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Queens Chronicle

Assemblyman Continues To Fight For Passenger Bill

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2008 12:00 am

Nearly three months after it became law, New York’s Airline Passengers Bill of Rights has been struck down in federal court.

But despite the setback, Astoria Assemblyman Michael Gianaris — prime sponsor of the bill — is vowing to continue the fight for its passage, with support from elected officials including Sen. Chuck Schumer and New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

The law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, required all airlines at New York airports to make sure passengers stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours were provided with food, water, fresh air, power and working restrooms. Breaking the law entailed fines of up to $1,000 per passenger. The law also provided for creation of an office to help facilitate communication between airline officials, the Port Authority and federal agencies.

Gianaris noted that the legislation was prompted in part by two high-profile incidents last year. During a winter storm on Feb. 14, 2007, thousands of JetBlue Airways passengers were left waiting in planes on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport. Some of those passengers were stranded for close to 10 hours. In mid-March, a similar incident occurred at Kennedy International, again during a winter storm.

The bill became law despite a challenge to its legality brought by the Air Transport Association of America, a trade organization that represents the nation’s major airlines. In a statement, the group said “commercial aviation is best regulated by one source — the federal government — and not 50 states.”

An appeal of that decision led to last Tuesday’s ruling, handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The ruling effectively affirms it is under federal, not state jurisdiction, to enact such a law.

“The court’s decision vindicates the position of ATA and the airlines — that airline services are regulated by the federal government and that a patchwork of laws by states and localities would be impractical and harmful to consumer interests,” ATA said in a statement.

Gianaris expressed his disappointment with the decision, adding that the federal court system has been favoring corporate interests over public interests.

Still, he said, one nationwide standard would be best, adding that he will discuss options with the attorney general within the next few weeks. Options include appealing the decision in Supreme Court, drafting a new law, or — perhaps the best hope — pressuring the federal government to enact a national standard, he said.

“This is far from over,” Gianaris said in a statement. “While this decision is a setback to passengers’ rights, I will continue fighting until someone in a position of authority does the right thing and stands up to protect the flying public.”

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