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Schumer pushes airline passenger 'bill of rights'

After a three-hour wait on a tarmac, airline passengers should be able to leave the plane, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

In the wake of Sun Country Airlines keeping Minneapolis-bound passengers waiting for nearly six hours on a plane at Kennedy Airport on Friday, Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed his support for the proposed Airline Passengers Bill of Rights.

The legislation, which is in the Senate Commerce Committee, would require airlines to allow passengers off a grounded plane every three hours.

"It would say to the airlines you can't treat people like cattle on a cattle car," Schumer said.

Minnesota-based Sun Country reimbursed the 100 passengers on Friday's flight and implemented new policies in the event of long delays, CEO Stan Gadek said Sunday.

"At four hours, we'll go back to the gate, period," Gadek said. "It's a hard deadline."

Schumer said more than half of "extreme delays" of more than three hours take place at the three major New York airports. He blamed the Federal Aviation Administration for giving airports elsewhere priority for new technologies.

In 2007, New York State enacted a bill of rights for airline passengers, but federal courts voided the law because the federal government regulates the nation's airports.

Gadek said he has no position on the proposed federal legislation, which is authored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and is attached to the FAA reauthorization bill.

Gadek said Friday's delay was caused by "a rolling path of delays," first by a ground delay at the Minneapolis airport and then by thunderstorms at Kennedy.

"Had we known we were going to sit on the taxiway for five hours and 45 minutes, we would never have pushed back," he said. "I assure you of that."

Schumer said that he once sat on a Miami-bound flight at Newark Liberty Airport for five hours, causing him to miss the very speaking engagement he was flying south to attend. He said he believes airlines often withhold information from passengers about the length of flight delays.

"I think when they know there's going to be a terribly long wait, they don't tell you," Schumer said. "If before you got on the plane, they told you there was a five-hour wait, you might not get on the plane."

But Gadek called that theory nonsense.

"I would rather return the airplane to the gate and deal with the situation there," he said. "That's the place to deal with it, not on the plane."

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