Long tarmac delays for airlines continue to drop


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Only one commercial flight was delayed more than three hours on an airport tarmac in August, compared with 66 delayed flights nationwide in the same month last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported Tuesday.

Long airline delays have dropped dramatically since the Transportation Department in April adopted new fines against airlines that leave passengers stranded in a delayed plane for more than three hours.


Airlines that fail to get off the ground or return the passengers to the gates in less than three hours can face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.

After the fines were adopted, airlines predicted that they would be forced to cancel more flights to avoid the fines. But the latest Transportation Department report shows that the nation’s largest airlines canceled only 1% of all scheduled flights in August, matching the 1% cancellation rate for August 2009.

Since the new fines were adopted, the country’s largest carriers reported a total of only eight flights that were delayed longer than three hours, compared with 529 flights in the same period before the fines were adopted.

The Transportation Department is still investigating several of the tarmac delays but has yet to impose a fine on any airline for stranding passengers beyond three hours.

‘These numbers show that the tarmac delay rule is protecting passengers from being trapped indefinitely aboard an airplane -- with little or no increase in canceled flights,’ U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The only flight delayed longer than three hours in August was a United Airlines flight, departing San Juan, Puerto Rico, for Washington’s Dulles Airport on Aug. 5. It was diverted to Richmond, Va., where it sat on a runway for three hours and 20 minutes.


Although the nation’s largest airlines improved their on-time performance and had fewer pieces of lost or damaged luggage in August, overall complaints jumped by nearly 35%, compared with the same month last year, according to the Transportation Department.

-- Hugo Martin