Monday, August 17, 2009

Stranded on the tarmac

Last week's stranding of 47 passengers on a Continental flight rerouted to Rochester, Minnesota was another in a long list of critical errors by the airline industry in mistreating passengers.

The flight arrived in Rochester at about midnight and the passengers were kept on the small plane for six hours, having to deal with the discomfort of limited lavatories, no food and the up close and personal hygiene experience with fellow passengers.

Strandings of passengers on airplanes is becoming more common. According to the airlines, 855 domestic flights were delayed on the tarmac at least three hours between October 2008 and June of 2009.

New York legislators passed legislation giving passengers some protection but a U.S. appeals court struck down that law, ruling that state could not legislate airlines.

Current legislation in Congress would address passenger rights but lawmakers are skittish about including a time limit.

Existing federal law gives the pilots and the airlines authority to make the call on taking a plane back to the terminal. In the Rochester case, airline officials said gate crews were not available to deplane the passengers.

Having recently flown from the East Coast to Los Angeles, St. Louis and Salt Lake, I can tell you that airline travel is no fun. Fewer flights means cramped cabins, limited refreshment choices and frequent delays. That comes on top of being hit with fees for checking your bags. Of course you can avoid those charges by cramming your carry-on bags into the crowded overhead bins.

Throw in the joy of security lines and the flying experience has become tedious and exhausting.

I can only imagine what a tarmac delay in excess of three hours would add to the overall experience.

There was a time when air travel was a refreshing experience. Passengers felt somewhat pampered and treated special.

Now the only way to get that feeling is to book first class and pay exorbitant fares for the star treatment.

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