Heeding growing groans of frustration from airline passengers, President Bush has given Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Robert Sturgell, acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, until the end of the year to present him with a plan to do two things: reduce air congestion, which has brought gridlock to the skies; and improve the flying experience of passengers, which has become the aeronautical equivalent of root canal. Relief can't come soon enough.
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Air travel has been horrendous this year. Flight delays have been the worst since the tracking of delays started in 1995. The number of lost, damaged, stolen or delayed bags in June and July made those months among the 20 worst of the last 20 years. Passengers have been trapped on airplanes for hours with no communication from the cockpits. This has to stop.
Peters and airline executives, airport operators and consumer groups are meeting to discuss how to bring order to the skies, particularly in the New York metropolitan area.
Peters and Sturgell announced that they would seek to boost compensation for passengers who have been bumped from flights. That's a nice gimme to the aggrieved, but the airlines need to do more. A passenger bill of rights is wending its way through Congress. The House and Senate versions would require the airlines to provide adequate food and water and to devise plans to allow passengers to leave planes that have been stuck on the tarmac. The airlines may chafe at federal intervention, but their record of treating paying customers like cattle - with no remorse - left Washington no choice.