Recent Flight Delays Hint at Troubled System

Because airlines are operating with nearly full flights, it is more difficult to rebook passengers who get delayed or stranded.

The passengers on American Flight 1348 on Dec. 29 saw firsthand how cuts in airline service combined with thunderstorms can wreak havoc.

The flight from San Francisco to Dallas was diverted to Austin because of storms. Passengers were not allowed to get off the plane, said Hanni and another passenger, Meena Reisetter, 24, of San Francisco.

Instead of canceling the flight, the airline followed the strategy that has helped reduce passenger disruptions in recent years. It kept the planes ready for takeoff as soon as thunderstorms lifted in Dallas, said spokesman Tim Wagner.

However, the storms never let up, and the wait stretched for hours. The airline offered no food other than a small amount of snacks. Some passengers screamed at the captain, and others chanted. The smell from the toilets permeated the cabin. Hanni said she saw a pregnant woman, who hadn't eaten since the early morning, crying.

"When you haven't eaten for seven or eight hours and you are delusional, that's when it gets ridiculous," Reisetter said.

At about 9 p.m., after the plane had been on the ground for more than eight hours, the captain announced he was taxiing to a gate, Hanni and Reisetter said.

"He said, 'I am risking my job by pulling the plane up to the gate, but I am going to do it anyway,'" Hanni recalled.

Wagner said the pilot made the right decision. American could have done better at handling the stranded passengers and has apologized to them, he said. There was nothing the airline could do about the weather, he said.

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