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For Immediate Release:

Contact: Kate Hanni 
Phone: (707) 337-0328

Airline Passengers’ Rights Flying High with New Senate Bill Applauds Senate Commerce Committee for Recognizing Airline Passengers’ Rights

Napa, CA - 07/14/2009: Today, the Senate Commerce Committee unveiled its version of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 which includes important Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights provisions.  Among those provisions;
  • Passengers will have the right to return to the terminal after three-hours on the tarmac if the pilot determines this can be done safely.
  • While on the tarmac, airlines will be required to provide food, potable water, working restrooms, and reasonable cabin temperature and ventilation.
“This is a major victory for airline passengers,” said Kate Hanni, whose organization has been working for over two years for airline passengers’ bill of rights with a three hour minimum.  “But the war isn’t won yet.”  Airline lobbyists are already on the Hill in force fighting against these provisions.  If and when these rights are eventually passed by the full Senate, House leaders will still have their say in conference.  Despite intense focus over the last two years to persuade key House leaders of the need to impose time limits, the House chose to leave that option to the airlines.  “This would have led to mass consumer confusion - one airline could have a limit of 5 hours, and another airline could have set a limit of 10 hours,” says Ms. Hanni. 

“Our coalition and airline passengers everywhere wish to thank the members and leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee for this important legislation,” said Ms. Hanni.  Chief proponents of the three-hour limit were Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).   Chairman Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the bill on behalf of Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and the leadership of the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee, Chairman Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) and Ranking Member Jim DeMint (R-SC).

Other airline consumer-friendly provisions were championed by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator John Thune (R-SD).  “It looks to our coalition as though this was a bipartisan, group effort.  We’re so pleased that this committee is able to work together and focus on the interests of the flying public,” said Ms. Hanni. has over 25,000 members and is the largest non-profit airline passengers’ rights coalition.  For more information, contact Kate Hanni directly at 707-337-0328 or

Related AP Story

Senator Boxer Press Release


July 13, 2009

Supporting materials for Diverted Flight Press Release



June 16, 2009

Data on Airlines’ On-Time Performance Raises Questions

The latest government statistics show that the airlines had a 79 percent on-time record in April, an improvement over the more typical 75 percent rate.

What those figures do not reveal, though, is that just two-thirds of the flights that take off or land in the United States are counted, making the recent gain more of an estimate than an accurate measure of the industry’s overall performance.

The Transportation Department requires only airlines earning more than 1 percent of domestic passenger revenue to report data about flight delays, cancellations, mishandled bags or other service problems. But that leaves out roughly 25 percent of all domestic flights, many operated by regional carriers, as well as about 1.3 million international flights.

Passenger advocates have been pushing for a more comprehensive and accurate reporting system, arguing that the reporting requirement was written when regional carriers operated fewer flights. Even airline analysts acknowledge that the system is flawed.

“The data is anecdotal at best,” said Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group aviation consulting firm. “The entire reporting system reflects an airline industry that no longer exists. It’s not a reliable system. That 1 percent number leaves out a lot of carriers that are an integral part of the major carriers’ operations.”

Some of the carriers not included in the data are Spirit Airlines, Virgin America, Midwest Airlines, Colgan Air, Mesaba Aviation (a subsidiary of Northwest Airlines) and many regional partners of the larger carriers.

According to the Regional Airline Association, its members operate 52 percent of all domestic flights in the United States, up from 43 percent in 2000. Many fly under names that passengers know as Continental Connection, Delta Connection, Northwest Airlink, United Express and US Airways Express.

As the regional carriers’ operations have grown, some have moved into the group required to report statistics to the Transportation Department, among them Atlantic Southeast, ExpressJet, Comair, Mesa and SkyWest. Pinnacle Airlines reports data voluntarily and American Eagle has been reporting statistics for years.

Nineteen carriers now submit data to the department, versus 10 airlines in 2002.

“We are considering expanding the reporting,” said David Smallen, a spokesman for the department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, but he declined to specify a timetable.

When the department issued its rule in 2002 requiring the carriers to begin reporting information about the causes of delays, the agency exempted smaller carriers and code-share partners from the rule, citing the cost burden. But the text of the rule stated, “The department intends to revisit, at a later date, the issue of whether to expand the air carrier universe for on-time reporting.”

