The Dallas Morning News noted the following comment by Continental’s chief operating officer during the airline’s earnings call on Thursday:
Finally, we are implementing a new internal policy for 2009, whereby we will give customers the opportunity to get off an airplane during tarmac delays in excess of three hours, subject of course to making sure we can do that safely.
The tarmac delay issue is a serious (if rare) one, but it’s not the #1 problem facing travelers today. The reason for the timing is most likely the legislation that’s moving through Congress right now that would require a three-hours “escape” option.
Being stuck on a plane is no picnic, and this is a good step. But the policy needs to be fleshed out. Right now, there are more questions than answers.
How will customers be “allowed to get off the plane”? Will they be bused to the terminal, or does the plane taxi back?
Do all passengers have to get off if someone wants off? Is it an all-or-none proposition?
Will the flight be canceled if someone opts to leave? What if other passengers who really need to make it to their destination stay on board? Who makes that call?
This is going to be a big, stinkin’ logistical mess to work through. And flight crews will need clear rules on both how to implement the policy, and how to communicate the options to passengers.