Runway-bound: A holiday flight becomes ugly

Tuesday, January 09, 2007By Scott McCartney, The Wall Street Journal

After hours of sitting on the runway, the toilets on the American Airlines jet were overflowing. There was no water to be found and no food except for a box of pretzel bags. A pregnant woman sat crying; an unaccompanied teen sobbed. The captain walked up and down the aisle of the MD-80, trying to calm angry passengers. At one point, families with children lined up to be bused to the terminal, but a bus never came.

Flight 1348, a San Francisco-Dallas run, had been diverted to Austin, Texas, because of thunderstorms. It was the Friday before New Year’s Day and the jet was parked on the tarmac beside other stray flights. Planes came and went, but Flight 1348 was left waiting, American confirms.

After more than eight hours on the ground, and 12 hours after the plane had left San Francisco, the captain told passengers he was going to an empty gate, even though he didn’t have permission.

“He said, ‘Enough is enough. I should have done this a long time ago,'” recalls passenger Cindy Welch, who was trying to get home to Missouri. American won’t identify the captain.
Flight 1348 was one of 85 flights American diverted from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport that day. Some turned into true travel nightmares, the likes of which haven’t been seen since January 1999, when passengers on a Northwest Airlines flight were trapped for seven hours on a parked plane that had landed nearly a day late.

American’s Flight 1682 from Oklahoma City to Dallas pushed back at 2:07 p.m. on Dec. 29, then waited eight hours and two minutes before canceling and going back to the terminal, according to data compiled by FlightStats Inc.

Flight 37 from Zurich, Switzerland, to Dallas was diverted to Tulsa, Okla., where it sat for 10 hours. Pilots couldn’t take off because they reached federal limits on duty time, American says. Tulsa doesn’t have a Customs and Immigration facility so no one could get off. By the time the plane reached Dallas, landing at 1:33 a.m., according to Federal Aviation Administration data, passengers had been on board more 22 hours.

How does this happen? After years of cutting staff, carriers are less capable of handling crises — from not having enough telephone reservationists to handle calls, or extra bodies to empty toilet tanks or spare pilots and flight attendants to help out when delays stack up. Congestion in the air and at airports exacerbates the messes caused when storms hit.

Delays have increased steadily over the past five years, approaching levels not seen since 1999 and 2000. The rate of mishandled bags is 68 percent higher than in 2002 — that year was a recent low — and consumer complaints have increased in each of the past four years.
AMR Corp.’s American, the world’s biggest airline, says it was reluctant to cancel flights on Dec. 29 because planes were packed with holiday travelers. Instead, when storms were forecast at its Dallas hub, it opted to delay flights. As it happens, Dallas got whacked with by an unseasonably strong thunderstorm that didn’t move out of the area for hours. Landings slowed to a crawl and lightning forced ground workers indoors several times. Planes on the ground waited, thinking skies would clear, but they didn’t.

The carrier says it is re-evaluating its flight-diversion strategy. It is also is studying whether it should adopt a harder time limit on how long planes can sit and wait.

In the case of Flight 1348, according to interviews with four passengers plus officials at American, the problems were compounded by a lack of staff, the result of cost-cutting and holiday vacations, and some bad decisions.

American’s Austin operations were overwhelmed when 14 planes landed unexpectedly, American says. The airline delivered some snacks and drinks to airplanes, but quickly ran out. A worker tried to service toilets when he could get time, but was held back by lightning. American tried to call in more staff with little success due to the holiday weekend. “We got caught short-handed,” says American spokesman John Hotard.

American also made a pivotal decision: According to airline officials, Austin managers decided to focus on handling regular flights to other cities, such as Chicago and St. Louis, hoping they could stay on schedule. They let the diverted Dallas planes sit.

And sit.

Flight 1348 was snake-bit from the start. The plane was an hour late leaving San Francisco because of mechanical problems that forced a switch of airplanes. The flight left the gate at 7:10 a.m., instead of its 6:05 scheduled departure, and the delay proved critical. An on-time arrival would have beaten the bad weather.

