As in the past even before the recent legislation, I think passengers will find this more and more less likely.
With the possibility of hefty fines, millions of dollars per airplane, most airlines will not risk operations that will drain their already cash strapped accounts.
What will airlines do?
Delay boarding you on your flight.
Cancel your flight all together.
As many experienced with the recent storms that effected the New York area in the past few days. Flights to JFK and La Guardia (LGA) were simply canceled. I would venture to say many of those cancellations were driven by the Passenger's Bill of Rights.
Yes, 3 or 4 or 5 hours late but not 24 or 36 hours after sleeping in an airport terminal or providing their own hotel accommodations.
Airlines are not required to provide accommodations for passengers with weather related cancellations or delays.
What are the solutions to not rotting on an airplane?
For departures, passengers should not be allowed to board an airplane until that flight has a guaranteed airborne departure time within one hour. If passengers must be delayed then they should be required to wait in the boarding area.
For arrivals, airports should be required to provide a means to deplane passengers away from the terminal. This can be a complicated process since the airport itself is a secure area that has to remain secure regardless of weather or other issues. In addition, passengers cannot be randomly deplaned on the airport property.
With weather or air traffic control issues, airlines make educated calculations on being able to operate a flight safely. Sometimes things do not work out as planned and you can end up with worse case scenarios.
Some would suggest this represents the airlines “sticking it to the flying public”. As these are rare isolated incidents, I would strongly disagree and here's why.
American for example operates over 3400 daily departures and I imagine that less than 100 (3%) of AA flights are canceled or delayed more than 3 hrs on any given day.
Yet in considering whether or not American is “sticking it to you”, you would have to compare your flight in terms of the other 97% of American flights that operated as scheduled.
No reasonable person could conclude that American is “sticking it to the public” if 97% of it’s passengers are getting to their destinations in a timely manner.
These types of statistics do not show a chronic problem just isolated incidents.
Airplanes that landed at DTW became stuck unable to get to the terminal because the city did not or could not provide the required airport services.
Northwest Airlines and others depend on airports for snow removal in order to operate safely. Things did not work out as planned and NWA took the blame. Interestingly, airlines pay airports for these services and most if not all airport operations are a partnership between airlines and the local airport authority.
This incident became the birth of the Passenger's Bill Of Rights.
There are not many options available when airlines face severe weather issues and now government fines.
The trick is to find a balance. Airlines are in the business to safely transport you from Point A to B and do so rather well with a few exceptions. These exceptions do not justify legislation and ridiculous fines which will ultimately lead to passengers delays through flight cancellations.