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How Long Will You Sit?

Cindy Loose

How long can you endure sitting on a plane that's sitting on the tarmac without moving before you're tempted to risk a long prison sentence by storming the door and jumping out?

This question comes as the U.S. Congress considers an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights that would allow passengers to get off a plane that has sat for three hours.

The campaign to limit the amount of time an airline can keep what I consider "hostages" was begun by a woman held on a plane for nine hours last December during a storm. No food, overflowing toilets.

The airlines make what I think are weak points about how it's sometimes impossible to safely unload passengers. Like maybe they can't get an open gate, or maybe it's dangerous to unload if lightning is flashing. They make one strong point, in my opinion: What if passengers have sat for three hours and they're within minutes of getting clearance to take off, but someone can't stand it one more minute and insists on getting off? The plane would lose its place and everyone would be further delayed.

By the way, as will be reported in our Coming and Going column this Sunday, although hundreds of planes filled with passengers sit on the tarmac for more than three hours each year, the chances of any particular plane being so delayed on the ground are way less than 1 percent at any airport in the country.

Then again, does three hours seem like a good limit? Four? Five? Nine? Or should we trust that the airlines will do what is best for the largest number of passengers?

By Cindy Loose |  May 11, 2007; 12:53 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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I have a question about this topic. In all seriousness, at what point does holding you on the plane become holding you against your will as if you had been kidnapped. You get on the plane voluntarily to be taken from point A to point B. If they don't take you from A to B, but instead leave you sitting there in horrid conditions, at some point aren't you being held against your will and they are legally obliged to let you go?

Posted by: Laura | May 11, 2007 4:51 PM

can you please cite a link to this passenger's bill of rights or to the Congressional bill so that we can write to out representatives in favor of it? Thanks.

Posted by: gail | May 11, 2007 5:32 PM

While we're making these bills of rights, when do I get one for call centers, fast-food checkout lines, beltway traffic, and outrageous gas prices?
Please, this bill is obviously ridiculous. If you don't like the news about how a carrier has treated some passengers, then don't travel with them!

Posted by: Andy | May 11, 2007 7:57 PM

Hi--You can get complete info on the bill and even links to emails for congressional chairs involved in this bill at http://www.thetravelinsider.info/airlines/helppassourbillofrights.htm

Posted by: cindy loose | May 13, 2007 11:31 PM

Need Cindy's email address at the WP. So Ican claim my passport holder Clifton, VA

Posted by: Need Cindy's Email address | May 14, 2007 3:09 PM

My email, mentioned at the top of the chat, is loosec@washpost.com.

To the blogger who asks, aren't you being held hostage on a plane at some point if you want to get off and they insist everyone wait who knows how long to take off---it can certainly feel like being held hostage, especially if you're hungry and thirsty and your book ran out and the a.c. isn't working and the toilets have overflowed.

Posted by: cindy loose | May 14, 2007 3:55 PM

I'm willing to wait at most the time it would take to fly to my destination. If we haven't taken off by then, let me take my chances on the ground. Waiting that long already doubles my travel time. I think anything more than that is unacceptable. (Of course, if I'm flying to Rome and I wind up spending 16 hours on board, they'll have to take me off in a straight jacket...)

Posted by: Karen | May 15, 2007 2:02 PM

If there are no consequences, the airlines will continue to screw their customers when it suits them. Has any one of our "honorable" lawmakers got the guts to enact some consequences?

Posted by: sameolddoc | May 16, 2007 11:21 AM

If there are no consequences, the airlines will continue to screw their customers when it suits them. Has any one of our "honorable" lawmakers got the guts to enact some consequences?

Posted by: sameolddoc | May 16, 2007 11:22 AM

This has happened to me only twice, many years apart. And I still remember it vividly. Perhaps when airlines are held responsible for their scheduling decisions, they will allow more time between flights. It comes down to economics. They are squeezing every flight they can fill into their schedules, and if the infrastructure cannot keep up, they are undercharging. They need higher fares and fewer flights.

Posted by: AB | May 16, 2007 2:41 PM

Even three hours is much to long in today's world of tight busines schedules. On more than one instance, airlines have diverted to flights to airports within a one hour drive of the final destination.
They then lock you in the plane and don't give access to a gate. If a person can get out of the plane and rent a car, they are on the way to the final destination. Or they are enabled so they can find an alternative connecting flight.
he problem is amplified by the fact that the airlines don't give you real information in these situations about the possible length of the delay. I speak from the standpoint of multiple experiences. I hope there is a requirement that the airline must share this information with passengers. The passenger rights bill is long overdue.

Posted by: Jeff | May 16, 2007 3:15 PM

Even three hours is ridiculous. The problem is, you are viewed as a potential terrorist rather than a valued customer. If you want to get off - obvious terrorist, If you want to stand up - terrorist again, if you want to go use the restroom - big time terrorist. It is simply "safer" for the airlines and their personnel to treat us all as hostages until they can deliver us to the destination.

Posted by: Pat | May 16, 2007 5:03 PM

I wonder what whould happen if the airline didn't bord its passengers until the three plains scheduled ahead of it were on the tarmac and ready to go? I believe one hour confined without, air conditioning, toilets, food, and strapped in, would constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Posted by: Jim | May 16, 2007 6:29 PM

I wonder what whould happen if the airline didn't bord its passengers until the three plains scheduled ahead of it were on the tarmac and ready to go? I believe one hour confined without, air conditioning, toilets, food, and strapped in, would constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Posted by: Jim | May 16, 2007 6:29 PM

The reason airlines don't wait to board passengers is that passengers stranded in an airport will get fed up and ask to be put on another flight, or even another airline, whereas passengers trapped in a plane on the tarmac have no choice but to wait.

Posted by: Kim | May 16, 2007 7:18 PM

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