ATW Editor's Blog

Air rage, winter storms and passenger rights


A couple of general news headlines have caught my attention. First there is this report by the BBC covering a preliminary hearing into an alleged air rage incident on a Delta Air Lines flight.

As attention-grabbers go, you couldn’t ask for more – the accused is the niece of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, and the hearing was held in an Irish pub because there was no courthouse nearby. But there’s a very serious side to this, which the judge clearly recognized. The accused was apparently intoxicated, behaved in a way that was “likely to cause serious offence or annoyance to any person on board the aircraft, after being asked by a crew member to stop” and the result was that the flight had to be diverted to Shannon Airport, resulting in considerable cost to Delta and inconvenience to the crew and other passengers.

At a briefing in December, IATA told journalists that there is a considerable uptick in the number of cases of air rage incidents and it is causing serious concern among airlines. I will be writing more about this later in ATW because it warrants attention, especially with regards to the unclear legal situation that air crew find themselves in when dealing with such situations.

The other news this week, of course, is the Arctic storm that has hit much of the northern US and Canada.

In the winter storm chaos, some Amtrak trains got stuck in snow banks and hundreds of passengers ended up stranded for some 14 hours in miserable conditions. Here’s a quote from one passenger: "The conditions is cold; we're wearing coats. And my husband is a diabetic. He hasn't had any food all day," Laurette Mosley told ABC News. “The bathrooms are flooded. The sinks are full with water and the toilets are flooded.”

A horrible situation for those passengers affected and surely a very difficult situation for Amtrak. But here’s my takeout. I sincerely hope that the US Department of Transportation investigates this incident with the same thoroughness – and deals out equal penalties – that it would undoubtedly apply to an airline that left its customers for 14 hours without food , heat or bathrooms for 14 hours.

Emergency situations and bad weather happen. But if I’m ever caught up in such a travel situation, I would unreservedly trust an airline – any airline – over Amtrak to look after me. And it’s time for DOT to apply the same rules to trains for customer care and service as it does to airlines.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Jan 9, 2014

Wow, just can't seem to come to terms with the choice of holding a hearing for a drunk in a pub?

on Jan 9, 2014

Greetings Str8 and level. It does rather beg belief. Wonder if beverages were served?

on Jan 9, 2014

Airlines being at the receiving end of the stick seems to be a global phenomena. Somehow, even in the so-called developed countries, for some unfathomable reason, there remains an 'elitist' tag to airplane travel making this vital transportation arm open to all sorts of bullying by regulatory authorities.

Invariably, other forms of transportation like the railways and road bus services seem to get away scot-free where customer service or rather the lack of it is concerned.

Karen's comments that the US DoT should measure Amtrak or other non-airline services with the same yardstick cannot be overstated. Had such instances occurred with an airline, the DoT, consumer groups and what-have-you would have had a field day remonstrating the hapless carrier.

In all fairness, Amtrak is definitely not to be blamed entirely for the situation that developed but yes, all consumer rights and protections must be applied in equal measure in such a case as would have to an airline.

Some of the new regulations brought about in the EU regarding obligations of airlines towards passengers are so downright discriminatory it's almost believable that the former could be blamed for causing bad weather...!!

on Jan 9, 2014

Thank you for your comments, rirahom. You sum up the situation well. And while not the purvey of DOT, I would argue that government rules in general and worldwide do not apply the same scrutiny and penalties to other travel industries, including cruise ships, hotels, rental car companies and travel agencies. I believe Singapore is a notable exception in that it decided that it did not need a set of special consumer right rules for airlines because its general consumer rights legislation was sufficient. That is a more pragmatic and fair approach that other legislators would do well to follow.

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