Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Trapped in the Plane

Theoretically, fliers get on the plane, the plane pulls away from the gate, heads to the runway, takes off, flies for a while, taxis directly to a gate, and lets the people get off.

This doesn't always happen, and fliers can be stuck on a plane for hours.

Why not let them get off the plane?

Congress is considering three initiatives: requiring the airlines to provide passengers stuck on grounded aircraft with food, water, functioning restrooms and medical treatment (and possibly the option to get off the plane after three hours); establishing a consumer complaints hotline and publishing the phone number on boarding passes; and requiring airlines to disclose a flight’s on-time record at the point of purchase....

The thorniest issue is whether Congress will impose a time limit on keeping passengers on planes stuck on the tarmac. The carriers strongly oppose that prospect, arguing that the logistics involved would make it difficult to give people the option of getting off.

Yet four Canadian airlines recently agreed to let passengers disembark if a ground delay exceeds 90 minutes — if it is safe and practical to do so.

“This is subject to the aircraft commander’s discretion,” said George Petsikas, president of the National Airlines Council of Canada. “But clearly, we understand that when things get long on board we have to look after our passengers’ well-being and comfort.”

Flyersrights.org has published a page of horror stories. Here's a sample:

“I had a woman on my flight that had recently had back/hip surgery. Upon taking her pain medication with no food she vomited. She asks the stewardess to take the bag and dispose of it and her reply was we have no TRASH BAGS you'll have to hold on to it.”

“There was a small lap dog who had DOGGIE POOP on the seat and the owner upon being given napkins for the passenger to clean up the mess she also was told to hold on to the mess as there were no TRASH BAGS.”

Kenneth Nankin presents the opposing view:

The battleground will be the passengers’ right to deplane. The concept of giving passengers the right to deplane looks harmless and plays well with the voting public. The reality of exercising this right, and its unintended adverse consequences, is a different matter.

Under the legislation, a few passengers, or even a lone passenger, could exercise the right to deplane even if other passengers did not wish to do so. Thus, one passenger could force the aircraft to leave its place in line on the taxiway and return to the terminal so he or she could deplane even if all the other passengers wished to remain on the aircraft. Even if the bills were modified to require some form of passenger consensus in order to deplane, what form would that consensus take? Would a majority of passengers be required? If so, how would the passengers vote? Voting might be feasible on a 70-passenger regional jet, but how would voting be conducted on an A380 loaded with 853 passengers? Who would oversee the voting? Would flight attendants serve as poll watchers, with the pilots serving as judges to scrutinize the “hanging chads”?

Trust me - if a couple of people on the plane are holding vomit and dog feces, I think that the vote to deplane will be overwhelmingly positive.
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