Tarmac delays drop dramatically under new rule, U.S. says

Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger

Remember those hideous incidents of airline passengers being stranded on the tarmac for nine or 10 hours without enough food or water, or a chance to get off the plane? Likely you haven’t heard that story lately.

In a news release Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said that long tarmac delays have largely disappeared since a rule went into effect in April 2010 that, with rare exceptions, prohibits U.S. airlines from leaving domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours without letting passengers deplane.

DOT figures show 20 tarmac delays of more than three hours between May 2010 and April 2011, compared with 693 during the same period in 2009-2010.


The Associated Press says, however, that no airline has yet received substantial fines for breaking the rule. The DOT earlier had threatened to fine carriers as much as $27,500 per passenger.

So did all those flights that might have otherwise maxed out on delays simply get canceled? Not really, the figures suggest, although some might have been.

Of the more than 6 million annual flights in the U.S., the number of canceled flights showing tarmac delays of more than two hours -- those the DOT regards as most likely to be canceled to avoid violating the rule -- increased about 15%. The total was 336 from May 2009 to April 2010, and 387 in the same period a year later.

When the DOT adopted the rule, the Air Transport Assn. had predicted it would result in more canceled flights.

In the statement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the reduction in tarmac delays “a giant step forward for the rights of air travelers.”

Starting Aug. 23, federal officials plan to impose tarmac-delay rules on international flights. The limit for delays for those flights would be longer -- four hours instead of three hours.