This weekend, severe weather caused Continental Airlines to redirect its Houston bound flight to Rochester, Minnesota. And there it sat on the tarmac for six hours. Passenger Link Christian says he and 46 others suffered through a nightmare with crying babies, a smelly toilet and nothing to eat and now he wants action. He appeared on national television urging federal regulations to "protect" passengers stuck like he was and he may just get his wish.
Kathleen Hanni had a similar incident back in 2006 (when she was stuck for nine hours in Texas) and she started a class action lawsuit (Hanni v. American Airlines - U.S. District Court, Northern District of California; # C-08-00732-CW) seeking money damages, created an organization (Flyers Rights) and has been pushing for a so-called Airline Passengers Bill of Rights (the Senate Commerce Committee recently approved it unanimously).
Debra Saunders at the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the proposed bill promises reasonable protections for passengers (i.e., food, water and adequate restrooms as well as the right to get off the plane after three hours); however, an airline industry spokesman notes that this legislation could have unintended consequences such as a greater number of cancellations and flight delays.
As to the class action lawsuit, it's almost three years now since the incident. First, as our friends at Class Action Fairness Act Law Blog describe, plaintiffs sought unsuccessfully to have their case heard in state court. Then, they refused to turn over to the defense documents, including thousands of emails, that would purportedly establish the propriety of a class action and their alleged damages claims. Finally, a magistrate judge ordered plaintiffs to pay more than $13,000 in sanctions to American Airlines. [Decision available from Westlaw at 2009 WL 1505286.] The sanction amount was based on the hourly rates charged by American's lawyers for their time in connection with plaintiffs' delays.