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Tue, Feb 27, 2007

DOT Asks For Investigation Into Stranded Passenger Incidents

Call On IG To Look Into Wx-Related Ground Holds

Responding to increased pressure on lawmakers stemming from two recent incidents involving passengers trapped on airliners for several hours due to weather-related ground holds, on Tuesday US Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters asked that the Department's independent Inspector General review those cases.

The Secretary (right) said in her request that she was concerned about a December incident involving American Airlines, during which passengers were forced to remain aboard the aircraft held in Austin, TX for more than six hours. She also noted that scores of passengers were stranded aboard a JetBlue aircraft during a Valentine's Day snow and ice storm at New York's JFK International Airport.

"I have serious concerns about airlines' contingency planning that allows passengers to sit on the tarmac for hours on end," said Secretary Peters. "It is imperative that airlines do everything possible to ensure that situations like these do not occur again."

The Secretary asked Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel to examine the airlines' customer service commitments, contracts of carriage and policies dealing with extended ground delays aboard aircraft and to provide his assessment on why the American and JetBlue situations occurred.

Secretary Peters also requested specific recommendations from the Inspector General for what airlines, airports and the government, including the Department of Transportation, can do to prevent future similar events. She also asked the Inspector General to identify and share existing successful practices being used in commercial aviation that could be shared throughout the system to improve customer service in such situations.

"Passengers have a right to know what to expect when it comes to ground delays," said Peters.

After the American Airlines incident, passengers called on Congress to consider passage of a "Passengers' Bill of Rights," calling for tightened standards and limitations on how long airlines could hold passengers on an airliner before returning to a gate. As Aero-News reported, American announced soon thereafter it would revise its guidelines, with a maximum limit of four hours.

Earlier this month, a similar incident involving JetBlue planes at JFK added impetus to such legislation. In response, the Air Transport Association (ATA) called on its member carriers to develop their own standards, in an attempt to stave off Congressional action.

FMI: www.dot.gov

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