At the time the department was considering the rule, the Air Transport Association, which represents the nation’s largest carriers, submitted comments urging the department to include smaller airlines in the mandate.

The association said that the carriers exempt from the reporting “contribute a disproportionate, higher number of airplanes to the congestion mix since these airplanes generally have fewer seats.”

David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said via e-mail that the group had “no current formal position” on the matter.

Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, said he believed that adding more carriers to the statistics would not “materially change the overall numbers.”

“Isn’t the 75 percent, which is now being captured, a big enough sample?” he asked.

But the airlines point to even small gains in the on-time statistics, and Congress and government agencies rely on the data to determine how to address problems like delays.

In fact, adding more regional carriers to the reporting requirement may significantly affect the statistics, since there is some evidence that smaller planes may be subject to more or longer delays.

In comments filed with the department as it considered the 2002 rule, the Regional Airline Association noted that regional carriers were subject to “a high level of ground delays not experienced by major carriers,” and aviation experts acknowledge that larger planes tend to be given higher priority when airport backups occur.

The group FlyersRights has also been pressing the Transportation Department to more closely monitor the reporting of long tarmac delays, expand the requirement to include smaller carriers and collect better data on the causes of delays.

According to the statistics, only 5 percent of all flight delays are attributed to factors within the airlines’ control, which means that, for a vast majority of delays, the carriers are not responsible for accommodating passengers with refunds, hotel vouchers or flights on other airlines. Most delays are attributed to national aviation system issues, bad weather or a combination of the two.

But passengers continue to question the official data.

Teresa Chaisson and her daughter were on a Delta flight (operated by Comair) from Washington Reagan to Kennedy Airport in New York on April 21, and spent more than five hours on the tarmac waiting to take off before the flight was canceled around 11 p.m.

The official statistics say that the flight was canceled due to weather — yet every other flight left Reagan airport that day — and that the plane sat on the tarmac only for a little over three hours, not five.

“I would bet on my two kids’ lives it was definitely not that short a duration,” Ms. Chaisson said. “There shouldn’t be any chance for inaccurate reporting.”

Copyright 2009 - New York Times Company
TEL.: (202) 494-6105


“Closed-Door Meetings of Washington Special Interests and ‘Voluntary’ Inside Fixes Won’t Cut It This Time,” Says Hanni

– The nation’s largest consumer group representing airline passengers today demanded “immediate, comprehensive and enforceable legislation” to protect the 160 million passengers of the nation’s regional airlines.

The demand came in the wake of shocking revelations at a three-day National Transportation Safety Board inquiry about shoddy safety practices by regional carrier Colgan Air, a subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines, which operated Continental flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo on which 50 people died on February 12.  The NTSB hearing revealed that inexperienced, overworked, poorly-paid and poorly-trained pilots may have reacted inappropriately when the aircraft stalled after an ice buildup on the wings.

“Closed-door meetings of Washington special interests and ‘voluntary’ inside fixes won’t cut it this time,” said Executive Director Kate Hanni.  “We’ve had years of FAA inaction and closed-door cozy regulation, and it led to calamity in just a few seconds.  What’s needed now is for Congress to assure the flying public that the crews of regional carriers are experienced, well-trained, well-rested – and better paid than if they’d taken a job managing a Bob Evans restaurant.”

Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt suggested a “voluntary” approach to safety improvements by the regional carriers, following “closed-door” meetings next week involving airline industry executives and union officials.

“Airline executives and union bosses aren’t the ones who risk their lives on these flights every day.  These regional carriers represent half of all U.S. flights and carry 22% of all passengers who’ll board a commercial aircraft today.  We have every right to open, transparent action by our Congress, not handshakes between industry executives and bureaucrats behind closed doors.” is the largest airline passengers’ rights association in the U.S. with 25,000 members.  Besides the website, the organization maintains a toll-free hotline (1-877-FLYERS-6) which passengers and airline employees can use to anonymously report breaches of health and safety standards.

