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Bill limits time spent on tarmacs

Pulmonary embolism, other risks cited

Joe Markman Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – Testimony that long tarmac delays are not merely a frustrating inconvenience but a serious health risk, backed by a World Health Organization study, has helped propel toward passage a law requiring airlines to allow passengers to disembark if delays span more than three hours.

The 2007 World Health Organization study cited Tuesday at an unofficial airline passengers rights hearing shows that the risk for developing conditions such as a pulmonary embolism doubles after four hours of seated immobility.

The time limit, along with a requirement that airlines provide basic services such as food and water, will soon become law, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told a packed hearing room in a House office building. In the wake of another long-delayed plane in Rochester, Minn., in August, there appears to be increasing momentum in Congress and among consumer and business groups for the legislation.

The consumer rights language, similar to a provision approved in the House, is contained in a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration before the Senate. The legislation makes an exception for occasions when the pilot believes the plane will take off in the next half-hour or that it might be hazardous for passengers to leave the plane.

David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents the nation’s biggest airlines, said the proposed law could have unintended consequences. “I think of the unaccompanied child who will be stranded in a strange city because a few people want to get off the plane,” Castelveter said.

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