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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Angry Passenger Pushes for Airline Bill of Rights

NAPA, California -- For more than eight miserable hours, Kate Hanni sat aboard a grounded plane at a Texas airport, meters from apparently empty gates. A few weeks after that December ordeal, the brassy real estate agent from California took her fight for a passengers' bill of rights to Washington.

And U.S. politicians are listening.

On Saturday, as JetBlue was in the middle of a meltdown that left some passengers trapped aboard planes for almost half a day, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer introduced a bill that would prohibit airlines from keeping travelers stuck on the tarmac for longer than three hours. And Hanni's congressman, Representative Mike Thompson, plans to file a similar bill in the House of Representatives. He credits her with calling the issue to his attention.

"We need the legislation right now because the airlines won't police themselves," Hanni said.

Hanni's American Airlines flight was diverted from Dallas to Austin on Dec. 29 because of storms. The agonizing wait on the tarmac, she said, was only the beginning of her frustrations. Hanni, her husband and two sons waited another 2 1/2 hours at the baggage claim before being told that the bags would remain on the plane because the flight would continue on in the morning, she said.

American offered the passengers only $10 discount vouchers for hotel rooms, Hanni said. When she finally arrived in Dallas the next day to make her connecting flight to Mobile, Alabama, Hanni said, a gate agent informed her that her bags were on the next flight to Mobile, but that she was not.

"We're not going to quibble with the fact that we put our customers in a situation that they never should have been in," American spokesman Tim Wagner said. Passengers were kept on the plane in hopes of still getting them to Dallas that same day, he said.

In the end, Hanni said, it took her, her husband and two sons 57 hours to travel from San Francisco to Mobile, finally arriving at their ultimate destination, a lavish Gulf Coast spa, late on New Year's Eve.

After returning home in January, Hanni began gathering the stories of fellow passengers' frustrations by e-mail. By the end of the month, Hanni was in Washington, lobbying for pro-passenger legislation.

The movement gained momentum this month when a snowstorm left passengers trapped inside JetBlue planes at New York's Kennedy Airport for up to 10 1/2 hours.

Along with imposing the three-hour limit, Boxer's bill would require airlines to provide food, water and sanitary bathrooms to passengers stuck on the tarmac. Thompson's bill would also require airlines to keep passengers updated on the reasons for the delays, reveal which flights are chronically delayed and strive to return lost bags within 24 hours.

Since Dec. 29, when 67 American flights were stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours, the airline has revised its policy to ensure that passengers do not spend more than four hours in grounded planes.

Nevertheless, Hanni said she does not plan to give up her fight. "I'm going to take it all the way," she said, "no matter what it takes."