Flyer's rights group: chaos could linger for weeks

December 29, 2010 11:32:03 PM PST
The Bay Area woman who helped establish the passengers' bill of rights is getting swamped with calls.

Many airline passengers in the Bay Area and across the country are angry after being stranded in the aftermath of this week's paralyzing blizzard. This experience is turning into a financial and emotional nightmare for many of the travelers.

Some passengers were even told that it could take weeks before they are able to catch a flight.

"The airlines appear to be auto re-accommodating people, and then several people called our hotline and they said that they had missed those flights because there was no communication from the airline telling them that they were re-booked. Now they won't be able to get out for two weeks," traveler Kate Hanni said.

Hanni founded a flyer's right website and hotline four years ago when she was stuck on an airplane in Austin for nine hours. In the last few days, she has been swarmed with desperate calls. With the blizzard, passengers are at the mercy of the airlines.

"Over the last few years as people booked online the airlines cut back on their call centers, so there are fewer people there to handle calls when you want to like in a situation like this," airline travel analyst Chris McGinnis said.

With seats packed on those flights, there are no ways to accommodate those stranded. McGinnis says the airlines are trying.

"They are using more planes and larger planes to run on the more popular routes like New York to Atlanta, or New York to Los Angeles, where people need to get some lift out of there," he said.

Hanni said don't count on it.

"You are at the bottom of the food chain, and if you were a coach passenger and you bought your ticket with frequent flyer miles, I guarantee you, you will be the last person out," she said.

She even advocates driving cross-country is better than driving for another flight.

"Driving is a better option, or trains, or some other form of transit," Hanni said.

One family whose flight out of JFK was cancelled and were not able to get a seat until Jan. 4 took things into their own hands drove to Washington D.C., caught a flight to Atlanta and then made it to SFO -- all for a mere $1,500 each.

Things may worsen on Thursday for air travelers in Denver and Salt Lake City as they are anticipating a blizzard there.


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