Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stuck on Air Canada Plane at Ottawa Airport Tarmac for 5 1/2 Hours

Video of Jet Blue plane passengers stuck on tarmac from Truveo

Returned home to Roosevelt Island much later than expected. My Air Canada flight back from Calgary got diverted from landing at JFK Sunday evening due to the severe thunderstorms in NY region and I wound up sitting in my seat on the tarmac at the Ottawa airport for more than 5 hours, finally getting home to Roosevelt Island early Monday morning (1:30 AM).

It was a very unpleasant experience though not anywhere near as horrible as some of the horror stories you occasionally hear about where passengers are stuck on airport tarmacs for more than ten hours, as were the Jet Blue passengers in the video, with no food, or water, screaming babies, angry passengers and overflowing toilets. I must admit that the Air Canada flight crew were very professional, courteous and handled the situation as best they could given the situation. Luckily we were able to take off just before the the situation might become very bad.

Here's an excerpt from an interesting Find Law article on the rights, apparently not many, of United States air passengers stuck sitting in planes for hours on airport tarmacs.
...the actions of JetBlue and other airlines prompted New York lawmakers to take action, for it had become obvious that commercial air carriers, the FAA, the U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Congress had all failed to do so. The New York legislators' concern for passenger wellbeing was laudable, and provoked by some quite extreme facts. As the legislative history of the New York law records, it was utter disregard for passengers that moved the New York legislature into enacting a minimal passenger bill of rights.

Now, as I reported in Part One of this series, that law has been struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The ruling, which has baleful consequences for airline passengers nationwide, has left all passengers at the mercy of the airline industry.

The Case In Which the New York Law Was Struck Down: Air Transport Association of America (ATA) v. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo

New York's law called for only basic services (food, water, power, and toilets) to be provided when airline passengers were delayed more than three hours on a New York airport runway, prior to takeoff. This was more than reasonable; even a two-and-a-half hour delay without basic services can be a hardship for many, with the disabled, young, and elderly especially harshly affected.

After New York acted, the Air Transport Association (ATA), the trade association for the airlines, moved immediately to strike down the law in federal court, claiming that federal law had preempted the field. Specifically, the federal law the court held to have preemptive effect was the 1978 law deregulating airlines in the United States...
For those interested in more information about the rights of airline passengers Strandedpassengers is a blog describing itself as:
... commited to solutions for promoting airline passenger policies that forward first and foremost the safety of all passengers while not imposing unrealistic economic burdens that adversely affect airline profitability or create exhorbitant ticket price increases.
UPDATE - 12/21/09 - Just prior to the start of the Christmas Travel season, Congress passed an Air Passengers Bill Of Rights that would impose monetary fines on airlines that keep passengers stuck on airport tarmacs without feeding them or letting them off the plane. According to the NY Times:
... Under the rule, airlines that do not provide food and water after two hours or a chance to disembark after three hours will face penalties of $27,500 a passenger, the secretary of transportation announced on Monday.

In recent years, relatively few flights have been held on the ground for more than three hours — about 1,500 a year, or roughly one out of 6,200 flights — but that has been enough to affect more than 100,000 passengers a year and to create substantial public resentment....
However, the legislation does not apply to international flights.


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