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TEL.: (202) 494-6105


“Treat them like citizens and paying customers – not cattle,” says Hanni
WASHINGTON (May 20) – Days before millions of Americans board aircraft for the Memorial Day holiday, airline passengers’ rights advocates from both Canada and the United States joined forces on Capitol Hill today demanding that both countries impose enforceable limits on how long commercial airlines can keep passengers onboard aircraft sitting on the tarmac.
“The House is about to take up reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, but their bill allows the airlines themselves to decide how long we should sit on the tarmac,” said Kate Hanni, founder and Executive Director of, America’s largest consumer organization representing airline passengers.  “There aren’t any limits, and airlines get to decide how long passengers can be held -- 6, 7, 8 hours or even longer.”
At a Capitol Hill news conference, Hanni was joined by Hon. Jim Maloway, a New Democrat Member of the Canadian Parliament from Manitoba, who has introduced a tough “Airline Passenger Bill of Rights” bill modeled after a similar measure in effect since 1991 in the European Union, which he says has reduced overbookings and flight cancellations significantly.  “American and Canadian international airlines -- Air Canada or American or Continental – have been operating under the European laws for their flights in Europe since 1991. Why should an American or Canadian passenger receive better treatment in Europe than at home?” Maloway asked. 
Under his legislation, Canadian passengers would receive compensation in the event of cancellations or overbooking; be provided food vouchers in the event of a flight delay longer than two hours; be given lodging if the delay lasts overnight; and passengers could get off the aircraft if their flights are delayed on the tarmac for longer than one hour.  Additionally, passengers would receive $500 for each additional hour that their flight is delayed.  Food, water, working bathrooms and temperature controls would also be required.  Information and details on MP Maloway’s bill are available at
Bruce Cran, President of the Consumer Association of Canada, noted that in reaction to Maloway’s bill, four Canadian airlines have voluntarily established a 90-minute limit on tarmac delays.  “If four of the Canadian airlines can deplane their passengers after 90 minutes on the tarmac, they can all do so after one hour,” he said.
In contrast to the stringent requirements of the European Union and Maloway’s Canadian proposal, the bill scheduled to be debated in the House of Representatives tomorrow  would merely require airlines to provide food, water, and temperature controls during tarmac delays and to disclose records of their delays.
Yet no statutory limits on tarmac delays are contained in the bill, Hanni noted.  “Under the pending FAA Reauthorization bill, the airlines themselves will decide how long we have to sit on the tarmac,” she charged.
In remarks prepared for delivery later today before the House Aviation Subcommittee, Hanni acknowledged what she called “improvements” in the legislation compared to a similar measure last year, but implored the subcommittee to “not break our arms patting ourselves on the back for requiring that an airline provide basic human necessities like food, water, temperature controls and working bathrooms – not when passengers are being stranded on a tarmac for seven, eight, even nine hours.”
Urging Congress to include a “single, enforceable, industry-wide limit on the amount of time passengers can be held on board an aircraft on the tarmac,” Ms. Hanni asked lawmakers to “imagine 8 or 9 hours inside a sealed tube: the screaming children, the people in coach, In the middle seats.  For them, these are not the ‘Friendly Skies.’  It’s time they’re treated like citizens and paying customers, not cattle.”
- 30 -

TEL.: (202) 494-6105


Kate Hanni
Founder and Executive Director
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Before the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation
United States House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The following are remarks prepared for delivery by Kate Hanni; her actual words may differ somewhat:

