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Airline Passengers Held For Nine Hours On Tarmac

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Yesterday, 191 airline passengers were stranded on a tarmac in Southern California for over nine hours, begging to be let off the plane and provided only water and crackers. According to the Associated Press, “El Salvador-based Taca [Airlines] released a statement saying local authorities did not give permission for passengers to go through customs and enter the country. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Fleming said the airline did not ask for permission to let the passengers disembark.”

“It’s been two years since my family was held on a tarmac for over nine hours in Austin, Texas by American Airlines. What will it take for our government to enact protections?” asked Kate Hanni, founder and spokesperson for FlyersRights.org. Monday’s was just the latest in a series of international flight tarmac strandings. In August 2007, an estimated 20,000 passengers sat on the tarmac for several hours due to a computer system failure. At BWI in July 2007, passengers staged a revolt after five hours and were eventually escorted off the plane by police and guard dogs.
Ms. Hanni, who is a member of a federal task force for addressing long tarmac delays, said, “Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is not considering any regulations that would stop yesterday’s event from occurring in the future. Foreign airlines like Taca wouldn’t be subject to any U.S. requirement to have plans for tarmac strandings, and neither the federal Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency nor the airport authority can require that passengers be deplaned if the airline doesn’t request it.”

According to tarmac task force documents, CBP would allow airports to create “sterile” rooms that would be able to temporarily accept passengers from diverted international flights. “The problem with the task force report is that there is still no regulation to impel the airlines to make use of the improved cooperation, and no coordination between the DOT, domestic or international airlines, and airports.”

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