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Chaos at Conn. airport renews tarmac-time debate

NEWARK - A hot, dark and miserable four-hour stretch spent by hundreds of travelers parked in a diverted trans-Atlantic plane renewed calls yesterday to add international travel to a months-old federal rule limiting how long airlines can keep passengers trapped on the tarmac.

All of about 300 Virgin Atlantic passengers marooned late Tuesday and early yesterday at Bradley International Airport outside Hartford finally reached their original destination, Newark Liberty International Airport, by midafternoon, piling off buses and describing chaos and desperation in the cabin as temperatures and tempers rose.

Some passengers fell ill from the heat as the plane lingered on the runway, and at least one had to be administered oxygen, said passenger and London resident David Cooper.

The airline confirmed some travelers needed medical treatment but did not say how many.

"Everyone was beginning to get a bit crazy; a few people got fevers, they were really struggling," Cooper said. "Basically they cracked. I guess these things do happen, and this time they happened to us."

The plane was diverted because of bad weather in the Newark area.

A federal three-hour limit on tarmac strandings went into effect in April.

It doesn't apply to international flights and foreign airlines like Britain's Virgin Atlantic, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently solicited comments on whether it should.

Kimberley Vince was flying to Long Island to begin work as a camp counselor. She said the crew made frequent announcements from the runway that led passengers to believe they'd be departing soon.

"It was like every five or 10 minutes for four hours," Vince said.

Travelers said they were offered water but no food, and that once on the ground, the air-conditioning failed.

The airline apologized Wednesday for passengers' inconvenience and said it offered vouchers for ground transportation and hotels and was considering offering "some sort of credit" on tickets.

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