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Petri, members of the committee:
On behalf of, I thank you for inviting me to appear at this hearing. 
We appreciate the Airline Passengers’ Rights provisions you have included in H.R. 915, the FAA Reauthorization Act and we recognize the improvements that you made compared to last year’s bill. 
But let’s not break our arms patting ourselves on the back for requiring that an airline provide basic human necessities like food, water, temperature controls and working bathrooms – not when passengers are being stranded on a tarmac for seven, eight, even nine hours.
Within just the past few weeks, Air Canada and three other Canadian airlines have voluntarily instituted a 90 minute limit on tarmac delays.  That’s because a very tough, no-nonsense Canadian Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights is currently making its way through Parliament that would limit tarmac strandings to one hour.
Here at home, though, the FAA Reauthorization bill leaves it up to the airlines themselves to decide when we’ll be able to get off the plane and back into the Terminal.  No uniform limits at all. 
Last month in Philadelphia, a blind, 62-year-old, former interpreter for the European Union was dragged off a plane in handcuffs, just for asking why the aircraft was still sitting on the tarmac and how long it would be there.
Paying passengers deserve to know they won’t be sitting on the tarmac for nine hours. 
We do want to acknowledge the provision you added requiring that airports receiving international flights have contingency plans for dealing with stranded aircraft.  It’s about time.  Too often, passengers returning from international flights have been stranded on arrival for hours at a time.
Just last month, our Hotline received a call from a passenger on board Delta Flight 510 from Turks and Caicos, bound for Atlanta, but diverted to Columbia, South Carolina because of a thunderstorm.  He and his family sat on the Columbia tarmac for almost six hours -- no food, no water, with restrooms that had stopped working.  His 2-year-old hadn’t eaten in 10 hours.  After getting off the plane, the 130 or so passengers were herded into a concrete room with just 20 chairs, and there they stayed for another hour -- all because both the airport and the airline lacked adequate plans for dealing with an incoming international flight.
Here’s what believes ought to be included in the FAA Reauthorization Act this year:

>    A single, enforceable, industry-wide limit on the amount of time passengers can be held on board an aircraft on the tarmac.  We call it a “right of deplanement.”  Passengers call it basic common sense. 
>    A requirement that airlines produce contingency plans for international flights landing at domestic airports.  Airport contingency plans alone are not enough, as we saw with Flight 510.
I ask you to think of the people who’ve contacted
>    A 72-year woman, a diabetic, stuck on the tarmac for four hours, without food or water; her daughters, frightened to death, trying to find out where she was. 

>    The blind man, hauled off to a Philadelphia jail just because he asked how long the airline was going to keep him on the tarmac. 

Just try to imagine 8 or 9 hours inside a sealed tube.  The screaming children.  The people in coach.  In the middle seats.  The businesspeople who miss appointments and productive time.
For them, these are not the ‘Friendly Skies.’  It’s time they’re treated like American citizens and paying customers, not cattle. 
I look forward to your questions.

TEL.: (202) 494-6105

MONDAY, MAY 18, 2009

Bill would let airlines decide how long to keep passengers on tarmac

WASHINGTON (May 18) – Legislation scheduled to come before the House of Representatives this week would let commercial airlines themselves decide how long to force passengers to remain in their aircraft on the tarmac, according to Kate Hanni, Executive Director of, America’s largest consumer organization representing airline passengers.

“The Federal Aviation Administration bill is cleared for takeoff, but passengers have been left at the gate,” charged Hanni, who is concerned that “the bill gives the airlines the legal authority to keep us stranded on the tarmac for as long as they want.” 

“Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-sponsored legislation to impose a 3-hour limit on tarmac delays when they were in Congress, but House leaders didn’t get the memo.  Their bill does force airlines to at least have adequate food and water on board should a tarmac stranding occur, but that’s small comfort when you’re sitting in an economy-class seat for 7, 8, or even 9 hours – and that’s exactly what this legislation lets the airlines do.”

Hanni, who founded after she herself was stranded on an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Dallas in 2006, said “there is nothing so frustrating as to be held hostage inside a locked tube for over 9 hours on the ground in an economy seat.” 

“The least Congress should do is to mandate a ‘bright line standard’ requiring airlines to allow passengers off the aircraft and back into the relative comfort of the terminal after 3 hours.”

Although the Congress has failed to require airlines to allow passengers off planes after being stranded for 3 hours or more, the Canadian Parliament is now considering measures that would force airlines there to allow passengers to disembark after just one hour.  In response, four leading Canadian commercial airlines have voluntarily agreed to self-impose a 90-minute limit, Hanni said. is the largest non-profit airline passengers’ rights association in the U.S. with 25,000 members, a free hotline 1-877-FLYERS-6 and website that is completely dedicated to the Safety, Health and Dignity of airlines passengers. or (707) 337-0328 cell.



