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"Air travel woes create demand for legislation"

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Air travel woes create demand for legislation
I've got more horror stories than Edgar Allan Poe, and they're all about our
air travel system, which continues to deteriorate as the summer gets rolling
and temperatures boil.
By Joe Sharkey
The New York (NY) Times

I've got more horror stories than Edgar Allan Poe, and they're all about our
air travel system, which continues to deteriorate as the summer gets rolling
and temperatures boil.

Let me share just a few.

Patricia Wilkerson of Oklahoma City said she was stuck for hours on a parked
plane, wedged into a seat near the back. Ventilation was poor. "The odors
from the restroom were terrible," she said.

"When I complained, the flight attendant said, 'We can't do anything about
that because the control tower controls our air.'"

She added: "When I stated I was going to throw up, she handed me a bag to
vomit in that would not hold a bag of peanuts. I asked her what she wanted
me to do with it. Her reply was 'Throw up!' "

Wilkerson said the man next to her complained, so "I did get moved to the
front of the plane, but it was the worst flight of my life."

That's one way to get an upgrade.

Since late December, we've heard of dozens of incidents of passengers stuck
on parked airplanes for four, six and even 10 hours. Typically, food and
water are scarce, and often, the toilets start backing up after a few hours.

In recent days, I've heard from passengers on a Continental Airlines flight
from Amsterdam to Newark a few weeks ago when the lavatories spewed sewage
into the aisle. The plane diverted to Ireland to get the toilets fixed, and
took off again the next day. Once over the Atlantic, the toilets overflowed
again, and flight attendants put on surgical masks and frantically laid down
blankets and mats to try to seep up the sewage. It didn't work.

"My son and I were seated in the second row behind the lavs" after the
flight left Shannon Airport, Lauri Grossman of New York, wrote me.
"Immediately upon ascending, when the plane was at an upward angle, the
sewage began to flow from the toilets and down the aisle. I was wearing
sandals and the carpeting was becoming increasingly wet."

Catherine Carlozzi, a speechwriter from New Jersey, also was on the flight.
At the terminal, she said, "They kept saying use the lavs in the airport
because there are only four marginally working ones on the aircraft and we
don't know how long they'll last."

She said: "They said, 'You may have to hold it. Control your intake so you
can control your output.' " Once in the air, "they were telling us how many
sheets of toilet paper we could use, and what we were allowed to do in which

Continental later apologized and gave passengers $500 flight vouchers that
can be used, based on availability, for future flights.

Stranded passengers and squalid cabin conditions aren't isolated incidents.
Airlines have squeezed their capacity and their workforce so much that there
is no slack when something goes wrong, including bad weather. For several
years, some airlines have been reducing their unionized maintenance work
force and outsourcing routine maintenance, while passengers have been
complaining that aircraft cabins are dirty.

With some justification, the airlines blame the Federal Aviation
Administration for not upgrading the air traffic control system to handle
current demand adequately.

But a growing number of people are directing their anger at the airlines and
demanding legislation of a so-called passenger bill of rights to make the
airlines adhere to rules on how long passengers can be held on a parked
plane, and impose regulations to address cabin ventilation and public health
issues like overflowing toilets.

"How stupid is it when a flight attendant says that air traffic control
controls the air in the cabin?" Wilkerson asked.

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