Airlines that "hold passengers hostage" -- and fail to enact a passenger bill of rights -- would not be allowed to land at O'Hare and Midway airports under a crackdown proposed by three influential aldermen Wednesday to prevent a repeat of the JetBlue fiasco.
Aldermen Edward M. Burke (14th), Danny Solis (25th) and Issac Carothers (29th) say they are determined to ensure humane treatment for airline passengers.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration controls the air and approves the routes airlines can fly, the city controls the runways and gates airlines need to land at O'Hare and Midway.
"We're suggesting that any airline that lands at facilities owned by the City of Chicago should adopt a passenger bill of rights. If they don't . . . . then the airlines should not be permitted to use City of Chicago gates or City of Chicago runways," Burke said.
"O'Hare is the busiest airport in the nation. No airline is going to not want to do business in the city of Chicago."
For years, consumer advocates have been prodding major airlines to enact a bill of rights for airline passengers, only to have proposed federal legislation grounded by the airline lobby.
The movement gained new momentum after the JetBlue debacle.
Nine JetBlue planes sat on the tarmac at New York's JFK airport for up to 10 hours during a Valentine's Day ice storm, keeping hundreds of passengers on board with minimal food and water. Hundreds of additional passengers were stranded on the ground.
Desperate to avoid a mass exodus of passengers, JetBlue has established its own "Customer Bill of Rights" that allows passengers to get off the plane after five hours and offers compensation to those whose flights are canceled or delayed.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has introduced a broader and tougher passenger bill of rights that applies to all airlines and establishes a three-hour limit. Airlines would also be required to have an adequate supply of food and water.
Burke said the Chicago ordinance he plans to introduce next month will establish "minimum standards" without dictating specifics.
But one thing is certain: He's not about to wait for Congress to take the lead.
"If their attempt to address the minimum wage law is any example of how fast they'll react, we could be waiting until people can get a ticket to fly to the moon," Burke said.
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