NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court yesterday struck down the first law in the nation requiring airlines to provide food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers trapped in a plane delayed on the ground.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said New York's law interferes with federal law governing the price, route or service of an air carrier.
The law was challenged by the Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade group representing leading U.S. airlines.
"If New York's view regarding the scope of its regulatory authority carried the day, another state could be free to enact a law prohibiting the service of soda on flights departing from its airports, while another could require allergen-free food options on its outbound flights, unraveling the centralized federal framework for air travel," the court wrote.
It said that while the goals of the law were "laudable" and the circumstances prompting its adoption "deplorable," only the federal government has the authority to impose such regulations.
The law was passed after thousands of passengers were stranded aboard airplanes for up to 10 hours on several JetBlue Airways flights at Kennedy International Airport on Valentine's Day 2007. They complained that they were deprived of food and water and that toilets overflowed. A month later, hundreds more passengers of other airlines were stranded aboard planes at JFK after a daylong ice storm.
Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria, the prime sponsor of the New York Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, called the ruling the "latest in a long line of federal court decisions protecting the already powerful corporations in this country to the detriment of the average public."
"By no means is this issue over," he said. The options for proponents of the law include an appeal, a new law or putting pressure on the federal government to create similar rules for long delayed flights.
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo, a Long Island Republican who sponsored the New York legislation, said he was "stunned by the audacity of the airline industry which fought so hard to deny the flying public simple basic rights like being able to use a restroom or get a drink of water while stranded on a delayed plane."
In a statement, the Air Transport Association said the ruling vindicates its position that airline services are regulated by the federal government and that "a patchwork of laws" by states and local authorities would be impractical and not benefit customers.
"This clear and decisive ruling sends a strong message to other states that are considering similar legislation," it said.
A recent federal report showed that about 24 percent of flights nationally arrived late in the first 10 months of last year, which was the industry's second-worst performance record since comparable data began being collected in 1995.
Kennedy had the third-worst on-time arrival record of any major U.S. airport through October, behind the New York area's other two major airports, LaGuardia and Newark, according to the report.
During appellate arguments earlier this month, Seth Waxman, a lawyer for the trade group, said Congress and a dozen other states were considering laws similar to New York's.