When Flight 1348 reached west Texas, storms were moving in. American says the pilot was told to divert to Austin where he could refuel and wait for a break in the weather for the short hop to Dallas.
After landing, American allowed about 20 local Austin and San Antonio passengers to get off rather than wait to fly to Dallas only to hop on a connection back to Austin. Their luggage, however, remained on board, say passengers and American.

American expected the storms to hit between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and then move out of the area. Instead, they started earlier and lingered into the night. For hours, the crew thought they’d ultimately be able to fly to Dallas, only to have hopes dashed. Worse, the storm had moved into Austin, too.

Whether to keep waiting or give up is one of the most difficult decisions for airlines, taxing both operations and finances. Often travelers and airlines prefer to wait as long as possible for the chance to reach their destinations. Moving a plane to a gate for a bathroom break could cost a flight its place in line among the hundreds trying to leave. It could also mean the crew might run into federal time limits that regulate the work day. Unless new pilots and flight attendants are available, continuing the trip would have to wait until the next day.

“If we take you to the gate, and it’s a holiday period, we may not get you out of there for three days,” says Mr. Hotard.

For Flight 1348, conditions in the 11-foot-wide MD-80 cabin quickly deteriorated — toilets overflowed, families ran out of baby diapers, one man exclaimed he was down to his last piece of Nicorette gum, passengers recall. “It was pathetic. The toilets had gone from gas station to a Carlos Santana concert,” said Andy Welch, husband of Cindy Welch.

American says a worker did empty toilet tanks on Flight 1348, but not until the plane had been on the ground for five hours or more. Even then, the stench typically lingers on an aircraft that isn’t moving, one airline official says.

The captain told passengers he was calling everyone he could think of to get permission to use a gate. He told them he talked to two American chief pilots as well as the manager of the Austin operations. The airline confirms the Austin manager was in contact with the pilots.

Many people at American were aware of Flight 1348. A mother whose son was on the plane called a company spokesman, one passenger called a Dallas television station, another called a friend who was a freelance writer, who wrote a story that day for the Dallas Morning News.
Instead of opening a gate for Flight 1348, American’s four gates were used to operate the airline’s regular schedule, including a few flights to Dallas that did depart. “The pilot kept telling us they would not give us a gate,” says Katie Dickson, who was trying to get to Belize with her husband and five-year-old daughter. “At one point he said, ‘I am so embarrassed for American Airlines.'”

Several passengers got increasingly angry and yelled at the crew, but the captain, Mrs. Dickson recalls, kept calm. “It was a little scary to have that many people in such a closed space,” she says.

Passengers rallied — some mothers digging out granola bars for a young man who was famished, some people translating for a couple who didn’t speak English. A few passengers were allowed down the staircase in the plane’s tail to the tarmac to walk dogs that had been in the cargo hold. Mrs. Dickson says she found the ordeal “unbelievable, just mind-boggling.”

At 9 p.m., Flight 1348’s passengers finally got inside the Austin terminal, where they couldn’t find anyone from American to help them with flights or hotels. Passengers say the scene was chaotic. Only about half the luggage made it off the flight. American says its baggage system in Austin was overwhelmed by the volume.

The Dicksons rented a car and drove to Dallas, and were able to get a flight to Belize the next day for their shortened vacation. The Welches waited in a line at the ticket counter, which was staffed by just two employees, they recall. They stood in line three hours. When they reached the counter, Mrs. Welch asked for a hotel voucher. The agent declined, Mrs. Welch says, saying the problem was caused by weather and American wasn’t responsible.

Mrs. Welch began crying. She argued that the flight wouldn’t have been in Austin if not for the original delay in San Francisco. The ticket agent relented and gave her a voucher for a hotel stay and breakfast.

“The most maddening thing was no one from American Airlines ever approached us and apologized,” she says. Adds Mrs. Dickson: “I still don’t understand what happened. If I had an explanation from American, I’d feel better.”

American’s Mr. Hotard says the airline is truly sorry for the mess. He says one reason the airline may not have contacted customers to apologize is that its Fort Worth headquarters, where customer-service specialists work, was closed for four days over New Year’s.

