- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

Airline customers tired of flight delays, being stranded on runways and other problems with the industry came to the District yesterday to rally for a federal “passengers” bill of rights.”

The Coalition for an Airline Passengers” Bill of Rights (CAPBOR) wants the House and Senate to pass legislation that would guarantee air passengers the right to exit a plane that has been sitting on the tarmac for more than 3 hours.

The dozens of passenger activists who converged on the Mall yesterday brought with them a portable mock-up of a smelly plane section — designed to simulate what passengers have to endure after nine-plus hours of sitting in a stagnant airplane.

“If we can”t get Congress to the tarmacs, then we”ll bring the tarmacs to Congress,” said CAPBOR founder Kate Hanni. “Congress ought to have an opportunity to sit inside a jet. Since their time is very limited, if they could sit in here for five or 10 minutes, they would get the idea of how horrible this is because we re-created what it would be like.”

Mrs. Hanni, a Napa, Calif., real-estate broker, became an activist after spending nine hours on a grounded plane in December.

She and her husband, Tim, and two sons were headed to Alabama on Dec. 29 but ended up being stuck on the runway in Austin, Texas.

Since then, she”s taken up the passenger cause full time, lobbying Congress and working with Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Mike Thompson, both California Democrats, on the bill of rights.

Some of the bill’s language has already been adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA now requires that “a covered air carrier operating an aircraft in air transportation shall provide for the essential needs of passengers at all times during which the aircraft is on the ground in the event of a departure or arrival delay, including the needs of passengers for food and water.”

Protester Melissa Wheeler, 23, an insurance agent, was also trapped in a plane that day in Austin — and for four hours longer than the Hannis.

The airline, she said, told her that the weather was the reason she was stuck in a plane for 13 hours. She said she now travels with a “big bag of food because I am scared to death it could happen again.”

“No one should be held on a plane against their will. No one should suffer what these folks had to suffer,” said Mr. Thompson. “The more you peel back the skin of an onion, the more tears come to your eyes. We found out this happens more and more and more. It wasn’t that long ago when the airline industry promised Congress that they would take of these issues themselves, and we all know that promise didn’t come to fruition.”

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