Frequent Crier Miles

Originally appeared in the May 1999 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Frequent Crier Miles


With complaints against airlines up 26 percent last year, Northwest picked a bad time to trap passengers in their seats for up to 11 hours during a January storm.

Things got worse when American’s pilots staged a “sick-out,” stranding thousands of angry fliers. (Official comment of the International Association of Pilots With Really Weak Immune Systems: “We were sick as dogs. No Kidding, Coughing, sneezing, scratchy throat, that aching feeling. It was awful.”)

Whatever the cause, both incidents were bad breaks for the airlines in light of recent marketing studies showing “vassalage” and “ruination of life” as two airline practices that annoy consumers.

Now Congress is getting into the act. Besieged with complaints about everything from getting no explanations for flight cancellations to being forced to hand babies over to security screeners at metal detectors, members of Congress have proposed a comprehensive Air Traveler’s Bill of Rights.

Not surprisingly, the airlines don’t like the proposal. Industry lobbyists have come up with an alternative bill of rights they assert is more balanced and fair to both sides. Here it is:

Air Traveler’s Bill of Rights (nonchangeable without penalty)

1. You have the right to remain silent. In fact, we prefer it that way. Please keep your trap shut the entire trip. If you choose to give up this right, anything you say can and will be used as an excuse to ram your head into the overhead compartment.

2. You have the right to arrive at the airport and find we canceled your flight. Why? You don’t really want to know. It was canceled two months before you made the reservation. Truthfully, we haven’t even looked into buying a plane for that flight. We’ve also canceled your credit cards, haircutting appointment and big date for this weekend. Right now, we’re towing your car.

3. You have the right to have an attorney present during check-in, provided she buys the most expensive business-class ticket on this week’s Hot 100 price list. If your attorney cannot afford one, you need a more successful attorney.

4. You have the right to have a drink cart parked between you and the bathroom at all times. Moving a drink cart with intent to urinate is a federal felony.

5. You have the right to be pepper-sprayed if you verbally abuse airline personnel with epithets such as, “Could you please help me? I’m begging you.”

6. You have the right of all Americans to be treated rudely and with contempt.

7. You have the right to a free radiological examination of your infant children. Since you whined so much about having to hand the totsters over to members of our crack security squad, just pop ‘em down on the X-ray machine belt and pick them up on the other side.

8. You have a right to have your knees surgically removed so you can fit in a seat designed for very tiny toy people with no knees.

9. You have the right to redeem the declining value of your frequent flier miles for selected bus travel in the Midwest, provided all travel be completed before the first date to fall on the date beginning on the date of travel.

10. You have no right to your luggage. Just forget about it.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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