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Airline Mismanagement

A recent newspaper survey showed 92% of its readers support the passing of an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

But nothing is happening in Congress.  Yet.

Let's work together to translate this extraordinary level of public support into public action and effective legislation.

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You Can Help Pass our Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

Grassroots action will defeat the airline lobbyists

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 voters.

Help them 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 desperately need.

Part 3 of a 4 part series - part 1 explains why we need a Passenger Bill of Rights, and part 2 proposes the details of such a Bill.

Part 4 is the electronic petition that we need you to sign as one way of registering your support.



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 compensated?

With service standards getting steadily worse - the airlines are flying more flights, with more seats full, but employ fewer people than ever before - you should double 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 expenditures.

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 travelers.

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 agendas.

That takes ongoing and repeated contact from you to them.  Here's what you should be doing.

First of All - Sign our E-Petition

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.

Please 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 industry.

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 questions.

Radio/television news and current affairs

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 Fliers

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 promotional sheets (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 clients, too.

Who to Approach part 3 - Lawmakers

Local legislators

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.

This page tells you who your congressman and senators are and gives you contact details for each of them.

The President

Phone in to the White House's Comments phone line, and send the President a fax.

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 worthwhile.

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 for the 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 from their 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 International Affairs.

How to Approach Your Representatives

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 DC, 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 brilliantly.

  • 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 this issue.

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 Assignments

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

1.  Introduce 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 this.

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

In 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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Originally published 9 Feb 2007, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.



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