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Wed, Jan 02, 2008

Stuck Passengers Sue American Airlines

Allege False Imprisonment, Fraud

Two American Airlines passengers among the dozens stranded on diverted planes last year have sued the Fort Worth-based carrier, alleging they were the victims of false imprisonment, fraud and negligence.

One of the names should be familiar to ANN readers -- Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights. The second lawsuit was filed by Catherine Ray, who like Hanni was onboard a flight diverted to Austin, TX on December 29, 2006 due to storms over Dallas/Fort Worth. Both women were stuck onboard their planes for hours, and weren't allowed off.

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages, and legal expenses, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"The toilets became full and would not flush, and the stench of human excrement and body odor filled the plane," according to the lawsuit filed by Ray in Arkansas, which also alleges passengers "suffered hunger, thirst, anxiety, physical illness, emotional distress and monetary loss." Hanni's lawsuit, filed in her home state of California, makes similar allegations.

Officials with the airline told the paper they hadn't seen the suits, and could not comment. American Airlines spokesman John Hotard stressed the airline learned from the experience, and updated its system for dealing with storm-related delays and diversions.

As ANN reported, the airline also reviewed its policies, and now lets passengers leave planes if stranded longer than four hours -- less than half the time Hanni and Ray spent stuck on their flights -- if conditions and safety allow.

Hotard called the events in December 2006 "a major weather event that no one predicted," adding 119 flights were diverted that day -- the most since the events of September 11, 2001.

While an admittedly radical step, suing an airline for being stranded isn't an unprecedented move. Lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against Northwest Airlines in 1999, covering over 7,000 passengers who were stuck for nearly 11 hours during a fierce Detroit snowstorm. The airline eventually settled out of court for $7 million.

FMI: www.strandedpassengers.org, www.aa.com

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