36 comments on “Wall Street Journal Article

  • The epitome of customer service. Absolutely rediculous. Low paid workers. Welcome to the New World Order. It is coming folks. Look around. BIG TIME CEO PAY…LOW PAID AMERICAN WORKERS….ILLEGALS TAKING OVER THE LANDSCAPE. LISTEN TO MICHAEL SAVAGE AND PRAY TO GOD.

  • Me and two of my friends were flying to Dallas from Oakland via Houston on the same day (Dec 29, 2006). Everything was fine up to Houston. We were supposed to depart from Houston at 1:30pm and arrive in Dallas at 2:30pm. After what the pilot called an electical problem (someone did’nt plug somthing in so it wasn’t charged), the plane was ready to depart after 30 minutes. But that lost us the window of opportunity. Dallas was now not giving clearance for anyone to land. So we sat on the tarmack for another hour and a half. We were finally cleared for take off at 3:30pm. Upon arriving near Dallas the pilot informed us that we were not cleared to land. We remained in a holding pattern for 3 hours. Finally a decision had to be made. And it was. We would fly back to Houston. So we flew back to Houston. When we arrived it was now 7:30pm. We then spent the next hour and a half trying to find out what would happen to our luggage. After getting answers from ticket agents, the baggage office and security, all different and all incorrect, they said check back at 8:30pm and they would have an answer as to when the flight would depart. At 8:30pm the answer was no answer. We then found out that reguardless of when the plane departed, we could not pull are luggage. It would fly to Dallas with or without us. So we decided to step over to the bar and have a beer and decide whether we were going to wait for further updates or rent a car and drive the 4hrs to Arlington where we were staying. The hard part about the decision was that we had a rental already paid for up in Dallas as part of a package deal for the 5 days that we were staying in Arington. No problem. We would just rent one way and drop the car off up there. Right? Wrong. They would not rent one way. We would find when we returned that they do rent one way, but only with certain vehicles. When we asked about that they said that they were probably out of those vehicles. So we drove to Arlington and arrived at 1:30am. After losing a day we drove to Dallas airport to pick up our luggage and other vehicle. We then cancelled our Dallas to Arlington leg of the flight knowing that we were going to have to drive rental #2 back to Houston. The rest of our new year weekend was great and we went to the Cotton Bowl. I know your incident was worse but I just had to share this story since it happened on the same day from the same airport. We actually heard about your ordeal the next day on a local radio station. Suddenly our ordeal did’nt seem so bad. I wish you good luck in your endeavor. It’s about time sombody did something.

    Michael Baldwin, Concord, CA.

  • Can you people really hold the airline for weather and ATC problems?

    Maybe the pilots should just land and takeoff without Air traffic control. Go where ever they like.
    Beep their horn if someone gets in their way.

    Maybe we should fine the pilots for not flying into a thunderstorm.

    Captain Jones, First Officer Smith Flight Attendants Weak, Dazed and Stunned… We are charging you $10,000 for the cost of the fare rufunds for your late flight!
    Don’t let it happen again!!!!

    How about if they take off with ice on the plane?

    This is the Captain…
    Uh, we are not climbing… we need to dump some weight… Uh, we can’t get to your bags so we need a few volunteers…

    The runway has ice and snow…
    “Well just go, I have a meeting in an hour”.

    When the roads are iced people drive slow. When the runway is iced you want to get your flight out on time and if not get compensated?

    And you want $200.00 tickets.

    Most of the major airlines are or were bankrupt and those that are not have 10’s of BILIONS of debt.

    Yes American made over 200 milion but, they have 18.4 Billion in debt. That is Billion with a B.
    You do the math…

    You compare statistics of delays and lost bags with 2002????

    Do you remember what happened in 2001??????

    You should not get any compensation if your flight is delayed due to weather or Air traffic control. When you buy your ticket that is one of the conditions of purchase!!!
    It is there!!!

    Over 50,000 people were killed on our nations roads last year.
    That is equal to more than one fully loaded 737 each day!

    I can see if the airline has control of a delay but not in the case of Air traffic control or weather.

    By the way there should be no illeagals working inside the secure area of the airport. They are all background checked by the government.

