Like thousands of American Airlines passengers last Dec. 29, Kate Hanni and her family were stuck aboard a jet for hours, out on the tarmac. They were hungry, bored, angry and, in the case of Flight 1348, sick of the smell wafting through the cabin from the lavatories. When the ordeal finally ended, some passengers from the 67 separate American flights – which each spent at least three hours stranded – e-mailed or called in their complaints to the airline. Some vented on blogs. Most grumbled and went about their business. And the airline industry thought it would, too. Hanni, who said she had never even written a letter of complaint in her life, decided she would get a law passed making lengthy confinement on an airplane illegal. “I was fuming,” she said. “It was imprisonment.” She thus became an unlikely and, thus far, powerful adversary to an industry accustomed to riding out its major service lapses with only the lightest of government scrutiny After American’s problems, JetBlue Airways had its own meltdown in February, with at least nine flights stuck on the tarmac for six hours or more. Moreover, June was the worst month this decade for taxi-out times – the time between leaving the gate and actually taking off – with 462 flights stuck on the ground for more than three hours, the Transportation Department reported. July was not as bad, with 276 flights stuck for more than three hours, though it was still one of the worst months since 2000. (August data are not yet available.) Hanni’s group has pointed out that the taxi-out statistics capture only a minority of stranded flights. Diverted planes like Flight 1348 and flights that taxi out and sit for hours and then return to the terminal only to be canceled are not included. Amid an awful year for air travel, Hanni became a regular on TV news shows. Airline executives are careful not to criticize her personally, perhaps for fear of building her reputation. “It’s not about the woman,” said David A. Castelveter, chief spokesman for the airline industry lobby, the Air Transport Association. “It’s about the issue. You can’t legislate customer service.” After Thompson’s original bill was folded into larger legislation, the get-off-the-plane provision was eliminated. Hanni called the bill “gutted.” (Some of the bill’s other provisions – food, water and clean lavatories, among them – remained.) She persisted, however. Thompson spent a good part of the past several days trying to get the votes to reinsert the get-off-the-plane provision. He said Wednesday a weakened version, requiring airlines to submit a plan to regulators to allow passengers off after “excessive delays,” appeared headed for inclusion in the bill. Each time Hanni is in the news, calls and e-mail messages to her Web site, www.flyersrights.com, surge. Mark Mogel, who was still mad about being stranded in 2001, e-mailed Hanni after seeing her on C-Span. He got no reply for a month. He e-mailed again, he said, saying that she and her colleagues were more disorganized than the airlines. “Half an hour later, I got a call from Kate, and I’ve been working with them ever since,” he added. He assembled the strand-in tent, pulled together the research that concluded that most stranded flights are not included in government statistics and he maintains the Web site. “She ropes you in,” said Mogel, 51, and a semi-retired software engineer. “I wanted to scale back. But little by little – can you do this? – I’m back at it full time.” Calls and e-mail messages help identify the latest stranded flight. Robert McKee contacted Hanni after posting a YouTube video about Delta Flight 6499, which he said was stranded for seven hours on June 25. McKee said it appeared that Delta employees who were passengers were allowed off the flight, while he was not. A Delta spokeswoman, Betsy Talton, said a single Delta worker left the plane when a truck went out to 6499 to ferry its crew, which had reached its allowed time limit, back to the terminal. And Leslie Saladino was on a Bentonville, Ark.-to-Dallas American flight home June 27 that diverted to Shreveport and lingered there on the tarmac for about five hours, she said. Actually, it was three hours and 40 minutes on the ground, said Tim Wagner, an American spokesman. Regardless, Saladino said she wants a law giving her the right to get off the plane. Castelveter, the airline industry spokesman, said he sympathized with passengers. “We have made mistakes,” he said. “We have apologized for those mistakes, and we are working hard to ensure that they never happen again.”Others are, too. With the coalition work, Hanni has not played with the Toasted Heads much this year. But that is all right. “I’m enjoying this as much as performing,” she said. “I hope I’m done with real estate. I would like to be a consumer advocate.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! . A successful real estate agent, occasional rock and roll singer and mother of two, Hanni, 47, essentially put her life on hold to take on the airlines, leaning on her husband to earn more and spend more time looking after their children so she could battle the lobbying might of the airlines. With the help of Internet chat boards, videos shot by stranded passengers and posted on YouTube and a growing network of volunteers, she has gathered 18,000 signatures on an online petition supporting what she calls a Passengers’ Bill of Rights. Her congressman, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, quickly introduced legislation at her behest to force airlines to let passengers off stranded planes after three hours, with two 30-minute extensions at the pilot’s discretion. That is at least four hours less than the Hanni family spent on the tarmac in Austin, Texas. On Wednesday, Hanni staged what she called a “strand-in” near the Capitol in Washington, in a bid to keep up momentum for the get-off-the-plane legislation she wants enacted, over objections from the airline industry. A long tent was outfitted to resemble the interior of an airline, and wings were drawn on its exterior in duct tape. She offered long-shot invitations to members of Congress to experience confinement, replete with smelly portable toilets Hanni and fellow volunteers had rounded up. For the record, American said Flight 1348’s toilets never overflowed. Hanni’s lobbying effort even has a soundtrack, of sorts. Her rock group, the Toasted Heads, rewrote lyrics to the Animals’ 1965 hit, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” to make it an anthem for stranded passengers.
1 Gareth McAuley West Brom will not appeal Gareth McAuley’s red card against Manchester City – with the suspension set to be handed to Craig Dawson instead, Press Association Sport understands.Baggies defender McAuley was dismissed in the second minute of Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester City in a case of mistaken identity.The Northern Ireland international saw red for a foul on Wilfried Bony, despite Dawson having committed the offence.Referee Neil Swarbrick apologised for his mistake afterwards, via a statement from the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd.The Baggies are believed to be wary of a frivolous appeal, despite Swarbrick’s mix-up, with Dawson now expected to be given the one-match ban.He is set to miss the visit of QPR in the Premier League on April 4, after the international break.