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CNN Today

Nevada Senator Introduces Bills to Protect Airline Passengers

Aired January 30, 2001 - 4:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: So, maybe you already know what this is like. You are waiting, waiting, stuck onboard, your bags show you are ready for departure, and yet you are going nowhere. Not even away from the gate. Maybe not for hours. Been there before? I have.

And the senator from Nevada has and now he's trying to spare us all from all repeating this lovely experience. Senator Harry Reid has introduced a pair of bills designed to protect passengers in this age of canceled flights, overcrowded airports and frequent airline mergers.

Senator Reid joins us from Washington this afternoon. One of your bills, sir, would require airlines to give accurate information about delays, cancellations and diversion. As I understand it, passengers could even exit an airplane after it's been on the ground for more than an hour past departure time. We'd all like to have that. They would also have the right to have in-flight medical care.

The other bill that you've propose, sir, would put the transportation secretary in charge of keeping the industry competitive and maintaining reasonable prices. So, we want to talk about all of that.

First of all, on those first couple of elements there, being able to get off if the plane is stuck at the gate for more than an hour, is that based on a personal experience of yours?

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: I think we -- those of us that fly a lot have had that happen so many times. They put you on the airplane and you wait and you wait and you wait. And once in a while, you get the pleasure of hearing the pilot's voice saying something.

But most of the time, no one says anything. You just sit there. We've all had that experience. It's got to change. I think after an hour, we've been there long enough. People need to go to the restroom. They need to call their family. It's time to get off, and I think if they can't get the plane off the gate in an hour, other arrangements should be made by the airline.

CHEN: But you know, I know the airlines will say, look, if we let you get off the plane and we've got to round you all back up and put you back on board and you have to go through the security thing and do everything all over again and that's just going to delay you further. REID: Well, but see, Joie, they are playing a game here. Much of the time they put you on the airplane so they can have an on-time departure when it's really not an on-time departure. They play games with all of this, and that's what this legislation is about. Stop playing games.

We're all adults and we need to know when something is wrong. You know, a number a number of people were told we have mechanical problems. They didn't have mechanical problems. They had a work slowdown. You know, we just want to be told the truth. And I don't think that's asking too much.

We need passengers to have certain rights. One of my bills deals directly with consumers, consumer's rights. The other deals with competition. They are interrelated, but it's time that we understood the airline industry is taking over the commerce of this country and what's concerning to me is we're working toward we're only going to have one airline controlling everything.

CHEN: I think there is a lot of concern and frustration about that. There is another element in one of your bills and that is with regard to the safety records. Can you explain what you have proposed there?

REID: Well, what I simply say is that airlines should have available, if a consumer wants them, the safety record of that airplane company. I shouldn't say airplane company, the airline company. It's important that we know the safety record of airlines. And that doesn't seem to be asking too much either. Whether it's something that happened on the Tarmac, whether it's something that happened in the air, we're entitled to know that.

CHEN: Now, I know that you and I believe it was Senator McCain last year that you had talked about trying to clamp down and trying to get the airlines under control previously. But then they promised you, didn't they, that they would try harder, do more on behalf of those of us little people, us passengers? What happened to those promises?

REID: As a legislator, I have learned that you have to be patient, and so I took the airline industry at its word that they would improve things. They would improve the waiting time. They would improve the departure time. All these things they said they would improve. A year has gone by. It hasn't gotten better, it's gotten a lot worse. That's why my patience is at an end and I think we have to do something to legislate, in effect, some morals to the airline industry.

CHEN: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, thank you very much. We appreciate your insight, and airline passengers, I'm sure, will be listening very carefully to see what happens with your bills.

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