  • American Airlines are always late. They always have excuses. Do you know that everyday they have either cancelled flights or delays. One day they have an excuse of “oh the pilot has not arrived yet. Last week I went on a flight with American Airlines from SFO to Houston, we were suppose to leave at 9:30 in the morning and we did not leave until 10:45 a.m. Because the plane has to come from the Hanger. And it took that plane to arrive 10:15 am. And this was announce to us around 9:30 a m. My cousin works for American Airlines and I told her about this mess. And she said that American is good with excuses.

    If they don’t have enough passengers, they will cancel the flight or delay it so they can feel up the plane. They will tell you that the weather is bad.

    I will never again take American Airlines. They suck and they are not cheap.

    Melanie Garay

  • My husband and I were on an American flight from Chicago to Miami in July 2005 that arrived in Miami pretty much on time, but sat on the tarmac for two hours “waiting for a gate”. There was an annoucement every half hour that it would be another 20 minutes or so. Then the annoucement was made that we were waiting because of weather conditions, which was preposterous, as it was sunny and the weather was fine. While 2 hours seems like nothing compared to what those poor people in Texas had to go through, it’s pretty discouraging to have to be stuck on an airplane because the airline can’t or won’t get their shit together enough to even get passengers off planes on time.

  • We’ve all had our experience with travel delays and long waits on the tarmac. That is part of the territory when you travel – especially when you travel on a tight schedule over a holiday weekend in a part of the country prone to thunder storms. The airline made an offer of $500 vouchers as compensation. It seems people should have accepted the apology and the voucher instead of becoming willing participants in the culture of victimization. Everyone seems to want someone to blame for something. Sometimes you have to realize that things happen that are outside of human control and that people making decisions in those critical momemnts use their best judgement. Even if you disagree with it you can’t say that faced with the same circumstances and the same facts as they were that you would have done anything differently. If you don’t like the dificulties that come along with modern travel I suggest you stay home in the future.

  • I agree. No one should be treated like this. It is absolutely horrible.

    However, there is a good reason for this. The airlines are selling tickets for a very low price and they must be cutting corners to do so. My parents flew to Europe in 1960. What they paid for their tickets then, in real dollars, not inflation-adjusted dollars, was about the same as what one would pay today for the same ticket. I travel to Egypt frequently, and I pay less today than when I first went 14 years ago. We have gotten used to ticket prices staying steady or even dropping yet the airlines have to absorb the costs somehow.

    It’s the age of mass cheap transit and mass tourism. The airlines could raise their prices, but people would balk, and people who work in the tourism industry around the world who depend on tourists being delivered to them by cheap planes would balk and suffer.

    But now one airline goes under and another new one takes its place-and to stay barely in business, they have to keep the prices low. But service suffers, the airline goes out of business because profit margins are too thin, and the cycle repeats itself.

    There’s a point where I think we simply have to accept low quality service (but hopefully not unsafe service) or higher prices. It’s not pleasant to think about, but I think it is reality.

  • Don’t you all understand what’s going on here? You know damn well who is at fault. Bush of course!

    We blame everything else on him, why not this too?

    Just think about it you democrats and when it sinks in, you’ll agree with me.

    Vote for Billary, she would never let this happen. Let’s have a dialogue. Let’s talk. I would never let this occur if I were in office. Let’s have a chat about it.

  • No Congressman will get behind this particular passenger’s bill of rights. Most of these things the government is not going to want to get involved in. Look, airlines, while publically-traded businesses, they must operate within federal regulations and depend upon the cooperation of the many municipalities and regions which they serve. Airports are overcrowded. There are not enough gates or runways to serve today’s flying public. It is in the best interest of these airlines to get airports to expand, but it’s not within their full power to make it happen. Throw in other variables such as weather and yes, you’re going to have some pretty upset consumers. Below, Melanie says “oh the pilot has not arrived yet” was an excuse she has heard. Yes, that happens sometimes. Pilots get sick, have flat tires, get stuck in traffic — just like the rest of us. That requires a person on “reserve” to be called into work, perhaps with little notice. Weather can be sunny where you are, but you’re thinking simplistically if you believe that bad weather somewhere else does not have a ripple effect on the system throughout!!

