Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights to be Decided this Fall

E-mail Kathleen Foster

Imagine you're sitting on an airplane: middle row, center seat. The plane pushed off from the gate three hours ago. The pilot keeps saying he expects to be cleared for take-off any minute now. People are getting cranky and hungry … the bathrooms are starting to reek.

You're eager to get home from vacation, but the woman to the left of you is crying because she is now going to miss her mother's funeral. The man to the right is tense because if the plane doesn't leave soon he's going to miss a very important business meeting. The woman's had enough. She wants the plane to go back to the gate and let everybody off. The man is willing to take his chances, trusting that the pilot might be right and the plane could take off any minute now.

What should the airline do? That's what Congress will have to decide this fall when it votes on an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights.

The bill was first proposed by Kate Hanni, a California woman who spent nine and a half hours trapped in a plane on a runway in Austin, Texas in December 2006. It calls for the airlines to fulfill passenger’s basic human needs when a plane is in limbo on a runway, like fresh air pumped in, food, water, and clean bathrooms. All of these things are covered in a new law that goes into effect in New York state in January. Kate is hoping the federal law includes one more thing: the right to get off the plane. She says after three hours just sitting there, the woman who has already missed her mother's funeral should have the option to disembark.

But the airlines, as well as many frequent business travelers, don't agree. They say taking a plane out of a line up to return to the gate would cause more canceled flights. That would make flights not only harder to get, but more expensive they say.

Some airports are taking matters into their own hands by buying more mobile stairs and buses to get people off stuck planes. But the airlines have to agree to let passengers off, as they're losing money by taking off with a less than full flight. That money could end up in our ticket prices. Is it worth it?

• What rights do you propose should be in the upcoming bill? E-mail Kathleen!

Kathleen Foster is an FNC Field producer and a frequent flier. She started at FOX as an intern in 1996. She has covered the Iraq war, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, and the fight for Anna Nicole's body.