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Best defense against airline angst
Best defense against airline angst
You get stuck on an airplane for nine hours without adequate food, water or working toilets - and parachuting out is not an option. What do you do when you finally escape? If you're Kate Hanni, you quit a successful career in real estate and become one of the nation's most influential consumer-travel advocates.

"Airlines can hold you indefinitely right now, and they don't have to give you anything to eat or drink. That's less rights than a prisoner of war has under the Geneva convention," says Hanni, 47, who lives in Napa Valley, Calif.

Infuriated by American Airlines' "indifferent" response to her complaints about the 2006 incident, Hanni launched the nonprofit Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. It operates two hotlines where travelers and airline employees can report incidents (877-FLYERS-6; 877-887- 2678 for anonymous employee tips).

Hanni has collected more than 9,000 voice mails from stranded passengers, which she has played at press conferences and to Department of Transportation (DOT) officials. She has testified before Congress and stalked state legislators, all while battling well-funded airline lobbyists.

She's keeping the pressure on with an Airline Stranding Report Card, which combines DOT data with complaints that her organization verifies. According to the DOT, 27% of domestic flights were delayed last year, up from 21% in 2004. When you add in international flights and flights that are ultimately canceled, the delays are much worse, says Hanni.

Thanks in large part to her efforts, the House of Representatives approved a national passenger rights measure as part of the FAA Reauthorization bill in September. Among other things, it would require airlines to spell out how they will provide food, water, restrooms and air to passengers stuck on planes. The bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate in the next few months. (To support it, go to flyersrights.com and click on Take Action.)

"We're at a tipping point," Hanni says. "I will not give up till this is done. Period."

- Donna Rosato, Money Magazine senior writer

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Last updated April 15 2008: 3:50 PM ET