CBS News – Aug 11, 2009

St. Paul, Minn — Link Christian was one of the 47 passengers trapped in a plane on a tarmac for six hours early Saturday morning in Rochester, Minn. They didn’t have a way to get off the plane then, but the St. Paul, Minn. man is now working to help other plane passengers be assured of their rights to proper treatment by airlines.

Christian said on “The Early Show” Tuesday his “nightmare” flight is an example of why a airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights needs to get through Congress.

Christian, who sat in the back row of the plane by the bathroom that broke during the six-hour wait, said he’s going to tell his story to Congress next month in hopes that the Bill of Rights will pass.

“I simply want to tell the story,” he told “Early Show” co-anchor Julie Chen. “I watched everything for six hours. So my view is to not politicize it, but to tell the story of what it was like to be on that airplane for six hours on that airplane, being essentially a prisoner … I would like to see the rights of passengers on a tarmac be enhanced to the extent the rights that passengers have safety-wise when they’re in the air. There’s thousands of regulations that protect us in the air. I’d like to see some of those regulations while we’re on the ground.”

Christian said during the wait the flight crew continued to tell passengers they would get off the plane, telling them at one point a bus would come and pick them up. The bus, he said, never came.

He said, “It was six hours of a continued sense that we were going to get out of there.”

However, as the hours ticked by, Christian said the plane’s atmosphere grew gradually tenser.

“We became increasingly frustrated,” he said. “Everybody at that point was pretty exhausted. People had children crying. The whole atmosphere of the plane was just one of sort of deteriorating emotional stability.”

But as Kate Hanni, a passenger advocate who was herself once stuck on the tarmac for 13 hours, said, passengers currently have few options when they’re stuck on the runway.

“Right now as it stands, the airlines can hold you indefinitely,” she said, “and they don’t have to provide you with food, water, hygienic toilets, or any medical needs.”

In her 13-hour ordeal, Hanni said women were making diapers for their babies out of t-shirts and diabetics were going into shock.

She said, “There’s no culpability for the airlines at all, which is why we’re pushing for a law in Congress.”

Hanni said the legislation in the Senate pushes for a time limit the airlines can hold passengers on the tarmac. She told Chen a constraint of three hours should be mandated. In addition, Hanni said advocates are pushing for essential needs: food, water, toilets and trash, to be managed while passengers are held on the runway.

Hanni added there are no federal regulations preventing the airline from removing passengers from the plane, which ExpressJet Airlines claimed was the reason the passengers of Friday’s flight couldn’t leave the plane.