Passengers on US airlines are used to delays, being bumped off flights and bad service. But the nine-and-a-half hours that Kate Hanni spent sitting on the tarmac after her American Airlines flight was diverted to Austin, Texas, inspired her to start a revolution against the airlines. She packed in her job as an estate agent to become an agitator against airline delays.
During her epic delay on a flight from California to Texas last Christmas, Ms Hanni had nothing to eat or drink except a glass of water from "the sink in the bathroom where the toilets were overflowing". Several passengers on the plane and on others parked nearby got sick. Tempers flared, but no one was allowed on or off.
In all, about 3,000 passengers were stranded on various airport runways because of delays caused by bad weather.
That is when Ms Hanni decided to found the Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. The group already has some 18,000 members, its own website, a blog and a theme song written and performed by Ms Hanni. It includes lines such as: "We've got to get out of this plane / If it's the last thing we ever do / We've got to get out of this plane / Boy, there's a Cinnabon for me and you."
"It just got to the point where all of sudden that trigger went off, and I thought, 'We're being lied to. We're being victimized here'," Ms Hanni said. "There are ill people, diabetics that are shaking, that have absolutely no choice in the matter."
When a paraplegic passenger went into diabetic shock on a nearby plane an ambulance was called after some passengers used their mobile phones to send SOS signals from the plane's windows. Passengers were so angry and upset when the ambulance arrived that the paramedics thought it too dangerous to get on the plane to treat the passenger. Eventually the pilot declared an emergency and the plane was given a slot to enable the passengers to get off.
Ms Hanni, still feeling nervous because she had been assaulted a few months earlier in a house by a man posing as a buyer of the property said: "I started having flashbacks and thinking, 'Here I am trapped again'."
Her organisation is demanding a law giving passengers the right to get off a plane which is stuck at an airport for three hours or more. They want to force airports to provide drinking water, food and medical relief for stranded passengers. The airline industry opposes these moves.
The reason so many passengers get stranded on planes for hours on end, says Ms Hanni, is that the airlines do not want to allow them into the terminal building, because they might lose them to other airlines. "It's totally cynical," she said, while preparing to lobby Congress yesterday.
David Castelveter, a spokesman for the major airlines, says: "She's grossly misinformed, and what she is asking Congress to do is going to have many unintended consequences for travellers."
This year US airlines have been setting new records for delays and inconvenience to passengers – and the problems are getting worse. On America's east coast, private business jets are now competing with airlines for landing slots, creating even longer delays.Reuse content