Debra J. Saunders

The latest infamous incident of Major Airline Tarmac Dysfunction occurred in Minnesota last weekend when a severe storm curtailed Continental ExpressJet Flight 2816. The flight, bound from Houston to Minneapolis-St. Paul, was redirected to Rochester, Minn., and landed around midnight. Then, because some person or persons made an unconscionably stupid call, the airline did not release the 47 passengers until 6 a.m.

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Passenger Link Christin described the experience as a "nightmare" -- thanks to crying babies, one smelly toilet and no food. The worst part: the whole mess appears to have been eminently avoidable, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that a Delta flight that also was diverted to Rochester that night allowed its passengers to deplane at 3:30 a.m.

I almost feel sorry for the airlines. They are desperate to kill the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, a measure sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, which was approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Then they failed so monumentally that they may well have thrown a few holdout votes into the yes corner.

Every time a stuck-at-the-gate horror story makes cable news, former Napa real estate agent Kate Hanni pops up on TV. Hanni was radicalized in 2006 when her American Airlines plane sat on a Texas tarmac for nine hellish hours. Hanni started and a campaign for laws to protect against what she considered to be "imprisonment."

The Boxer/Snowe bill promises what seem like reasonable protections for airline customers. Airlines would be required to provide passengers with food, potable water and adequate restrooms. The biggie: Airlines would give passengers the option to get off a plane that has been on the ground for more than three hours.

"The airlines blame the weather," Hanni explained. "God creates the weather, but the airlines make the decision to stay on the tarmac."

She's right.

Industry critics claim that the bill would only make flying worse for the American public. Consultant Terry Trippler sees the bill as "a recipe for 'air rage'" that would pit passengers against each other. (Some may want the captain to taxi back to the gate; others may not want to return to the gate only to end up at the back of the line.)

"There will be no fighting," Hanni countered. Buses could service passengers who want out.

Debra J. Saunders

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