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Monday, June 16, 2008

MPs clear passenger bill of rights for takeoff

(CBC) - A private member's bill calling for an airline passenger bill of rights received unanimous support in the House of Commons Thursday.

The bill of rights could lead to new federal legislation that will balance the relationship between airlines and passengers, said Liberal MP Gerry Byrne, representing Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, N.L.

"The onus will no longer be on the passenger to demand their own contractual rights be protected," Byrne said. "The onus will now be on the airlines themselves to enact those contractual obligations and those regulatory requirements."

Woodrow French, mayor of Conception Bay South, N.L., spearheaded the call for the bill after hundreds of passengers were left stranded during a severe winter storm.

Byrne noted other recent examples have demonstrated the need for such a bill. In one incident last year, passengers were stranded on a plane from Cuba for 12 hours.

"Toilets began overflowing on the aircraft, water and food was in short supply and ran out," he said. "One of the passengers had the insight to dial 911, call the RCMP duty manager at Ottawa International Airport and ask for assistance."

Transport Canada will now meet with airlines and passengers and draft a bill to be put before the House of Commons this fall for ratification.

A U.S. federal Appeal Court in March rejected a New York state law obligating airlines to offer amenities including food, water and working toilets to passengers waiting in grounded planes for more than three hours.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said such a law, which was to take effect on Jan. 1, could only be enacted by the Federal Aviation Administration. The court said the law posed a direct challenge to the powers of the federal authority.

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