We have been advised that H.R. 915, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization, will come before the House of Representatives as soon as Tuesday of this week.  As written, the bill does NOT contain language imposing a limit on the amount of time passengers can be held inside an aircraft on the tarmac.  Airlines would be allowed to self-impose their own limits, and, as I found out on Flight 1348 back in Dec. 2006, the airlines are perfectly willing to keep passengers on the tarmac for 9 hours or longer.  Just last year, according to the DOT's and the airlines' own statistics, 1,320 aircraft were stranded on the tarmac for longer than 3 hours.  At an average of 100 passengers per flight, that's 132,000 passengers!


You can reach your Representative (and learn which Party he or she is in) by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121.  If you don't know your Representative's name, the Switchboard will look it up if you provide your Zip Code.  Remember, H.R. 915 is in the House of Representatives, not the Senate – so it's your REPRESENTATIVE who needs to be called. PLEASE CALL RATHER THAN WRITING A LETTER; THERE SIMPLY ISN'T TIME.

In addition to your phone calls, I will be testifying Wednesday about the importance of a 3-hour rule at the House Aviation subcommittee (please attend if you can - room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building at 2:00 p.m. on May 20th), and we'll be joined in our efforts this week by Hon. Jim Maloway, M.P., the Canadian Member of Parliament whose efforts have forced Canadian carriers to VOLUNTARILY impose a binding 90 minute rule.  We're working overtime to get H.R. 915 fixed, but nothing will be as effective as your telephone calls to Congress. 

We need to make a significant show of force on this legislation, and your phone calls – and those of your friends and relatives – will really make a difference, so please forward this email to everyone you think might be interested.  
Thanks so much,
Kate Hanni
159 Silverado Springs Dr.
Napa, CA 94558



(That’s Right, We Said VOLUNTARILY !!)

WASHINGTON (May 11) – While U.S. airline passengers endured 1,232 tarmac delays of 3 hours or more last year, their Canadian counterparts may soon be able to disembark if their flights are delayed after just 90 minutes, under a voluntary Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights being proposed by four Canadian airlines.

“If the delay exceeds 90 minutes, passengers will have the option to get off the plane until it’s time to depart,” said Kate Hanni, Executive Director of, which has wrestled with Congress to even get a 3-hour limit to allow passengers to disembark, mainly due to incessant lobbying by the airlines against any time limits.

The four airlines -- Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, Westjet Airlines Ltd., and Air Transat -- have submitted their legally-binding proposal to the Canadian Transportation Agency, which could put them into effect as early as June 8.

“While U.S. airlines fight us every step of the way, airlines in Canada are moving forward on their own to give passengers some relief,” Hanni said “Besides limiting tarmac delays to 90 minutes – half the time we’re seeking – the Canadian airlines’ proposal allows passengers a meal voucher if they are delayed for four hours or more, and a hotel voucher if they’re stranded over eight hours,” Hanni noted.

The Canadian carriers’ proposal is apparently in response to a bill by Jim Maloway, a Member of Parliament representing Manitoba.  Under Maloway’s bill, passengers whose flights are delayed an hour or more would get compensation of $500 for every additional hour they’re detained, with higher penalties for flights 2,174 miles or more. 

“If Canada can do it, we can do it,” Hanni said.  “It’s time for U.S. airlines to stop dragging their feet and treating their passengers like prisoners instead of paying customers.  They should take their cue from their Canadian competitors, and do the right thing.”

She called upon the U.S. Congress to “do what the Canadian Parliament is doing – standing up for passengers, not well-heeled airline lobbyists.”  Hanni will testify on May 20  before the House Aviation subcommittee regarding Emergency Plans and Consumer Issues related to flying. is the nation’s largest grass-roots organization representing airline passengers, with 25,000 members. 


Passengers: 5 Hours Stranded on Plane at Airport

Posted By: Jerome Collins     Date last updated: 5/1/2009 9:09:03 AM

Columbia (WLTX) - It was a Good Friday that turned bad. Dozens of passengers on board a Delta Airlines flight were returning from vacation in the Turks and Caicos. It was supposed to be a three hour flight. But they say it turned into an all night fiasco.

Imagine ending your island vacation stranded. It happened to passengers on board Delta Airlines flight 510 at Columbia Metro Airport.

"This was by far the worst experience I've ever had. Probably the worst experience ever in all of my years flying," says James who wished to remain anonymous.

