DOT sets three-hour limit on tarmac delays

Airlines can only keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for three hours before it would be required to let them disembark, under a new rule announced today by the Department of Transportation.

Within two hours, airlines must provide passengers with “adequate” food and water and they must also “maintain operable lavatories,” the DOT said.

The three-hour limit only applies to domestic flights and it does provide for some exceptions, including safety or security and if returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. Domestic airlines that operate international flights to or from the United States “must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers, with the same exceptions applicable,” the DOT said.

“Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The new rule also includes a number of other requirements, including a requirement that airlines display on their Web site information about flight delays for each domestic flight they operate.

The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) said it would comply with the new rule, but it expressed concerns.

“We will comply with the new rule even though we believe it will lead to unintended consequences – more cancelled flights and greater passenger inconvenience,” ATA president and CEO James C. May said in a news release.

“In particular, the requirement of having planes return to the gates within a three hour window or face significant fines is inconsistent with our goal of completing as many flights as possible,” May said. “Lengthy tarmac delays benefit no one.”

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