    It sounds like what you mostly want is better communication……better communication from the cockpit when things are delayed, better communication from the airline company when you have a bad (or even traumatic) experience? Is that something that the federal government should regulate? The “essential needs” and “special needs” rights you’re asking for are the best of the “bill of rights” you’ve compiled. The rest are a knee-jerk reaction to your particular experience or are sophomoric in nature and clearly show a lack of understanding of how airlines, airports and air traffic control towers are operated. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to be critical of what you’re trying to do or discount your experience, but you need to do more homework & research on this industry. Then you would know what the government can and cannot do in these situations, which is essentially nothing. Consumer safety prevails above all.

  • This is nothing – we sat on a TWA| flight from JFK to Rome from 1PM to midnight – at that point the crew said they had exceeded crew rest limits and departed the airplane – leaving us (party of six) to fend for ourselves at JFK –
    worst of all Martha Stewart was in first class and she didn’t even serve cookies !!

  • Want some cheese with the whine?

    Don’t give me any lip , take your pants off and bend over , you look like you have a bomb in your shoe.

    Take your teeth out gramps , is the plastic explosives you’re using to hold them in ?

    you know what you are ..come on say it with me ..Moooooooooooooooo
    Mooooooooooooo Mooooooooooooooooo Moooooooooooooooo

  • What the passengers should do in this case is see if they can get the Travis County Attorney or the D.A. to bring False Imprisonment charges (a misdemeanor under CL) against the A.A. agents: Here are the elements.

    1. UNLAWFUL-confinement is unlawful unless it is specifically authorized by law OR by consent of person (sure you consented at first, but that doesn’t mean you can’t withdraw consent at anytime)

    2. CONFINEMENT-this requires that the victim was made to go where he doesn’t want OR remain where he does not wish to remain.(that is met)

    3. WITHOUT VALID CONSENT- similar to element 1 but different. Consent must be freely given and by one with capacity to do so. (i.e. no coercion, threats, deception, incapacity). Maybe coercion or distress or threat????

    What say you Ronnie Earle?
    District Attorney
    Ronald Earle, District Attorney
    Phone: (512) 854-9400
    Fax: (512) 854-9695
    509 W.11th St
    Austin, TX 78701

  • That is why I have issue with Martha Stewart. One, she didn’t serve cookies and two, she didn’t just cover the additional costs the airline would incur by allowing you guys to hang out in the terminal.

  • I have been stranded on the tarmac many times under the most inhumane circumstances – heat, cold, hunger, thirst, full bladder, the smell of over flowing toilets and the vomit it caused. There is no excuse for it. The airlines can at least have the toilets pumped and serve food, if not bus us to the terminal. I consider this treatment to be unlawful incarceration, kidnapping, and torture. I was once stranded at the gate for over two hours while we waited for the pilots to arrive. We were not allowed to get off. When the pilots arrived, we sat there for half an hour, at which time McDonalds hamburgers and cokes arrived for the crew who huddled in the cockpit for another half hour eating their dinner while the smell of burgers filled the cabin. They apologized profusely over the intercom for the delay with their mouths full of hamburger. Environmentally, on another flight, after we finally took off, I noticed that the overflowing toilet was once again empty. Obviously, the holding tanks were dumped over some part of Richmond, VA – another violation that impacts the people on the ground.

    I have learned to bring food, and not drink anything until I’m sure we are going to land. I try to stay calm and I never drink alcohol when I fly so I won’t lose my cool over this treatment and get arrested by the airline police. I don’t like being treated like cattle. Old fashioned Greyhound bus transportation was more civilized.

  • No passenger should be forced to spend more than an hour inside any airplane on the ground, except in the event of a bona fide emergency. To borrow a phrase from a favorite John Wayne movie, “Your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault…,” holding passengers inside a grounded airplane for a long period of time is unreasonable, unsanitary, and unnecessary.

    Please don’t attempt to defend the actions of the airlines by lecturing me on aviation weather, mechanical problems, lack of gates, etc. If the airplane is going to be seriously delayed, it should return to the terminal where the passengers can deplane. If there is no available gate, let the plane move or be towed to some place where stairs can be pushed up to the plane and passengers can board a bus back to the terminal.

