Sometimes being stranded on an airline flight can change your life.
No, really. For many, a delayed or canceled flight means aggravation, exhaustion and bad memories. For Kate Hanni, 47, after being trapped on a runway for nine-and-a-half hours in Austin, Texas, it could have ended that way too.
Except it didn’t.
With a little stroke of luck — two journalists stuck on her flight madly contacting media outlets — Hanni has found a new purpose in her life.
Since her flight, she’s made a big difference in a short time as the spokesperson for Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights. She has led her 16,200 and growing association straight to Washington, D.C., where Congress has put forth a federal bill for passenger rights on airlines. Hanni expects the bill to be signed into law this fall.
“It has been a real challenge, but it’s something that I am committed to seeing happen one way or the other because I think it is ridiculous that airlines can get away with this,” said Hanni.
A former realtor who lives in Napa Valley, Hanni was on her way from California to Mobile, Alabama on American Airlines with her two children and husband when her ordeal began. After a connection at Dallas Fort Worth, the plane was diverted to Austin, Texas. They waited on the runway for more than nine hours with no food, bathrooms or water, the airport gates just a few feet away.
When they passengers were finally deplaned, Hanni was extensively interviewed about her experience. She went home and set up her first blog, https://strandedpassengers.blogspot.com, and began reaching out to her fellow passengers.
Afterwards, she contacted her Congressman, Mike Thomson (D-CA). For weeks after it was a non-stop media deluge, until Congress introduced the bill that would give the flying public certain rights. The mainstay of the groups’ bill was the passengers’ ability to deplane after three hours on the runway.
The group, officially christened the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, set up a hotline and a Web site, https://www.flyersrights.com. Hanni said they have 60 calls coming in daily and more than 700 people signing the petition weekly.
Now, Hanni still flies all the time, but to D.C. to lobby Congress or to give interviews to various media outlets. She credits her husband for supporting her cause by helping to care for their two sons, 11, and 22. And, she refuses to give up the fight.
“All of the consumer advocates have either quit or been corrupted,” said Hanni. “But I will figure out a strategy to figure out a way to make a change.”
This weekend, Peter Greenberg takes a hard look at the airline industry, passengers’ rights and what the public may see in the future of the airline industry.
To learn more and to hear Kate’s story, listen to Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio this weekend.