We now have a U.S. District Court ruling that an airline can hold people on the tarmac for nine hours and not engage in false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract or "deceit."
American, which got sued because it diverted an Oakland, Calif.-Dallas flight to Austin, Texas, in 2006 and then let the plane sit for nine-and-a-half hours, beat the rap on all counts. But it turns out that this result was not some crazy anomaly. The law was on American's side.
On the question of emotional distress, for example, the plaintiff needed to show that American acted "intentionally or recklessly" and that the distress was "severe." She couldn't meet that standard of proof.
On the question of false imprisonment, the case collapsed because the airline twice gave the passengers the option to deplane, and the plaintiff didn't leave and never told the crew that she wanted to leave.
One by one, U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson applied the law and legal precedents, and thread by thread the case unraveled on summary judgment. (He did add, however, that American "should have handled this situation differently.")
All of this shows that our federal courts are simply not well suited to this sort of case. An aggrieved consumer can't simply waltz into a U.S. District Court and get justice. You have to work for it, wait for it and pay for it, because federal court proceedings are time-consuming and require elaborate and costly preparations, depositions and research.
Passengers who suffer this sort of agony and inconvenience shouldn't have to build a federal case to get some relief, compensation and closure.
A new law from Congress or a new set of government guidelines about contracts of carriage will suffer many of these same deficiencies.
We're not quite sure what to do about tarmac delays, but we're pretty sure that consumers don't need another slow-moving, expensive and legalistic avenue of redress.
Somebody should figure out a way to nullify all the legal precedents and erase all the political rhetoric about passenger rights and start over, from scratch.