He was a passenger on Delta flight 510 on Good Friday. James says the nightmare began around 6pm after their flight from the Turks and Caicos Islands to Atlanta was diverted to Columbia.

He says that's where passengers were forced to sit and wait for hours on a hot plane. "At least five almost six hours. No food, no water. The bathrooms stopped working," says James.

Airport officials say about 130 passengers were on board, many of them small children. Finally around 11pm the travelers were taken off the plane. But their ordeal was not over yet.

"We were kind of herded into this room, this basement room," says James. Inside, he says many passengers were forced to sit on the cold cement floor because there weren't enough folding chairs to go around.

Even worse, James says the passengers were cordoned off with caution tape and closely guarded by armed security personnel.

He says while water was provided food was not. "It got ugly. One woman went into shock. The ambulance had to be called. Officials say the woman did not require medical attention but was just hungry.

James says some passengers were so frustrated they started documenting the situation on camera phones and other video recording equipment.

Chuck Henderson, deputy director for Columbia Metro says the Delta crew basically abandoned the passengers. "Somebody from the crew, a pilot, a flight attendant, somebody should have remained with those folks and acted as their spokesperson," says Henderson.

He says because flight 510 was an international flight, passengers had to be separated from domestic travelers until they passed through customs. Also because the airport was full of other diverted passengers, the basement room was the only space available.

"Somebody says the airport should have been better prepared. Granted, we should have," says Henderson. He says the pilot should have acted sooner.

"He should have said, enough is enough. Let's get off this jet. I think somebody failed to exercise leadership," says Henderson.

In a statement from Delta Airlines, spokesperson Ed Stewart says flight 510 landed, was refueled and got priority to take off but weather was a factor. He says forty-one flights were diverted that night.

In response to claims by airport officials that Delta's crew did not act quick enough, Stewart says customs and border patrol had control of the flight once it landed at Columbia Metro. He says they were the ones that told Delta not to deplane the aircraft. Stewart says had they done so, the airline would have violated federal law.

Kate Hanni, executive director with says in a statement, "Delta Airlines and the Columbia South Carolina airport clearly did not have a plan in place to take care of the 130 plus souls on board Delta flight 510. The callous disregard Delta and Columbia Airport showed these folks, proves our need for an airline passengers bill of rights which would have provided food, water, hygienic toilets and the ability to get off the plane after three hours on the ground.

Meanwhile James says before the nightmare ended, passengers had to pay for their own food from the airport food court after Delta Airlines had ordered pizza that took too long to arrive.

"I know some passengers weren't happy about the fact that they had to pay for their own meals, "says Henderson. He says airport officials told passengers to file a claim for reimbursement with Delta.

Henderson says the airport has no plans to change procedures following the incident but in the future may consider stepping in and taking action on behalf of passengers if a similar situation should happen.

Meanwhile James blames both the airline and airport and hopes a situation like that on board flight 510 never happens again. "This experience went beyond reasonable and beyond rational," says James.

In the end, officials say many passengers rented cars and drove to their destinations refusing to get back on the plane.

For more information on the push for an airline passengers bill of rights or to voice your concerns, contact Kate Hanni at or call 877-FLYERS6.

If you have a problem you can't get resolved, contact News19's On Your Side Line at 647-0223. Be sure to leave a detailed message about your problem.

WHO WAS ON “THE GOOD FRIDAY FLIGHT FROM PARADISE TO HELL” ??? seeks passenger stories, video of “passenger mutiny” on Delta Flight 510
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 28, 2009)  -- At least 120 passengers, mostly families with young children fresh from Caribbean vacations on Delta Airlines flight 510 this past Good Friday, April 10, found themselves on what is calling “the flight to Hell,” spending almost 12 hours without in a sealed aircraft and an airport terminal basement and ultimately staging a passenger “mutiny” that forced ICE and the Columbia, S.C. airport to improvise customs and immigration clearance.  Two weeks later, the airline passenger consumer organization is trying to find out who they are to document their story.

The Good Friday flight commenced at Providenciales, the airport serving the Turks and Caicos Islands, on April 10 at 2 PM local time, bound for Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport.  Because of weather, it was diverted to Columbia, South Carolina, where it touched down shortly after 5:00 PM -- and where the passengers sat, locked inside the aircraft, until well after 11 PM.

