US Airlines No Longer Required To Honour Basic Human Right After Congress Caves To Lobby
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US Airlines No Longer Required To Honour Basic Human Right After Congress Caves To Lobby

The United States congress has removed provisions for a basic human right from a recent aviation bill after intense airline lobbying.


For a long time at DMARGE, we’ve been banging the drum in an effort to raise awareness of the ongoing attempts by airlines to make flying worse. Seat ‘densification’ is one example, while the scrapping of first-class cabins is another.

Now, in a recent legislative twist that seems to align with this trend, Congressional lawmakers removed crucial language from an aviation bill that would have guaranteed passengers the right to free drinking water on flights.

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The Background

This decision seems to be a direct consequence of nearly $5 million USD spent on lobbying by airlines in the early months of this year. Originally included in the first version of bipartisan FAA legislation approved by the House of Representatives in July 2023, the provision requiring airlines to provide water on flights longer than an hour was notably absent in the final version of the bill.

The removal — spearheaded by a similarly bipartisan group of lawmakers including Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Representative Sam Graves (R-MO) — reflects the disproportionate and massive influence of airline lobbying in the US context.

If the bill passes as it stands, it will continue to exempt airlines from legally needing to provide drinking water, disregarding what we consider to be a pretty basic human right as well as passenger health more broadly… particularly on longer flights where everyone is liable to get a little thirsty.

The Industry Reaction

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, an airline passenger advocacy group, shared his thoughts:

“Airlines want to have the freedom to increase charges of any kind without limitation… There are very few specific requirements that are imposed on airlines when it comes to customer service.”

Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights

The legislation also sidesteps a swathe of similar passenger comfort measures, such as setting minimum standards for seat dimensions, which have progressively shrunk over the past four decades. Consumer rights advocates had a small victory with a provision that prevents airlines from charging fees to seat parents next to their children, but the broader bill undoubtedly puts industry interests ahead of customer comfort and financial security.

This legislative outcome also complicates the process for obtaining refunds for cancelled or significantly delayed flights.

Not only does the absence of mandated water provision stand in stark contrast to recommendations made by the Aerospace Medical Association — which advises passengers to “drink about 8 ounces of water each hour” during flights — it also only requires water to be provided during tarmac delays exceeding two hours, leaving passengers without a guaranteed water supply during the actual flight or any tarmac delay up to 120 minutes long.

Suffice to say, many in the US are sick and tired of big-lobby industries steamrolling over consumer needs by stuffing dollar bills into the always-eager hands of Congressmen. Are you thirsty for change?