Parts 1, 2 and 4
Part 1 we outline
the present problems and why it is we now need an Airline
Passenger Bill of Rights. In
Part 2 we set out the exact contents
of a proposed Passenger Bill of Rights.
Part 4 is the electronic
petition we need you to sign and support.
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9 Feb 2007, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.