After 6 hours without food or water and with the aircraft’s toilets overflowing, the passengers were escorted to a cinderblock room in the basement of the Columbia airport with concrete floors, and approximately 15-20 folding chairs to accommodate the more than 120 individuals. 

The reason, Delta airline and Columbia airport personnel advised, was that Columbia lacked an ICE Customs or Immigration control facility – and, contrary to Federal Aviation Administration rules, neither the airline nor the airport had a plan in place to accommodate the passengers on international aircraft that are diverted there. 

“Passengers should know that whenever they travel abroad, they’re playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with their return flight,” said President Kate Hanni.  “Just like the young families on Delta Flight 510, you can be diverted to a small airport where you’ll be sealed in the plane for hours and then brought under armed guard into an improvised holding room under conditions that would make Gitmo look good.  It’s all against federal regulations, but the airlines and the airports have been able to ignore them with impunity – and it’s time we all fought back.”

As for the passengers on Flight 510, they were eventually served pizza almost 12 hours after taking off, but a number of families refused to re-board the aircraft, forcing the airline, the airport and ICE to improvise their customs and immigration clearance using telephones and computer internet connections.  At least one family is known to have left the terminal via a rental car, determined never again to board a Delta aircraft.

“Delta Flight 510 is the best example we’ve found of how incoming international passengers are treated when their flights are diverted to small airports that are unprepared for international flights,” said Hanni.  “We know that a number of the passengers used cell phones and cameras to take pictures and videos that night, and in the interests of stopping this practice, we’re asking that they come forward.”

Passengers from Delta Flight 510 from Providenciales  to Atlanta on Friday, April 10 are asked to come forward by visiting the website ( or to call 707-337-0328.

FlyersRights is the largest non-profit Airline Passengers Rights Group in the Country with 25,000 members. Contact Kate Hanni 707-337-0328 or

Kate Hanni on C-Span - March 14, 2009

MARCH 11, 2009                                                   TEL.: (202) 494-6105
                          Report Card: Airlines Flunk Again With 1,232 Excessive Tarmac Delays in 2008
Delta Worst For Long Tarmac Delays, Southwest Best In Customer Treatment

WASHINGTON (March 11) – Noting 1,232 tarmac delays of 3 hours or more last year, today issued its annual “Airline Stranding Report Card.”

Get your copy here>> 2008 Airline Stranding Report Card

The longest delay, 10+ hours on the tarmac, was on Delta Airlines Flight 1201 from Atlanta to West Palm Beach, FL, on January 16, 2008.  With no food, water or temperature controls, passengers were given misleading messages about takeoff times as the plane was de-iced multiple times.

“Too many Americans are trapped in tubes on the tarmac for too long,” said Executive Director Kate Hanni. “It’s time for Congress to limit tarmac delays to 3 hours.” Hanni has lobbied for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights since being stranded herself for 9 hours on an American Airlines flight in 2006.  

The report card says Delta had the greatest number of tarmac delays over 3 hours.  Southwest Airlines was the best rated, for incorporating into their contract an actionable strategy to move customers off planes stuck on the tarmac and for providing food, water, trash removal, toilet cleaning and temperature controls.

The report was based on a combination of media accounts, government statistics and verified eyewitness accounts sent in to its website (

This year’s Special Award winners included:
  • Delta won the "When you are on the ground they treat you like dirt" Award, for having the most and longest strandings and the most callous disregard for passengers.
  • American Airlines won the “Flying Fickle Finger of Fate” Award, for diverting a 13 hour flight from Japan to Detroit, where it sat on the tarmac for 7.5 hours, forcing passengers to spend 20.5 hours on board.  Vomit was in the sink and toilets, and the toilets were inoperable.
  • US Airways won the “Nausea” Award for having the worst overflowing toilets.
  • Southwest Airlines won the "My Heavens" award for best airline overall, since Southwest maintains a “contract of carriage” that protects passengers against strandings.
“It’s not just a matter of passenger convenience, it’s a matter of public safety.  I wonder if heroic Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and his crew could have performed as they did after 7, 9 or even 12 hours on the tarmac?” Hanni asked.

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