UnFree America

March 3, 2015
What could possibly go wrong on a 30 minute flight?


In a throwback to the bad old days pre-2007, passengers were stranded for nine hours aboard an American Airlines flight grounded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport last Friday.

Yet, according to the airline, the nine-hour delay did not violate the Department of Transportation’s three-hour limit because the plane was not actually held on the tarmac.

FlyersRights, the pre-eminent airline passenger rights organization, is appalled about AA circumventing our 3-Hour Tarmac Rule.

We are aware that the Department of Transportation, who published the rule to protect the flying public from extremely long tarmac delays, left a loophole that is now harming consumers who fly on commercial airlines in the United states.

That loophole is that ‘Gate Time’, which is not included in ‘Tarmac Time’ for purposes of following the rule. Consumers do not know the difference.

If they are not given the opportunity to deplane after 3 hours, any time stuck in a plane whether it’s at the gate or pushed back in the penalty box should be considered Tarmac Time.

DVT Dangers

According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) the chances of blood clots doubles when passengers are seated more than 3 hours.  Being confined for 9 hours with passengers being told to stay in their seats often with seat belts fastened was a common practice by airlines causing a health danger before enactment of the 3-Hour Rule. 

  Investigation Required

The DOT and Congress through the GAO needs an expedited investigation not only of this flight, but more generally:

-Why American Airlines (AA) apparently failed to have adequate de-icing facilities at its main hub in Dallas, known for ice storms in winter,

-Whether AA has been claiming this ‘at-the-gate’ loophole to avoid fines for holding passengers over 3 hours on other flights, 

-Why AA has been allowed to redefined ‘Acts of God’ in its contract of carriage to include anything and everything along with matters within its control so it can avoid giving vouchers for hotels and meals to stranded passengers,

-Whether AA intentionally  failed to bring in more personnel and equipment to minimize expenses and virtually shut down its customer service phone lines during even the mildest storms this winter (listen here to AA’s ‘help line’ customer service) causing passengers to be stranded for up to 3 or 4 days,

-Whether AA flight crew threatened and intimidated passengers on this flight with no refunds, no baggage, no re boarding if they exercised their right to deplane,

-Whether AA flight crew knew they were going to time-out and cause further delay but hid this and otherwise provided passengers with misinformation of imminent departure to hold them on the tarmac, minimize airline liability to passengers and maximize their compensation.

Kate Hanni, founder-emeritus of FlyersRights and largely responsible for the tarmac delay rules was stuck on an AA flight for nine hours in 2006 and not given the opportunity to deplane.

She reported, “After four hours, conditions were so hellish that people were revolting after listening to screaming babies, toilets overflowing, no food or water, no ability to get off the plane.

The disintegrating set of conditions worsened until people began to threaten the pilot that they would take over the plane were he not to pull in to a gate, with or without permission from AA’s management.”

American Airlines Flight Delayed 9 Hours by Heavy Snow, Mechanical Problem
AA Flight Delayed 9 Hours

“The tarmac delay rules were meant to prevent this type of behavior by commercial carriers in the US. Clearly those rules have loopholes that must be closed to protect the flying public.” Hanni said.

However, American Airline spokesperson  Matt Miller insisted, ” The period of time that the jet was delayed on the tarmac waiting did not exceed three hours. Because the plane was not held on the tarmac, the delays did not violate the three-hour limit set by the Department of Transportation.”

Miller also said, “Passengers were allowed to exit, remaining in the gate area while crews also dealt with an air conditioning issue on board. Some passengers opted to stay on the jet.”  

AA’s statement of events is different from eyewitness testimony of a passenger on-board, Brandon Sullivan, who spoke to FlyersRights. 

He said,  “O riginally we were told we could not re-board if we got off, but eventually had a 10-15 min period we could leave to get food, but  many stayed on, though, fearing plane would leave without them.”

“They limited (deplaning) to 3-5 people at a time for only about 30 mins and we were very rushed – to only go to food across from gate,” Sullivan said.
FlyersRights asked Sullivan if the captain told passengers that if they deplaned they could not get back on.

Sullivan replied, “For the first 3-4 hrs yes. Then let 3-5 at a time go, but he warned the plane could go.”

Others echoed this type of coersion; (The captain will announce), “You can get off the plane but you won’t get your luggage or a refund.” “The plane will be ready in one hour”. Then one hour later… “We had an issue but it has been solved it should only be one hour.” “We found another issue but it will only be about 1 more hour.” “You can get off but it will be solved shortly”…..and on and on and on. Been there, said one commenter on the DailyMail.

Another question was, if the weather was so extreme at DFW, then why were Delta and United still flying in and out?

