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Little aid for fliers stuck on parked jets

A task force will vote on industry guidelines, but no mandates are on the table.

November 12, 2008|The Associated Press

A federal task force that spent nearly a year wrestling with ways to assist people delayed for hours aboard planes parked on tarmacs has come up with final recommendations -- none of which requires airlines and airports to do anything.

The tarmac task force, as it is informally known, is expected to vote today on guidelines for airlines and airports on how to craft their own contingency plans for dealing with lengthy tarmac delays.

Among the problems: The task force was unable to agree on whether "lengthy" is one hour, two hours or 10 hours.

Kate Hanni, a task force member and passenger rights advocate, said Tuesday that there was nothing in the draft document that required airlines or airports to provide additional services for passengers stranded aboard airplanes going nowhere.

The report is "a set of best practices, but there's nothing enforceable where a passenger can say, 'I won't be held up for more than three hours or five hours or eight hours, or without a glass of water or a sandwich,' " said Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.

"We were hoping at a bare minimum to come out of this task force with a definition of what is an extensive on-ground delay," she said, but that didn't happen because the airline industry "doesn't want anything that is remotely enforceable."

The 36-member task force was created last December by Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters to develop model plans for airlines and airports after several incidents in which passengers were stuck for hours before their flight took off or they were allowed to get off the plane.

Task force members said it quickly became apparent that the group -- dominated by airline industry and airport representatives -- would be unable to come up with a model plan acceptable to most members.

"The airlines don't want it, and the airports -- several of them major airports -- believe they already have plans" to deal with passengers stuck aboard aircraft, said task force member Paul Ruden, a senior vice president at the American Society of Travel Agents.

But the Air Transport Assn., the trade association for the airline industry, said that the task force achieved its objective and that some of its recommendations were already being adopted by the industry.

"The success of the task force clearly demonstrates that not every problem requires a new law or regulation," association spokeswoman Elizabeth Merida said.

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