Debra J. Saunders

As Hanni sees it, the airline put money before the safety of passengers, some of whom had medical issues. So she put together a list of "rights" -- such as letting passengers deplane after three hours, making sure passengers have adequate food and water, as well as access to medical services and working toilets, and reimbursing passengers for 150 percent of ticket price for long delays, for whatever reason.

Lawmakers have offered pared-down versions of Hanni's package. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, has introduced a federal version of the bill. New York has its own measure and Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has introduced a bill for California.

Give credit where credit is due. Hanni is absolutely right to argue that it is unhealthy to force people, especially those with health issues, to sit in planes without fresh air, without potable water, without food, for hours on end when a plane is on the ground. The government should require that airlines have the necessary provisions, and because the airlines lack the simple manners to release passengers after they've been sitting on the ground for hours, Washington should pass regulations to force them to do it.

I'm all for airlines making money, but not when they turn a plane into an unhealthy human stew.

David A. Castelveter, chief spokesman for the airline industry lobby, the Air Transport Association, told the New York Times that Hanni should not be the focus. "It's about the issue. You can't legislate customer service.''

But if lawsuits from passengers with health problems and lawsuits from passengers like Hanni and fellow travelers who have outrage issues -- not to mention all that negative publicity -- can not get the airlines to straighten up and fly right, they deserve to be regulated. Reasonably regulated.

I still worry about a country in which people view nine hours on the tarmac as intolerable adversity. What do we do when something really bad happens and there is no on-flight service?

But when airlines subject passengers to unsanitary and unhealthy conditions, when there is no necessity, they have only themselves to blame for creating Kate Hannis.

Debra J. Saunders

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