Tarmac ordeal renews push for fliers' rights

At about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the plane finally took off from Rochester. It arrived 45 minutes later at Minneapolis-St. Paul International. The bathroom was closed during the flight because the toilet wasn't emptied before departure, Christin says.

Angry passengers stormed the Continental Airlines counter in Minneapolis-St. Paul and screamed for compensation, says Christin, a former trial lawyer. He says he later realized passengers should have been more forceful in Rochester and asked to get off the plane. "Everybody was tired and wiped out, and no one spoke up."

Continental spokeswoman Julie King says the airline has a policy to let passengers off a flight after a three-hour delay and what happened was unacceptable. Continental will offer passengers a refund for tickets and a certificate for a future flight, she says.

Legislation that could provide relief to passengers in similar situations is moving through Congress. A Senate committee last month voted to require airlines to let people off planes delayed for more than three hours. The House passed a less specific version that requires each airline to submit to the Department of Transportation a plan to let passengers off.

Elizabeth Merida, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association of America, says long delays like this one are "unacceptable and contrary to carrier contingency plans." But the trade group, which represents 12 U.S. airlines, says long delays are rare, and it opposes a law that would force planes to return to terminals after three hours.

It could lead to unintended consequences, Merida says, such as more cancellations and greater inconvenience for passengers.

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