The horror stories are beginning to pile up now as planeloads of passengers find themselves trapped in a seat on the tarmac waiting on flight clearance.
The latest victims: 47 early morning travelers on a Continental Express jet at Rochester, Minnesota. They boarded in Houston aiming to exit at Minneapolis until bad weather threw in this unexpected stop. They sat on the tarmac dealing with a food shortage, a blanket/pillow shortage and apparently a shortage on bathroom deodorizers to cover up the broken toilet as well. After 7 hours of asking folks not to also display short fuses under the circumstances, they arrived at the original destination.
JetBlue, Delta and American have also made headlines for trapping customers in their seats for hours. It’s an equal opportunity fail for every airline.
Consumer rights groups have predictably gone running to the federal government, asking for laws against this form of hostage-taking. Both the House and Senate have bills circulating to let these travelers go, which airlines have said is not practical given how flight times and union rules work. They make valid points, and they know more about how the internal operations affect the situation than the average citizen. Paul Ruden, senior vice president of the American Society of Travel Agents, was on the airlines’ side.
But today, his task force on the issue is advising Congress to go ahead and do something, preferably instill a time-limit on such in-seat waits. After all, the State of New York went ahead with its passengers bill of rights, and two airlines (yep, chalk up one for Jet Blue) updated their policies to better protect their customers from tarmac butt rash. And still it continues to happen with enough frequency to make taking prisoners the norm rather than the exception, mainly because the airlines won’t back down on this “at our discretion” angle. Pretty words aside, it boils down to “we’re saying what you want to hear but we’re not responding to the problem” as they go about business as usual.
Heck, even the Senate committee version on passenger rights sets this misery marathon at three-hour tarmac delays … unless the pilot deems it unsafe or the flight could take off within 30 minutes, which basically means they don’t have to comply.
“I hoped the airlines would get it,” Ruden told the Tampa Bay Tribune this week. “Well, they don’t.”
The entire issue has become a Mexican standoff because no one was willing to challenge and rewrite the system in the name of customer service — a system constructed around what worked best for business suits in the first place. Passengers (a.k.a. customers) were left out of the mix from the get-go. Now they’re inserting themselves into the conversation, and if airlines don’t wise up, they’ll find themselves as trapped victims of more legislation.