10 August 2009

I Am Not Cargo

When I buy a ticket from an airline, I have purchased a contract for travel. I have NOT signed away my rights nor agreed to be held captive against my will:

The Continental Airlines flight Friday night from Houston to the Twin Cities was left parked at the Rochester airport for six hours, complete with crying babies and the aroma of over-used toilets and no way for passengers to leave.

ExpressJet Airlines, which operated the plane, said that crew members on the plane reached their maximum work hours in the air, so another crew had to be flown in. Thunderstorms in the area also were a factor in the decision to redirect the plane to Rochester.

The plane, which left Houston about 9:30 p.m. Friday, arrived in Rochester about midnight, and passengers weren't allowed to leave the plane until 6 a.m. Saturday.

One alternative that night, chartering a bus, couldn't be worked out. And letting the passengers into the Rochester airport was not possible, ExpressJet said, because they would have to go through security screening again, and the screeners had gone home for the day.

What an absolutely agonizing recounting; cowards hiding behind words on paper and demonstrating no initiative to resolve the situation for live people with whose care they are charged.

I've used this analogy before: Your family is in a theater seeing a movie. The the film breaks. Or the power goes out. Or the projector operator doesn't show up for work. For whatever reason, when the wheels come off at the theater, you are free to get up and leave. Hopefully you'll get a refund or a voucher for a return showing, but the theater operator cannot hold you in your seat against your will until they get their own shit straightened out.

Who among us would tolerate being stuck in a movie theater, held prisoner for 9 hours without being allowed to use the indoor plumbing or find some food and drink while the projector operator struggled with splicing the film back together? "Sorry, a thunderstorm knocked out the power; you're all going to have to sit here until the power comes back on and then we'll pick up where the movie left off."

I say this - there is nothing so unique to air travel that compels us to be held prisoner in a fuselage. Security screening, FAA, pilots union, airline personnel costs all be damned; there is nothing about airline travel that makes it okay to hold people against their will, on the ground, within sight of an airport that has plumbing, food and maybe a rental car to get the hell out of there. The reason this happens to travelers is because the people calling the shots are stupid, lazy, unimaginative and/or cheap.

"Sorry, Homeland Security is off for the night."

Sure, I'm a big talker, but I am telling you this - if this happens to me I will politely inform the flight crew of my intentions, give them all my contact information and then I'm going to blow the door, go down the slide and walk away. If I'm arrested, I'll look forward to the day I can stand before a jury of my peers and walk out of court free and vindicated. In the second paragraph of the story, it says the passengers had no way to leave. Bullshit. The airplane had at least one functioning door; THAT is the way to leave.

The bottom line is that any outfit calling themselves an airline had damn well better know the phone number to get an airport terminal door unlocked at all hours, know who to call to get some fuel for an airplane, and know where there's a place to rent a bus to actually move people toward their destination. If you can't do that, you have no business playing with airplanes.

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