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Airline delay task force isn't up to the task


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POSTED: Thursday, November 13, 2008

It looks like the federal task force tasked with trying to figure out how long it is appropriate to sequester airline passengers like overdressed cattle on planes stuck on a tarmac isn't quite up to the task.

According to news reports, the task force - after conducting an extensive review of trays of doughnuts brought into the Task Meeting Room at the local Ramada Inn and energetically interviewing waitresses in the adjoining cocktail lounge after a busy day of taskin' - could not come up with what constitutes a “;lengthy”; delay for passengers trapped on planes. (One of the taskers allegedly included as a footnote in the draft report remarks by a lounge waitress to the effect that, “;Length doesn't matter. It's the size of the delay that counts.”;)

The task force could not decide whether a “;lengthy delay”; meant a 10-hour stretch of forced incarceration by the Federal Aviation Administration or just an hour. The question arises because some passengers have actually been trapped that long on airplanes that have pulled away from the loading gates but stopped on the tarmac for various reasons (i.e. unusually large flocks of pigeons passing by, hamsters on the tarmac, cockpit crew accidentally locked in the “;Little Pilot's Room”; and unseasonably pleasant weather).

  I think I can help here. Task force members: 10 hours is too long to even sit on a couch watching TV and drinking beer. Ten hours is too long to spend in your bed sleeping. Ten hours is too long to run a marathon. Ten hours is too long for a meeting on whether 10 hours is too long.

One easy rule of thumb is that passengers should not be kept on a grounded plane longer than the actual flight would have taken.

I've been stuck on planes on the tarmac and it did wonders for my budding career as a semi-professional claustrophobic. I don't know why it is less claustrophobic to be crammed into a flying airliner with 200 strangers than it is to be in a still airplane with them. But it is. I think it's the fact that when the plane is flying you know you might die in a spectacular crash instead of simply being smothered to death on the tarmac inside a giant, airless, glorified PVC pipe.

Some common-sense things can be done to keep passengers comfortable during delays. Send a flight attendant down the aisle not only with food and alcoholic beverages, but a nice selection of anti-anxiety drugs. (”;What will you be having today, sir? Xanax? Zoloft? Prozac? All of them? And a triple martini? Very good, sir.”;)

The airlines would probably have less trouble with customers if they just kept everyone drugged from the moment they entered the terminal to the end of their flight.

The task force should at the very least include in its final report the recommendation that, since these delays are essentially forced imprisonment by the federal government, anyone subsequently convicted of a federal crime be given credit for time served.