BREAKING NEWS: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court decision upholding New York state’s airline passenger’s bill of rights, ruling “that New York’s new state law interferes with federal law governing the price, route or service of an air carrier.” (Here’s my take from when the law was signed last summer, including this prediction: “This bill of rights will likely be found wanting in the court of law, but if not there, it will definitely be found deficient in the court of good business sense.”)
The decision applies the constitutional doctrine of federal preemption to overturn the state law, which clearly goes against the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (relevant section codified here): “Except as provided in this subsection, a State, political subdivision of a State, or political authority of at least 2 States may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart.”
What does the opinion say? “The exceptions to which this provision refers are not applicable in this case. Thus, the PBR is preempted if it is ‘related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.’ We conclude that it is.” There is an issue of standing, but this is resolved by the plaintiff’s other claim: “Air Transport [Association, the plaintiff] therefore cannot sue for a violation of the statute. Nevertheless, Air Transport is entitled to pursue its preemption challenge through its Supremacy Clause claim.”
The court concludes:
We hold that requiring airlines to provide food, water, electricity, and restrooms to passengers during lengthy ground delays does relate to the service of an air carrier and therefore falls within the express terms of the ADA’s preemption provision. As a result, the substantive provisions of the PBR, codified at section 251-g(1) of the New York General Business Law, are preempted. . . .
Rowe accordingly forecloses New York’s argument and the district court’s conclusion, see Air Transp., 528 F. Supp. 2d at 67, that classifying the PBR as a health and safety regulation or a matter of basic human necessities somehow shields it from the preemptive force of § 41713(b)(1). Onboard amenities, regardless of whether they are luxuries or necessities, still relate to airline service and fall within the express terms of the preemption provision — a conclusion, we note, that even the drafters of the PBR appear to have been unable to escape. . . .
Although the goals of the PBR are laudable and the circumstances motivating its enactment deplorable, only the federal government has the authority to enact such a law.