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A Federally Mandated "Passenger Bill of Rights" Will Cut Choice and Increase Cost, Professor Says

JetBlue planes wait at terminal gates at JFK Airport in New York, Friday, Feb. 16, 2007. JetBlue travelers continued to experience delays and cancellations Friday as the airline struggled for a third day to recover from an operational meltdown at John F. Kennedy International Airport. (AP Photos/Bebeto Matthews)
Bebeto Matthews
JetBlue planes wait at terminal gates at JFK Airport in New York, Friday, Feb. 16, 2007. JetBlue travelers continued to experience delays and cancellations Friday as the airline struggled for a third day to recover from an operational meltdown at John F. Kennedy International Airport. (AP Photos/Bebeto Matthews)

Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, told CNBC’s “Morning Call” that Congress should enact an airline passenger’s "Bill of Rights" to protect those bumped off a flight or simply delayed on the ground.

“A broad coalition of consumer groups believes you should have a right to water to drink when you’re trapped on a plane for eight hours,” Mierzwinski said Monday. “The money hasn’t changed in 25 years that you’re given when you take a bump. We’re only asking that there be minimum standards. We’re not asking to get rid of the deregulation that has provided all kinds of new flights to some cities and lower prices to some consumers. We simply want people imprisoned on planes to be fairly treated.”

But Aaron Gellman, professor of transportation at Northwestern University, said Congressional action will cut the number of flights available to travelers and drive up ticket costs.

“I know of no airline that wants to keep its aircraft on the ground when they could otherwise fly them,” Gellman said. “Aircraft are cash registers and they only earn money when they’re flying.”

He said JetBlue adopted a passenger’s "Bill of Rights" after winter storms delayed thousands of travelers and the airlines can resolve the situation without Congressional action.

“Every time Congress intervenes in something, they can’t anticipate all the conditions that might obtain and therefore they can’t come up with a comprehensive piece of legislation,” Gellman said. “To the extent they legislate anything, they’re almost certain to reduce the number of flights and therefore likely to reduce the mobility on which this country depends.”