Saturday, September 26, 2009 – Page updated at 11:17 AM

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RICHARD DREW / AP

Travelers wait for flights while planes idle on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, in this Feb. 15, 2007, file photo. From January to June 2009, 613 planes were delayed on tarmacs for more than three hours, their passengers kept on board, the government says.

Pass bill to set tarmac-bound fliers free after three hours
YOU’VE heard the horror stories: Airplanes stuffed full of passengers sit on tarmacs for six, seven, even 10 hours — while passengers overheat, toilets overflow, and some people become seriously ill.

Congress need not dither long on legislation giving passengers assurance they will be treated better. The legislation, which every member of Congress should support, says passengers must be allowed to disembark if a plane is stuck longer than three hours. Not only is it inhumane to leave people trapped in deplorable conditions, it is physically harmful.

A 2007 World Health Organization study says the risk of developing such things as pulmonary embolism doubles after four hours of seated immobility.

Increased passenger rights, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe, Democrat and Republican, should be part of final Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation this year or passed as a stand-alone bill.

The legislative mechanism is not the point. What matters is swift recognition the flying public deserves better treatment

Airlines also should be required to provide food, water, adequate restrooms, proper ventilation and access to medications as planes await takeoff. After three hours, passengers should be able to return to the terminal and move around. A reasonable exception says passengers need not disembark if the pilot believes he will take off in the next half-hour or if it is hazardous to deplane.

A spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents large airlines, worries children who fly alone might be stranded in a strange airport. Possibly, but the airlines can implement clear procedures to assure children traveling alone are not left in airports to fend for themselves

Congress knows this bill is popular. The best bet is to include passenger rights in an extension of FAA reauthorization legislation, which means it would become law quickly.

Airlines have left too many passengers on the tarmac for too many hours. Green-light this legislation and give the flying public the comfort of knowing their basic needs will be respected.

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