    New legislation regarding flyers rights might help, but nothing gets the attention of an offending airline like loss of revenue. It’s all about money. Don’t give yours to a company that treats you badly.

  • To the moron above:

    You wern’t forced. You got on the airplane, and you know that bad weather, or a traffic jam, can keep you on the ground. If you don’t like it, don’t fly.

    Here’s a novel idea: DON’T FLY IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT.

    That send’s a message to the airlines that you are disatisfied, and that sends a message to competitors that if they can sharpen their act, weather providing, they will get your business, hence the term “market economy”.

    Just because we are part of the “working class” doesn’t mean we have to be incompetent, economically impaired morons…

    You realize all you guy’s are going to do by tampering with the free market is increase the price of tickets across the board. You’ll get the regulations you want, but your going to have to pay more for tickets–and that means ALL people are going to have to pay more for tickets.

    They should have just flown you guys through the storm…

  • Someone asks, “Can you people really hold the airline for weather and ATC problems?”

    My response – You need to go back and READ the articles about what happened. It wasn’t just weather (although that’s what precipitated the incident), it wasn’t ATC, it was not being given access to a gate so that passengers could get off the plane during the 10-hour delay.

  • The problem isn’t weather – the problem is honestly American Airlines and DFW. I’ve travelled all over this country, but I live in Dallas and I can honestly say it is the most poorly operated airport I’ve ever been to. The people that work there are just awful to you whenever they get the chance, not to mention whenever it rains they jump at the chance to delay or cancel flights. I live right by love field, and even the day after the “ice storm” I heard planes taking off! Love field is much more efficiently operated, mostly because Southwest knows how to run an airline. I have never had a bad experience with Southwest Airlines, but American always disappoints me. They have the nerve to charge you the same price as British Airways for a flight to London. British Airways gives you your own TV set in your seat with on demand, and surprisingly good food. The planes at American are the same ones they’ve used since the 90s – no tv, and the food literally made me nauseated. This is why American posted profits this year – they cut as many corners for their customers as they can while still charging you exorbatant amounts of money.

  • And can I give you some recommendations on how they should standardize procedures for musicians whose instruments and cases get destroyed? This is the only place in America where someone can make you either:

    1. sign away your right to recieve much less than equal value of an instrument’s replacement price if THEY destroy the tools of your trade by THEIR negligence!??!

    2. In most airports I can take a regular sized guitar on board but there are some which will STILL not allow it most of the time though the U.S. Congress made it a recommendation…

    One year I had 5 guitar cases and a guitar smashed simply because they were treated like #@#@

    So I had to get an anvil case that was oversized and it cost an extra amount (which varied greatly from companies and carriers) and even THEN they weren’t considerate of the gear.

    INSIDE THE HARD-SHELL FLIGHT-CASE my Les Paul developed a nice gash in an otherwise perfect facade WHILE BEING LOST 4 DAYS in LAX.

    The real stinker of this is that they had no idea where it was but kept promising delivery every 5 hours when they knew better. That caused me to stay in a city or two longer than I needed which only added to the stress of not knowing where my guitar and clothes were

    I did get them to reimburse me for $100 living expenses to buy some clothes after doing two concerts in my shorts, basically.

    How does a mega-corp get away with the indignity of that in America today?

    How do they get away with giving me $300 for an instrument that takes at least $1200 to replace when I have followed all their rules?

    “Simple” is the answer evidently.

    All it would take is an extra 10 seconds to place it in “safe” place like some kind of barrier in the hull OR they could do what they’ve always done and just let me carry it on. If I have to check it at the gate, let that be a gate decision and then give it a little bit of kindness in where it’s put.

    That’s all…common old-fashioned kindness.

    Some airlines are and some aren’t. We should standardize the ones who are.


  • Those of you who keep whining about a Passenger Bill of Rights have been foolish all along. Have you not heard of the American Legal System ? If you feel you have been wronged and damaged either in tort or contract or both, well…file a lawsuit. The great thing about a lawsuit which you should be able to file in small claims court unless your damages were very high is that the airline has no choice but to respond or else face a default judgement.

