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American breaks pledge, holds passengers eight hours

Imagine being stuck on a grounded airplane for four hours. Now double that figure and you’ve put yourself in the position of the unfortunate passengers who found themselves aboard American flight 556 on a Dallas runway April 24.

According to the The Dallas Morning News, the airline reneged on its promised four-hour limit for holding passengers on a delayed flight when storms hit North Texas last month. Once again, an airline’s response to delays is giving momentum to passenger bill of rights legislation now in Congress.

It turns out American’s four-hour rule isn’t actually official policy, but rather a “guideline” the airline will ignore if circumstances merit doing so. This makes American’s impressive proclamations from last December (when the four-hour guideline was announced) sound rather hollow: “Because no similar situation has occurred in the 80-plus years of American’s history, it is a rule that may never be used again,” American said at the time.

Such words sound even more trite when details are revealed about the April grounding. A USA Today article reports “The snacks ran out. Drinking water got scarce. Pizza was delivered, but only 50 to 70 slices, along with 30 bags of chips.” For a plane with 200 passengers, the quantity of food was obviously insufficient, the limited water supply a potential health risk.

At least one senator agrees. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said, “We all understand that flights get delayed and bad weather happens, but no one should be held hostage on an airplane for hours without food, safe drinking water or functioning restrooms … I hope that the airlines will do right by their customers and develop their own plans to keep passengers safe and comfortable, but if they don’t, this legislation will ensure that passengers are protected.”

Let’s hope Boxer isn’t as patient with her politics as the airlines have been when their customers are stuck on runways. It seems pretty clear at this point that some government enforcement is needed. I know I can think of better ways to spend my time than sitting for hours, dehydrated and hungry, on a plane going nowhere.

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