DOT Issues New Regulations for Tarmac Delays

By | December 21, 2009
LINTHICUM, MD - AUGUST 26:  A passenger looks ...
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On Saturday, nearly 150 passengers sat inside an airplane for over eight hours at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The passengers were given for their troubles a voucher for Subway, told the tickets would not be reimbursed, and were not offered food or drink.

This morning, the DOT announced a new rule that will take effect in 120 days which would address this sort of issue. The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. U.S. carriers operating international flights departing from or arriving in the United States must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers, with the same exceptions applicable. Airlines will also be required to provide adequate food and potable drinking water to passengers within two hours of a delay, and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.

The penalty for noncompliance is a possible $27,500 per passenger fine if a plane is delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours.

That is the basic gist of it. But it also requires airlines to take some proactive measures, namely:

  • Airlines Cannot Schedule Chronically Delayed Flights on penalty of DOT action.
  • Airlines Must Designate an Employee to Monitor the Effects of Delays and Cancellations, and respond in a timely fashion to customer complaints and provide information on how to file such complaints. Such complaints shall be acknowledged within 30 days and responded to within 60.
  • Display on their website Flight Delay Information for each domestic flight they operate.
  • Adopt Customer Service Plans and Audit their Compliance with Such.
  • Prohibit the Retroactive Application of Material Changes to their Contract of Carriage that could have a negative impact on passengers already holding tickets.

Now, there are some caveats. To the tarmac delay rules, there are some exceptions. But it does require a contingency plan be in place and that all plans dictated must be audited as to compliance. As to the Customer Service Plan, we want to address that in a separate post.The unrealistic scheduling clause, which prohibits as a deceptive practice the scheduling of a flight that is chronically delayed more than half the time.

It seems like, although not perfect, a step toward greater airline accountability. Not everyone agrees though. James May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, advised that airlines would comply with the rule, even though they believe it will lead to unintended consequences such as more cancelled flight and passenger inconvenience.

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