As millions of Americans prepare to head home for the holidays, air travelers can be thankful for one less travel stress: lengthy tarmac delays.
Last year around this time, I announced landmark airline passenger protections to put an end to unreasonably long tarmac delays that had in some cases left travelers stranded without access to food, water, or working lavatories.
Since our rules establishing fundamental rights for airline passengers went into effect this past spring, lengthy tarmac delays have dropped to almost zero. We’ve also sought to expand consumer rights through a second proposed rulemaking that would require airlines to fully disclose fares and extra fees and provide better compensation for bumping passengers from oversold flights.
Anyone who has flown before knows the stress and uncertainty that can accompany air travel. By giving consumers more options, information, and most importantly, basic rights to fair treatment, we are trying to make air travel easier and more convenient for everyone.
Of course, our work to establish fundamental rights for airline passengers has--predictably--attracted criticism from some in the airline industry. These critics claim limits on tarmac delays are excessively disruptive and are causing more flight cancellations.
But, as DOT’s airline data show, our airline consumer protections have accomplished the goal of reducing extended airline delays without causing any tangible increase in flight cancellations.
To look at the impact of the tarmac delay limits on flight cancellations, we can simply look at the number of flights cancelled after tarmac delays of more than two hours--the instances in which planes may have returned to the gate to comply with the tarmac delay rule. In 2009, 220 flights were cancelled after delays of two hours or more compared with 225 flights in 2010: a difference of 5 flights.
What is significant, however, is the major decrease we’ve seen so far in extended tarmac delays. The drop in extended delays has been stark: in May to September 2009 there were 535 tarmac delays over three hours; compared with just 12 in May through September 2010. That tells me we are heading in the right direction.
Air travelers can be assured – and so can our critics – that the DOT is not going to back down when it comes to protecting flyers’ rights.
Safe travels to all of you this Thanksgiving holiday.