Passengers sweat for 4 hours on tarmac
The flight is exempt from paying the new fine for excessive flight delays.
Passengers aboard a Virgin Atlantic flight from London sat on the tarmac for more than four hours Tuesday in sweltering heat after the plane was diverted from Newark, N.J., to a Connecticut airport.
A new federal law requires airlines to deplane passengers within three hours of landing or face a fine of $27,000 per passenger. But Virgin Atlantic will not pay the $8.1 million fine for its 300 passengers because the law applies only to domestic flights, not international ones.
"Given the horrific, inhumane and dangerous situation that took place on the Virgin Atlantic flight (Tuesday) night, DOT must step in immediately to include international flights in the three-hour and air conditioning rules," said Kate Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org, an airline-passengers advocate. "Numerous passengers were hospitalized after being exposed for over four hours to temperatures well over 100 degrees. We are fortunate there were no fatalities."
Virgin Atlantic issued a statement thanking passengers for their patience and apologizing for the delay. An airline spokesman blamed the delay in allowing passengers to disembark on the fact that passengers had to clear customs. International flights are rare at the Connecticut airfield where the plane touched down and customs facilities were not readily available.
Hanni isn't mollified, saying reports and accounts from passengers confirm that the aircraft's generators shut down, leaving passengers with no air conditioning and sweltering temperatures. She says passengers were refused the right to deplane, despite their repeated requests to do so.
Conditions were so bad aboard the plane, Hanni says, that several passengers lost consciousness due to the heat and had to be hospitalized. Other media reports indicated at least three passengers were treated at a hospital.
The new passengers-rights rules adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year require airlines to allow passengers to deplane after three hours on the tarmac and to provide air conditioning during strandings. However, those requirements do not extend to international flights. Hanni thinks they should.
"We feel that, based upon what we know so far, Virgin Atlantic needlessly risked the lives of passengers and crew, and violated the human rights of every person aboard that flight," Hanni said. "In addition to making sure this can never happen again, we expect a thorough investigation by the authorities. We are currently reviewing all the legal options available to the victims, including criminal sanctions against Virgin. They must be held accountable."
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