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Stuck on tarmac? Uncle Sam says, ' Too bad'

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  November 12, 2008 01:58 PM

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For years, travelers have been screaming for setting limits on how long airlines can leave hapless passengers sitting on tarmacs during flight delays and even the US Department of Transportation's inspector general last fall recommended some kind of rule.
But the best a federal task force could do yesterday was to approve voluntary guidelines for airlines and airports. It failed to come up with any hard rules on how long airlines can keep you shut up in planes before being allowed to exit.
It's hard to find anyone who flies even semiregularly who doesn't have a story of being stranded on the tarmac for hours with no recourse.
(Full disclosure: I've been stuck twice. Both times were in California, once on an American flight and once with United, for three and nearly six hours, respectively, after the jets I was on appeared to be experiencing mechanical problems.)
Passenger rights advocates told the Associated Press that representatives of the airlines leaned on other task force members to reject time limits, saying they wanted the flexibility to design their own response plans.
Right. And what has kept them from doing so thus far on their own?
The DOT says it is working on rules to require airlines and airports to have contingency plans and include a time limit. But who knows when and if that will happen?
Well, you ask, what recommendations did the task force come up with?
They suggest the airlines update you on progress every 15 minutes; provide a secure room for passengers on overseas flight so they won't have to go back through security; provide refreshments and entertainment when practical; and try to keep the restroom clean.
The 36-member task force was created in December by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and was dominated by airline industry and airport representatives.
OK, Barack, I know you already have one or two other things on your plate but let's hope that you will be able to do a bit better by us. Yes, you can.

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