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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 15, 2007

Delayed? Best to be on Aloha, Hawaiian

Advertiser Staff and News Services


Airline passengers who want to join a group pressing for passenger rights can visit the nonprofit Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights Web site.

The group was formed by passengers who were stranded on American Airlines planes at Austin International Airport in Texas in December 2006 and says it now has more than 15,000 supporters of its efforts.

The Web site address is www.flyersrights.org.

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Hawaiian and Aloha airlines are the best in the nation when it comes to handling passenger stranding incidents, according to a consumer coalition that wants mandatory reporting by airlines when passengers are trapped in planes for hours while waiting for takeoff.

The two air carriers received the highest grades in a report card issued by the Coalition for An Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, a group that looked at excessive delays, strandings and other factors. Hawaiian and Aloha were given "A's" and also were honored with the group's "Above and Beyond" award.

The coalition, which gathers complaints from its 15,000 members, is pressing U.S. lawmakers to require complete reporting. It also wants airlines to release travelers after three hours of waiting, and stock food and water for delays.

"Passengers have no rights once they enter an aircraft. Incredibly, prisoners of war have more rights than passengers on a commercial airliner," group founder Kate Hanni, 46, said in Washington this week. In December, the Napa Valley, Calif., real estate agent said she was stranded for nine hours on a Texas runway with no drinking water and a packet of pretzels.

The group handed out several other "awards," including one that cited American Airlines for not providing food and having the most known strandings. American had the most negative report card score of airlines in the survey.

Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines parent AMR Corp. of Fort Worth, Texas, didn't return a Bloomberg News call requesting comment. American is the world's largest airline. United Airlines and US Airways joined American in receiving an overall F grade from the group.

According to the U.S. Transportation Department, 36 planes among all airlines had on-runway delays of five hours or longer last year. Critics say the true number is much higher.

Carriers typically don't report runway strandings if the flight is turned back to the gate and canceled. They also don't report strandings if a plane is diverted in flight to a different airport and kept waiting for hours upon landing.

The approach "disguises inconveniences that the passengers endured," Donald Bright of the department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics said last month.

Jennifer Shirkani tracks her runway strandings on an Excel spreadsheet. The New Hampshire resident, who flew to Washington today to represent the passengers group, says she's endured almost 30 hours of runway delays in the past year and a half.

"That's a lot of missed meetings and lost business," said Shirkani, a business consultant.

Hanni said Hawaiian and Aloha's top ranking may have a little to do with the routes it flies.

"There's no place to divert to in case of weather," she said in a telephone interview. "It doesn't appear that Hawai'i has bad enough weather that flights come in and they can't land there."

She said Hawai'i's carriers also were notable in their treatment of passengers. That included instances of flights turning back to the terminal.

"Instead of holding them in the aircraft they made the right decision to take them back to the terminal and relax in comfort," Hanni said.

Hanni said Hawai'i indirectly has a passage of a passenger bill of rights. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye is chairman of the Senate's Aviation Subcommittee and no stranger to airline flights in his travels between Washington and Hawai'i.

Hanni said she had the opportunity to testify before Inouye in pushing for legislation.

"I felt a tremendous amount of compassion from him when I was testifying," Hanni said.