Airlines Can’t Hold You Hostage (For More than 3 Hours)

We’ve all heard the horror stories about plane-loads of passengers being trapped in an airliner on the tarmac for hours on end. Maybe the weather turned bad, or maybe there’s a mechanical problem on the plane. They pushed back from the gate and just parked there, then sat . . . and sat . . . and sat. Those of us who fly even on rare occasion have experienced 1- or 2-hour waits, and the unlucky few have had to sit in planes for 5, 6, 8, or 10 hours.

This has always been absolutely, unequivocally wrong. You don’t trap people in an airplane. If the plane is broken or if it can’t embark, let people off. Your average human being can figure this out, but it is apparently beyond the capabilities of the average modern airline executive.

Thankfully the Department of Transportation has stepped in to put some simple, common sense restrictions on how airlines treat their passengers: You can’t keep them on the sitting in a parked plane longer than 3 hours, and you have to keep the toilets working while they’re trapped on the plane. Oh, how terrible. The airlines will go bankrupt trying to abide by these stringent new regulations.

Of course there are still too many exceptions, but this is a good start. What perplexes me, though, is that these new regulations are really unnecessary. It is already a crime to hold people against their will without cause. It’s called ‘false imprisonment’ in most states—the same crime I would have committed if I locked you in a closet against your will for, say, 10 minutes (let alone 3 hours). Airline passengers trapped in a plane for any unreasonable length of time (and I would call anything over one hour unreasonable, barring extreme circumstances) should call 9-1-1 and report that they are being held against their will.

In fact, I’m surprised that passengers haven’t done this and more. Why don’t they just escape? If you’re stuck in a plane for hours on end without cause, just use the emergency exits. Slide down the emergency slide and walk back to the terminal. I’m pretty sure it’s legal to use extreme measures to escape from false imprisonment.

Anyway, kudos to the DoT for [finally] putting some logical limits on this kind of abusive insanity. Jeers to the airlines who have already started trying to fight it.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.