    Look…I was appalled that Congress let the airlines off the hook back in 1999 allowing them to take voluntary steps to address customer service issues. I do agree it is better to have something in the federal code with specific damages to make winning in court easier but you certainly do not need to wait for regulation by Congress to get relief.

    Frequent Flyer programs for the most part are based on fraudulent practices anyway and should have long ago been the subject of litigation by airline customers.

  • I, like most people, grudgingly accept some of the inconveniences of travel in exchange for very affordable airfare. If your “Bill of Rights” becomes law, the price of plane tickets will skyrocket, making fast, cheap, and safe air travel a non-option for all but the wealthiest class. Thankfully, no sane Congressman would touch this lame idea with a ten-foot pole.

  • I would push for shorter time allowed for ‘tarmac’ time in the Bill of Rights. Two years ago, on a flight from Dallas (seems like DFW is chronic) I was forced to sit for approximately 3 hours in a 115 degree heat. With no air conditioning turned on, the temperature in the aircraft reached nearly 98 degrees. People were fainting, kids were crying, things and people started to smell. Naturally the flight attendants had to share this experience. No excuse, explanation nor reparations were offered. Not even a decent apology.
    Having the right to fly, travel and generally be able to complain is everyone’s inalienable right. What the TSA has done is to criminalize anyone who has the bollocks to speak up and stand up for our rights as consumers and humans. Especially if that complain takes place on board of the aircraft. At that point it’s the ‘stewardess’s’ word that always carries weight not the paying customer demanding their proper treatment and rights.

  • I’ll admit I’ve never had to wait on the tarmac for hours on end – just once at Minneapolis/ St.Paul because of bad weather in Detroit (1hr-40 min wait). Just barely made my connecting flight when I thought all was lost.

    I think the number one reason so many of us get as frustrated as we do at airports is the complete lack of personal control. In essence, you are cattle. You have no control over an aircraft as you would a car. You can’t bring certain things, you can’t go certain places, airports are a haven for everything you can’t do – either for security or other reasons. That loss of control is too much for some people to handle.

    That said, sitting on a tarmac for 10 hours is ridiculous. John Q. Public should not be expected to set endurance records for confinement in a little space held by NASA astronauts. FAA and airlines need to figure out how to make sure things like this don’t happen again.

  • I hate to tell you all this, but I can beat the 10 hours you faced on a tarmac at the hands of American Airlines.

    In January of 2005 I was heading to Kansas City on an American Airlines flight scheduled for departure out of DFW at 11:00 a.m. There was a slight amount of ice/snow that morning in Dallas but upon arrival at the airport we were assured that there were no delays. The flight was jammed, every seat, and I was stuck in a middle seat between a man who reaked of cigarette smoke and a lady trying to sell magnets as a relaxation method (scam!).

    There were two dozen KU students on the plane heading back to KU from their Christmas break down in Mexico and they were wanting their party to carry on.

    We pushed back at 11:00 a.m. and sat and sat on the tarmac. After 3 hours of sitting, the guy next to me starts getting itchy for nicotine and starts chewing tobacco on the plane. Captain and crew assure us that “we’re in the next 5 or so planes to be de-iced” but that was wearing thin.

    Short flight so there was no food service. After 6 hours on the tarmac people were going into the bathroom to light up cigarettes. Stewardesses were banging on the doors with anything they could to get people to open up but they were holding the doors shut and saying “Please do call the cops so I can get off of this plane!”.

    Then the college kids overtook the drink cart(s) and the stewardesses called for the captain and pilots to help. They grabbed the stewardesses by the arms and pulled them up into first class and two of them went into the cockpit.

    9 hours later, people are fighting on the plane, calling all of the TV stations, newspapers, etc. and we can’t go anywhere. Captain comes down the aisle to try to stop one fight between a college kid and a businessman and he gets hit in the mouth and goes running back to the cockpit.

    We did not leave DFW until midnight so we were on the tarmac for 13 hours!

    Land in KC at 2:00 a.m and there are no taxis, etc. I paid a guy picking up his wife $40 to drive me to my hotel and get there at 3:00 a.m. My room is gone so I have to go down the downtown streets of KC to a flea-bag motel and sleep in the manager’s room. I have an 8:00 a.m. training seminar for a Fortune 50 company I’m working for at the time and I left a message for them at 3:30 a.m. and tell them I’m not coming in and I’m heading back to DFW that next morning and they can fire me if they want (they don’t).