Message from Kate Hanni
Over the weekend, American Airlines callously disregarded the tarmac delay rules that fought so hard for and won.  It’s clear that American Airlines utilized a little known loophole in the regulation which doesn’t count “gate time” as “tarmac time.”  We worked hard, fought hard, and won the battle…but we didn’t win the war.
If we are to get the Department of Transportation to close that loophole, and convince Congress to pass more airline passengers’ rights regulations that further protect the flying public, we need your help and need it now.
We not only need our membership to call their members of Congress, write letters to their members and fax them, we desperately need donations to continue our work on your behalf.
IN the nearly 8 years that has been in action we have:
1)      Achieved the tarmac delay rule
2)      Transparency of baggage fees
3)      Full fare advertising
4)      Ban on post purchase price ticket increases
5)      Been reporting on tarmac delays to include cancelled, diverted and multiple gate return flights
6)      Required airlines to provide “no child left unbuckled” regulations ensuring infants and toddlers FAA approved seats will fit in economy class seats
7)      Twice doubled the “bumping compensation”
8)      Required mandates for airlines to post stats on chronically delayed and chronically cancelled flights
9)      Forced airports to have food and drinks for stranded passengers
10)    Forced airlines to provide snacks and water during any tarmac delay
11)    Achieved DOT enforcement and fines for violation of the tarmac delay rules
And much more!
For our work to continue we must have your help

Dear FlyersRights:

I’m a supporter for years (ever since Kate helped me get a refund from British Air several years ago for a burned out engine they took off with from Johannesburg Airport that grounded us). Thank you for doing such a great job.

I have a question about a flight I’m about to take from Los Angeles to Heathrow on American, with a connection on to Edinburgh on Virgin Atlantic.

I originally had 3.5 hours at Heathrow between flights when I originally booked them, plenty of time to get from one terminal to the other.

Last week, I got an email from American telling me they were delaying the departure time of my flight from Los Angeles by 2.5 hours, now leaving me slightly less than one hour to get from terminal 3, where the American flight arrives, to terminal 4, where the departure gate is for my Virgin flight. That’s a tight squeeze as it is, since Heathrow is so big, but if my American flight has any kind of a delay there’s no way I’ll make the connection.

When I called American to ask what they’d do if I missed my ongoing flight, they asked if that flight was also on American.  When I said it wasn’t, I was told that all my ticket obligates them to do is to get me from Los Angeles to London. That’s it.   I said yes, but the ticket I bought was to get me there at 1:30 PM not 4 PM and that they’re now putting me under a lot of pressure. The person I spoke to said, “There’s nothing I can do about that”.  End of story.

My question, if you know anything about this is, what exactly they are obligated to do if I miss that connection and there isn’t another Edinburgh flight till very late or even the next day?

Any advice you can give me on how to handle this with American would be greatly appreciated.

Many Thanks,

As the airline has unilaterally changed its schedule, you should be able to get a refund from American for your flight to Heathrow if the airline refuses to change your flight without change fee or other added cost.   
Also the Montreal Convention of 1999 provides for compensation for flight delays up to about $6,000 which overrides any contrary provisions in the airline’s contract of carriage.   The EU also has set compensation for flight delays by airlines.  See 

You can also complain to the DOT as to change schedules so as to cause passengers to miss connections is clearly an unfair and deceptive practice, and send us a copy.
An airline license from the FAA to provide air transportation to the public, called a certificate of public convenience, requires that it offer service on a fixed announced schedule, so changing it at will for the commercial convenience of the airline without accommodation for inconvenienced passengers would be considered a violation.
You can also check the on-time statistic for the flight you are concerned about. 
Thank you for your membership.  If this has been helpful, please keep us in mind for your charitable donations as depends solely on donations from the traveling public.
Paul Hudson, .Pres.
To answer his question specifically, if he misses his connection due to the AA flight being late he would be entitled to the EU compensation that Paul outlined in his message.  But he may miss the connection even if the flight is on time, in which case he will not be entitled to any compensation and will likely incur charges changing or entirely rebooking his Virgin flight. 
As Paul said he is entitled to a refund from American (but not from Virgin).  His best course of action would be to change his AA flight to an earlier one or even the day before as is it a close connection and possibly not a “legal” connection.  He must go through customs and change terminals to get to the Virgin flight.  He should be able to make this change with no change fee as it is due to the AA schedule change. 
This illustrates a situation that we hear frequently on the hotline.  Connections are best booked through one airline, even if it is an interline ticket.  It should be one ticket and one itinerary.  That way if the first flight is delayed, the second flight is protected and can be rebooked with no change or rebooking fees.
Joel J Smiler DVM
Hotline Director

Dear FlyersRights:
Thanks you for your time this morning, 
As I explained, a round trip ticket with American Airlines originating in Bogota to San Francisco was canceled due to the weather, the price was $661. We  get an email 10 hours later with a flight Bogota to Miami. We decide to buy another ticket with Continental that was $2300  to be able to catch another flight form SFo to Hong Kong. WE would  like to claim the difference between the original flight and the new one, can we?  AA is offering a full refund of the $661. 
my second question a claim I should do it by writing or by phone? 
Thank you so much for your help,

The attached gives your rights to compensation up to $6,000.  American and other airlines blame nearly every delay on weather or air traffic control, but studies show that weather is only responsible for 7% of delays and cancellations. Airlines constantly lie about the reason for delays to avoid compensation and liability.  Most are due crew and equipment shortages and breakdowns. 
You can also file a complaint with the US DOT on their web site, and send us a copy. 
If this information has been helpful to you, please consider a donation to as we depend entirely on donations and support from the flying public.
Paul Hudson, Pres.  
Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights
with Paul Hudson, President

  FlyersRights and Kate Hanni joined forces with Ralph Nader, 2011 in Washington, DC

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