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Stranded airline passengers push for federal legislation

  • Story Highlights
  • A demonstration Thursday simulated an unpleasant airline experience
  • A recording of crying children played in the cramped quarters
  • Organizers pushing Congress to pass a passenger "Bill of Rights"
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From Paul Courson
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Passengers are at the mercy of the jetliner pilot when the plane is stuck on the tarmac, and activists say Congress should pass a mandatory "Bill of Rights" to limit waiting in such situations to three hours.

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Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, center, instructs participants during a simulated jetliner experience Tuesday.

At a demonstration Tuesday on the National Mall, organizers hoped to show what it is like to be trapped in a closed jetliner cabin with overflowing toilets, screaming babies, and little food or water.

Using a portable vinyl carport painted to resemble the outside of a jetliner, volunteers sat in closely packed folding chairs as a recording of crying children played in the cramped quarters.

A pilot for one of the major airlines told reporters that airport gates are often filled with other planes, leaving no place to return, park and let people off. The pilot, Bruce Hedlund, also noted that today's jetliners typically do not have their own stairs that passengers could use away from a gate.

"Airlines have not provided an infrastructure that would include stairs and buses to provide me, as the captain, with additional options to get you safely off of my aircraft," Hedlund said.

He also said that a plane loses its place in line if it returns to the gate instead of waiting through a backed-up departure.

Rep. John Hall, D-New York, co-sponsor of an amendment to a federal funding bill, said that airlines have failed to make good on a promise to voluntarily "create their own standards for behavior" and that "there will be no effective protections for passengers until the government steps in and forces the issue."

He told CNN the legislation would see to it that "if you are on the tarmac for three hours, it would let you come back to the gate, get off the plane, and not lose your place in the takeoff line."

As it stands, Hall said, "you're basically a prisoner."

He said he was recently stuck on the tarmac at New York's LaGuardia airport for three hours. "You have no idea how long it will be until you take off."

The plan would assign delayed takeoffs in the order they were originally scheduled.

The proposal, which is an amendment to a budget proposal for the Federal Aviation Administration, is scheduled to come up in the House on Friday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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