    I catch a 10:00 a.m. flight back to DFW that next morning and my stewardess is a life-long childhood friend. She tells me that AA and their crews out of KC have already been “warned about that flight” and to be “extra kind” to any passenger that was on there. I sit in first class, get a bottle of champagne and a $50 ticket voucher from AA. I send it all back into them at their corporate offices here in Ft. Worth, with a picture of me flipping them off and have never flown them again (and never will).

    I’m a frequent flyer and amass enough airfare to take two free trips every year to Hawaii with United and/or Continental and have never spent another penny with AA.

    13 hours!

  • Workers are not low paid contrary to to guitarvenue’s comment. And if you call them you do not get sent to an overseas call office. Try calling. And where are you getting the notion that the workers are illegal?

  • To all the whiners: rent a car and drive…Then you will be in control. Oh, but you might sue the rental car company for the snow storm because you got stuck on the freeway for 10 hours, so maybe that is a bad idea.

  • Passenger’s deserve some rights. There is no good reason why these people should have sat waiting for over 8 hours. I myself would have got pretty angry and violent if I had been there. There needs to be some changes…NOW!!!

  • This is a terrible ordeal. I think it is important for you to know that all delays on American are not managed this poorly. Over a year ago, due to weather, my plane that departed from Kansas City was forced to land in Abilene, TX. We were stuck on the tarmac for over 6 hours. The flight attendants did a great job of tending to people’s needs and keeping people calm. In fact, they sent out for a large order of pizza (which surprised me because I thought security measures may not have allowed it) and everyone on the plane was fed. The only real stress factor from the flight was the fact that if we didn’t get off the ground by a certain time meant that the flight attendents would have been working too long on the shift and they would have been forced to go off duty. We were able to depart from Abilene to Dallas less than 10 minutes before that deadline was up. I felt inconvenienced by this ordeal, however, the way that American handled the situation, made me a lot less upset about it. I am writing to say that All of American’s flight delays are not as horrible as you describe.

  • The book I’m writing – Lies Airlines Have Told Me – will be a best seller. I can’t recall any other industry – other than the likes of car salesmen – who blatantly lie, willfully take advantage of, and abuse their customer base on a regular basis.

    While I am no fan of federal legislation I would welcome a passenger bill of rights.

  • Federal legislation is not needed to address the issues of AA personnel performance. What most “aggrieved” people forget is that they have the ability to vote with their pocketbook. Fly another airline if you feel AA is not good enough. We don’t need the Karl Marx approach. Legislating your personal comfort is not good law.

  • Austin is a GIANT airport (a former Air Force Base) located at a small city. Plenty of room to park airplanes, which is why it gets so many diversions when Dallas or Houston shut down, but not much staffing, because, it is a small city! Delays in servicing, inavailability of gates, (for non-scheduled arrivals), and shortages of supplies and staff are to be expected. Yes there are many delays these days when bad weather occurs. The main hub airports are at capacity during the best weather, what do you expect when dozens of flights are diverted to wait to come into persisting bad weather? These folks were uncomfortable and delayed, but by no more than the bus or train or car trip that was their alternative. When we buy that ticket, chosen by the lowest price, we are betting it will be worthwhile in terms of time and discomfort avoided. Sometimes it is a better bet than other times. No airline has a strategy of angering their customer base by avoidably detaining them in uncomfortable conditions. All airlines occasionally do just that, but only when extraordinary conditions (and who controls the weather) occur. Some of the extraneous demands in the “Bill of Rights” being proposed, such as the convenient posting of lowest fares, speak to the “we want it all, at the cheapest price” mentality of the folks behind this Blog. Folks like this are what made the industry what it is, meaning, a “deliver the product at the lowest possible cost, damn the employees careers” environment. Everyone buys the lowest possible fare. Well, we will all get what you pay for.

  • Good God. I was on this flight and the toilets did NOT overflow nor were we ever out of water to drink. The crew was very helpful and AA did all that they could do to assist us.

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