I've talked a lot on this blog about airline consumer protections. Well, today we announced a new rule that significantly strengthens those protections.
This rule sets a hard time limit for passengers stuck on the tarmac. After that limit, U.S. airlines must allow passengers on domestic flights to go back to the terminal.
Airline passengers have rights, and airlines have the obligation to respect those rights. Passengers want--and deserve--to be treated fairly, and these new rules will require airlines to do just that.
What does the new rule do?
- U.S. airlines operating domestic flights must let passengers off the plane after remaining on the tarmac for more than three hours.
- Reasonable exceptions are allowed for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.
- Carriers are required to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.
This rule didn't just come out of nowhere. It was adopted in response to a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on the ground aboard aircraft for lengthy periods, and also in response to a high incidence of flight delays and other consumer problems.
In one of the most recent tarmac delay incidents, DOT fined Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines and Mesaba Airlines a total of $175,000 for their roles in a nearly six-hour ground delay at Rochester, Minnesota, this summer. Although the rule seeks to make sure passengers won't have to endure that kind of stranding again, DOT first proposed it back in November, 2008.
And we're not done looking out for airline consumers yet. We plan to begin another rulemaking to strengthen protections even further. Among the areas we're considering are:
- A requirement that airlines submit to the Department for review and approval their contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays
- Reporting of additional tarmac delay data; disclosure of baggage fees
- Strengthening requirements that airline ads disclose the full fare consumers must pay for tickets