JetBlue recently experienced any passenger’s nightmare: four days of cancelled flights. While the freezing weather affecting the Midwest and east coast regions contributed to the delays, a second piece of the equation dealt with newly passed FAA rules regarding pilot rest between flights.
The CNN article points out that JetBlue is the only major airline whose pilots are not members of a union. The airline claims that its delays were partially created by the “bad timing” of these new rules. However, the FAA still mandates less time than most unionized airlines require from their pilots, meaning that compared to many others, JetBlue pilots still work with less rest between flights.
Although flying remains the safest form of travel, scores of passengers have experienced delays, lost luggage, and disregard for their comfort and care. Beyond safety measures, a comprehensive “passenger bill of rights” has yet to be introduced or agreed upon either in Congress or amongst the carriers.
Passengers may wish they could forego safety warnings when their flights have been delayed or cancelled. So, what happens when an airline allows operations to continue despite warnings of poor weather conditions or defying crew rest regulations?
The Eighth Circuit—along with the majority of the nation’s courts—has concurred that airlines owe the highest duty of care to their passengers. More specifically, if a pilot ignores weather reports and flies, he or she is negligent per se. If the pilot operates with a commercial airline, the airline is held vicariously liable as the pilot’s employer. The airline attempting to avoid rest requirements risks penalties from the FAA. More importantly, the airline also exposes itself to any liability from the pilot’s actions that are the proximate cause of any injuries.
While facts change, the FAA and Missouri case law assign the highest duty of care to air transportation carriers. If you have been delayed as a result of poor flying conditions, remember that avoiding a potential safety risk protects you from suffering a personal injury.