Airline Tarmac Rule Takes Effect

Image courtesy U.S. DOT

The Travel Trolley

ATLANTA – Airlines can no longer keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for extended periods of time, under a new rule that took effect today.

“Airline passengers deserve to be treated fairly, and this new rule will require airlines to respect the rights of their customers,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Under the rule, airlines can only keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for three hours before it would be required to let them disembark. 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 previously said.

“Everyone knows the rules going in – the passengers and the airlines,” LaHood said. “We expect carriers to take steps to avoid tarmac delays and cancellations by adjusting their schedules and providing timely information to passengers,” he said. “A little extra planning will minimize disruptions while ensuring that passengers are not trapped aboard airplanes indefinitely.”

The rule was adopted following a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on the ground aboard aircraft “for lengthy periods,” the DOT said. Critics say the new rule could force airlines to cancel more flights to avoid the steep fines – up to $27,000 per passenger – associated with the new rule.

“Three hours is a very tight window to manage to, so you’re going to see more cancellations,” CBS News quoted Gerard Arpey, CEO of American Airlines, as saying. “It’s just the way the math works.”

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