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A new use for Speed Dial!

This summer has been particularly brutal for those forced to travel by air. There's not much you can do about cancelled flights and lost baggage, but there is something you can do when you're trapped on the tarmac for more than 3 hours...

Earlier this month, New York enacted an Air Passenger Bill of Rights. Among other things, it requires that airlines make minimal provisions for passengers stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours. If you've done any traveling with kids, you probably know how difficult it is to both pack light (a key strategy for successful travel generally) and to pack enough stuff so that if there's a delay, you can keep the little ones occupied. The New York law bounds the problem a little bit: if your longest leg is 6 hours, you can be relatively assured that your outbound leg from a New York airport won't add more than 3 hours to that. But as the US Customs and Border Patrol SNAFU at LAX confirms, airport authorities don't seem to get particularly concerned about tarmac waits of 6, 8, or 10 hours, be they outbound or inbound. I think that when traveling with children, that's a bit much. What's a parent to do?

America may have fallen behind other nations in education, healthcare, employment opportunities, life expectency, peacefulness, and the environment, but by golly we still have one right that many passengers delayed on other national tarmacs don't: we are free to use cellphones on active taxiways after landing, and, with the pilot's permission, on taxiways during long waits before takeoff. And after reading various congresspeople deciding to weigh in on whether passengers should or should not have any rights to accurate information, drinking water, working toilets, sufficient food to prevent medical crisis, or the right to say "enough--I'd like to get off this flight, please." it occurred to me that I need to add a few numbers to my speed dial.

I do actually have some (but not all) of my congresspeople already on my cellphone. I call my House member, David Price, whenever I see a problem that I think he should know about. His office has always been extremely courteous, and I think it good for democracy when regular citizens like me bring up issues when the problem is real, rather than something that must be rallied for. But upon reflection, if I'm going to be stuck on the tarmac for more than 3 hours, I probably have time to make a few more calls to others in the legislative process who might be ready to take my side. And if the other 100+ passengers on a typical flight take a similar civic stance, I think we could see some real legilative headway and give our kids a chance to see the real democractic process (which is more than just general elections) in action.

Bad weather happens. Mechanical problems happen. Crew scheduling issues happen. Changes in the law will not affect these facts. But I do think that it's fair to expect that in spite of all the things that can go wrong, we can expect to be treated with the respect of timely and accurate information, the dignity of meeting basic human needs, and we can be given the freedom to act when either the information available or the basic human needs override the decision to continue on a trip that has become impossible.

Now, just because the Government has recently granted itself unprecedented authority to intercept your phone calls, emails, and faxes, they cannot read your mind. The only way for them to know what you really think is to contact them. To find the phone numbers of your elected officials (Federal and State), you can enter your 9-digit ZIP code into Congress.Org. (Congress.Org bills itself as a private, non-partisan company that specializes in facilitating civic participation. I have no affiliation with them, but I can say that they provided accurate information in as far as my search went.) If you have an iPhone you might be tempted to send an email, but I am told that phone calls carry more weight than emails, so use it as a phone. Here's hoping that if you do load in those numbers, you won't have to use them from the tarmac...but if you do, remember: this is one call you do want the Government to listen to.