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Tue, Jan 02, 2007

Rerouted AA Flight On Tarmac Eight Hours

No Food, Dirty Toilets, High Frustration At AUS

Last Friday, December 29, wasn't a good day to be a passenger on American Airlines' Flight 1348 embarking from San Francisco.

Bound for Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where it was supposed to land at 11:35 am, storms forced a diversion to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) - where it sat on the tarmac for more than eight hours, with no food, dirty toilets and a growing storm within -- one of passenger frustration.
 
"You know, we've got kids here," said Tom Dickson, of Los Altos, CA, by cell phone from the grounded plane. "My 5-year-old daughter has been on here for 11 hours, and there are younger kids than her on here."
 
"I fly a lot domestically and internationally," added Dickson, "and I've never seen anything like this. We've been told several things, and none of it has happened. Even when they tell us something, we can't have any faith in it." Dickson, his wife and daughter were headed for Belize.

Even though passengers tried to stay calm, confusion reigned. "The bathrooms have gone from a gas station to, 'What's the last concert you've been to?'" said Andy Welch, of Linn Creek, MO.

Jeff Hunt, who grew up in Fort Worth was traveling to see his family, said many passengers didn't even have breakfast.

A spokesman for AUS said that although he could not comment on individual airplanes, he was able to verify that four flights from California were stranded on the tarmac from about 1 pm until late evening.

The American Airlines pilot for flight 1348, who declined to give his name, said Friday's incident was a first for him. He added three other planes were also grounded because all of Bergstrom's gates were full.
 
He told his beleaguered passengers: "If I had a place to physically put the plane, I would do it."

It was about 8:15 pm that the pilot took it upon himself to taxi the plane toward the terminal. Passengers were able to deplane at 9:04 pm, after nearly 12 hours on the plane.
 
In all, American canceled 428 flights Friday, with 222 out of DFW. Of the 87 diverted, 20 were later canceled officials said. In addition, the airline canceled about 100 flights for Saturday.
 
American Airlines spokesman Andy Backover said the 87 diversions were double the usual number during a weather event and came at the busiest time of the year for travel. American was "trying its best to get [the passengers] to their destination," he added. He wouldn't say whether the airline has a policy for the amount of time that passengers can spend on grounded airplanes.

According the American Airlines Web site, during delays, cancellations, and diversion events, "American Airlines and American Eagle will provide customers at the airport and onboard an affected aircraft with timely and frequent updates regarding known delays, cancellations, and diversions and will strive to provide the best available information concerning the duration of delays and, to the extent available, the flight's anticipated departure time."

It was back in 2001 that Northwest Airlines agreed to pay $7.1 million to more than 7,000 passengers forced to wait hours on grounded planes at the Detroit airport during a 1999 storm. The airline admitted no wrongdoing in settling the class-action lawsuit.

In that case, some passengers waited 11 hours on board with no food and in some cases, were subject to overflowing toilets. Following the incident, Northwest changed some of its emergency procedures with a policy that passengers must not remain on grounded planes for more than three hours.

FMI: www.aa.com

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