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New Rules Didn’t Help Stranded Airline Passengers


The threat of massive fines apparently isn’t enough to stop airlines from stranding passengers on the tarmac. On Saturday, some 100 JetBlue passengers and an unspecified number on American Airlines flights were left stuck on a runway at Bradley Airport in Hartford, CT. for seven hours during the snow storm.

These incidents raise the question: Are new Department of Transportation rules enough? They stipulate that airlines can incur maximum fines of a staggering $27,500 per passenger if planes sit on the tarmac for more than three hours on domestic U.S. flights. (In JetBlue’s case, passengers were stranded without adequate food, water or functioning restrooms. American Airlines say passengers had food and beverages.)

The amount of any airline fine depends on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the violation and harm caused to consumers, the carrier’s compliance disposition and ability to pay, says Bill Mosley, a Department of Transport spokesman.

Airline advocates Christopher Elliott and Kate Hanni say cash rather than credits would go further than an apology to passengers, and a ticket refund – as pledged by its Customer Bill of Rights. (JetBlue, American Airlines and the DOT say they are still investigating the incidents.)

However, Hanni – unlike Elliott – believes there should be Department of Transportation rules that obligate airlines to give compensation to passengers. (Passengers grounded by Qantas around the world last week, due to a labor dispute, can at least be thankful they were not stuck on the tarmac.)

The JetBlue flight was en route from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Newark, N.J. The airline offered customers a refund and double the round trip in credits. “The airport experienced intermittent power outages, which made refueling and jet bridge deplaning difficult,” says JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg.

But even the pilot was exasperated. According to recordings posted on LiveATC.net, he criticized JetBlue for not acting faster. “I need some air stairs brought over here and cops brought onboard the airplane,” the pilot says. “Look, you know we can’t seem to get any help from our own company.”

American Airlines passengers were en route from Charles de Gaulle to JFK in New York; American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said there will be “follow up” with customers who gave the airline contact information, but declined to say whether or not there will be compensation.

Huguely says the airline’s hands were tied. “Customs was required to process the passengers upon deplaning,” she says. “But they were not on duty. We asked customs multiple times to return. They finally did show up much later to work the flight and process international passengers.”

Who should take responsibility? The airport, the airlines – or is this just an act of God? If airlines were forced to pay passengers, Hanni says, that would ensure the airport responded faster: “After all, airports get most of their money from the airlines directly in the form of gate and slot fees.”

Hanni says the blame lies squarely with the airlines. “They bet against an act of God that the weather would clear and God won the bet,” Hanni says. “The result was a paraplegic in distress, diabetics in shock, children without diapers or formula, people were freaking out.”

But Elliott says these lengths of delays are rare. “I have to believe that they did everything in their power to make sure these passengers were not stranded on the tarmac,” he says. “They tried to refuel the plane, but they could not have foreseen that there were going to be power outages.”


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      Play button greyed out after OS reinstall
      By jkray 3/27/2012 7:09:00 PM
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    • I fly JetBlue from Chicago to Long Beach every time I go to the west coast.As for as being an admobile, I’m not sure what you mean. They have a cpluoe channels on their TVs that are pretty ad-heavy, but you don’t have to watch them. It’s not like they obscure part of the screen.As for the smaller airports, they still fly to major cities. My family lives in the San Gabriel Valley. Flying into Long Beach is a FEATURE, not a bug. It’s about 100 times easier to navigate than LAX, and the traffic isn’t nearly as bad. For people that live in Simi Valley, yeah, it’s a problem, but oh well.A free round trip ticket for every nine one way tickets I buy is fairly reasonable as well.My only problem with Jet Blue is that they only offer one flight each way per day between Chicago and Long Beach, so I take my chances on the Chicago weather. Other than that, a bad experience on Jet Blue is still usually better than a good experience on most major carriers.

    • It is just like domestic, just a bit betetr. The seats are the same, a meal is generally served, though the US carriers will probably at least charge for it soon, movies are show, normally several on a seat-back screen. Only tip I can think of is not to drink much alcohol and move around the cabin to avoid DVT.

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