Two airlines — Continental and US Airways — are already telling pilots to return planes to the gate in time to beat the deadline. Airline officials say hundreds of flights are likely to be canceled at the hint of bad weather as carriers try to avoid potential fines... With planes expected to be full this summer, bumped travelers will have difficulty finding an empty seat on a later flight. 'The misery index for airline passengers is definitely going to go up,' says David Stempler, an aviation lawyer and president of the Air Travelers Association.
Now some of this is just generic griping from the airlines, who are inclined to pout over having to answer to government officials who've never scheduled thousands of routes in advance or swapped out planes in the middle of the day. But there are at least a couple of hints that these concerns are for real, and that airlines are trying to make the best of a bad situation.
First, keeping passengers grounded is going to be a public relations disaster. No one's going to remember that travelers themselves initially pushed for these new regulations, and the airlines know in advance that they're going to get the blame. So if Continental and US Air are willing to risk customer wrath to avoid government finesand that's still a theoretical ifit says a lot about the kinds of calculations they're making.
Even more troubling is the government's position on this controversy. When asked about the unintended consequences of these new airline regulations, government officials said that airlines shouldn't worry because bureaucrats will "rarely impose the maximum penalties." Just to be clear: the best answer they came up with is that the new regulations won't have unintended consequences because the new regulations won't be enforced as written. That's not really an answer; airlines won't put themselves at the mercy of some arbitrary bureaucrat answering to pitch-fork wielding travelers, but at least it also begs the question of why this law was passed in this way at this time.
[Photo: Velela / Wiki Commons]