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Sat, Feb 10, 2007

American Airlines Says No More Eight-Hour Waits Aboard Its Planes

From Now On, The Maximum Is Four Hours

American Airlines -- fighting the public relations debacle it suffered in December, when bad weather forced the carrier to ground dozens of flights for hours at a time -- said this week if such an event happens again, passengers won't have to wait as long before they're able to get off the aircraft.

Airline spokesman Tim Wagner told the Dallas Morning News from now on, the airline won't hold passengers on grounded planes longer than four hours. If that still sounds like a lot, keep in mind some passengers were stranded on crowded planes over eight hours on December 29.

"It's a rule now," Wagner said. "It's a rule that may never be used again, though."

American certainly hopes it won't ever have to enforce the rule. Last December's incident stemmed from a series of thunderstorms over the airline's hub at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. American routed flights inbound to DFW to other airports in the area, but kept those planes on ground hold expecting the storms to blow through. Other planes bound for DFW left the gates at originating airports, and were then kept waiting on the tarmac for the weather to clear.

But the storms kept coming... and thousands of passengers were kept waiting on parked airliners as a result. Passengers onboard one American Airlines flight routed to Austin, TX were kept on their plane over eight hours, without food or access to bathroom facilities.

As Aero-News reported, those passengers criticized American's handling of the incident, saying the airline did not have sufficient staff onhand to deal with the problem, and that staffers on duty did not communicate enough with stranded fliers. Some are now pressuring Congress to reconsider the much-bandied "Passengers Bill Of Rights."

Wagner acknowledged 4,600 passengers on 67 planes sat for more than three hours on that fateful day in December, and many of them sat longer than four hours. The spokesman said veterans at the airline couldn't remember a day when weather hurt its operations more.

Under the new policy, American will also create a position to oversee diversions, and help schedule flights for passengers stranded at smaller airports to get back to American hubs faster. The airline's operations control center in Fort Worth, TX will also see changes, to better handle diversions and alert dispatchers when a plane is nearing the four-hour deadline.

FMI: www.aa.com

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