If you fly semi-regularly out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, chances are you’ve felt the frustration of being bumped from a flight.
Overbooking is a common hassle for commercial airline customers at terminals around the U.S., and Sea-Tac is no exception.
Such passenger inconveniences are a symptom of having one of the country’s busiest, fastest-growing airports, with intense competition for a limited number of gates and the disadvantage of being squeezed onto 2,700 acres — an unusually small footprint for a major metropolitan airport.
We should count ourselves lucky (knock on wood) that Sea-Tac hasn’t hosted a showdown between agitated travelers and insensitive airline employees.
We’ve been spared the outrageous confrontations that have erupted in other cities, such as the manhandling of a doctor who refused to give up his seat on a full United Airlines flight in Chicago last month.
One Pierce County lawmaker thinks our luck could run out. While he might be right, his idea for keeping the peace at Sea-Tac is misguided.
Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, has introduced legislation he says could clamp down on airline bullies. House Bill 2211 would ban publicly paid airport police from enforcing the non-security policies of private carriers, such as when they bump passengers from flights.
Say this much for Young: He has his finger on the zeitgeist and knows how to plug into a big national scandal. His bill taps a well of anger and paranoia that’s rising among the American flying public, already bitter about costly plane tickets, extra fees, long lines and cramped seats.
But his proposal is unnecessary, redundant and oversteps its bounds. Young wants to meddle in interstate transportation issues that may very well need more scrutiny but ultimately should be handled by Congress.
Indeed, Capitol Hill is paying close attention after the Chicago incident on April 9, in which Dr. David Dao was forcibly removed from a United flight to Louisville. He was among a handful of passengers randomly selected to give up their seats to crew members.
When Dao wouldn’t budge, airport security guards dragged him from the plane. He suffered a concussion, broken nose and two lost teeth.
The U.S. Senate and House held two different hearings this month, during which repentant United executives were grilled and told that Congress would intervene if airlines don’t improve customer service quickly and systematically.
“Seize this opportunity,” House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster scolded, or else “we’re going to act and you’re not going to like it.”
Whether out of basic decency or fear of regulation, United is making course corrections in its corporate culture. Among other steps, it says it has beefed up employee training and increased the limit on payments to travelers who give up seats on oversold flights.
Another argument against state legislation is that Sea-Tac security policy already accomplishes the same goal. An airport spokesman told The News Tribune that its officers are trained not to get involved unless passengers trespass, pose a security threat or otherwise break the law.
Under Young’s bill, airport officers would be expressly prohibited from removing people on the losing end of overbooking disagreements — which sounds fine on the surface. Nobody’s tax dollars should pay for private airline stormtroopers.
But what if, unlike the Dao case, a passenger is the aggressor? Should a flight attendant, pilot or fellow passenger be expected to subdue a troublemaker, potentially putting their personal safety or others’ at risk?
Young’s bill could result in officers second-guessing themselves when split-second judgments are needed.
At a time when tempers are short and near-riots have broken out over canceled flights and other disruptions, it would be unwise to tie the hands of airport police.
HB2211 should be tossed like a bag of stale airplane peanuts. Our state leaders have too much important work to complete in Olympia this year and no cause to moonlight as federal aviation busybodies.