December 21st, 2009
12:40 PM ET
3 months ago

DOT puts three-hour limit on tarmac delays

The DOT has put a three-hour limit on tarmac delays.
The DOT has put a three-hour limit on tarmac delays.

Washington (CNN) - Taking action against air travel nightmares, the Department of Transportation ordered airlines on Monday to allow passengers stranded on airport tarmacs to deplane after three hours.

After a series of horror stories, including one in which passengers were stranded overnight on a plane in Rochester, Minnesota last summer, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that in the future, passengers will be allowed to disembark after three hours.

"Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly," LaHood said in a statement.

This rule will apply to domestic flights, with exceptions only for safety or security issues, or if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt operations. U.S. airlines operating international flights will have to specify their time limits for deplaning passengers in advance.

Airlines will also have to provide food and drinking water within two hours of the plane being grounded and maintain operable lavatories throughout the delay. Airlines will also be prohibited from scheduling chronically delayed flights, and if the airlines don't comply, they could face government enforcement for unfair and deceptive practices.

DOT plans to submit the rule to the Federal Registrar on Tuesday and it will go into effect 120 days after it's published. The agency plans to take further action to protect air travelers and may consider rules in the future to make airlines disclose baggage fees and require airline ads to disclose the full fare of plane tickets, according to a statement.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Tim E

    In three hours you could watch Around the World in 80 Days and never even leave the ground.

    December 21, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  2. RH

    Meaningless. Airlines will create "safety or security issues" to counter this order either on a case-by-case basis or as a matter of standing policy. Either way, they'll carry on as usual.
    I hear the words, but do passengers have rights or not? Safety and security issues must be managed within the bounds of passenger rights, not the other way around. Otherwise, they're not really rights at all, now, are they?

    December 21, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  3. Stan

    "If air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt operations." That is a HUGE loophole which the airlines will exploit ruthlessly. Having spent eleven hours on the tarmac in a Delta jet in Atlanta, in (I believe) January 2002, I have personal experience with the dismissive attitude the airlines take toward the comfort and safety of their passengers in these cases.

    December 21, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  4. FEDFL

    Sounds like the typical regulatory double-speak.

    Make it sound like the regulations are standing up for the American public and cracking down on corporate abuse ...

    but include enough loopholes to make sure that corporations can continue to abuse the public whenever it suits them.

    Thanks for nothing.

    ..

    December 21, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    3 Hours! Way too long.

    "...with exceptions only for safety or security issues, or if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt operations."

    No chance of abuse there. Ha.

    December 21, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  6. Jane/Seattle

    Something for Consumers and Taxpayers? Where is my chair?

    December 21, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  7. Ex-NC-Pub

    Thank God someone (OBAMA) finally listened to us.....

    December 21, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  8. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Three hours still seems a bit too long. If I can watch an entire in-flight movie while waiting on the tarmac, the wait is too long.

    December 21, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  9. Silence Dogoode

    3 hours? These people have NEVER been stuck on a plane. I saw we starnd them on a plane as a test. They each have to have either a baby, toddler, person with extrememly loud IPOD, or a kid behind them kicking their seat.........

    December 21, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  10. Happy Paul

    Those are some mighty big loopholes. "Security, safety, disruption of operations" are the current excuses offered by airlines to keep people on the tarmac for unreasonable periods. I guess the airline industry wrote these rules for the DOT to avoid any real responsibility to their customers and to deflect all of the negative publicity they have been rightly receiving.

    December 21, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  11. Steve, New York City

    Hurray!

    December 21, 2009 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  12. Susan

    I thought this was Christmas week ... not April fools day.

    December 21, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  13. BK Ealim

    I am curious how it was decided that three hours was enough time to spend on a tarmac, but two hours or less isn't enough. Was this based on anything? I just don't know why anyone believes that if the issue has not been resolved in two hours, it will surely be resolved in three. Taking the consumer into consideration is a step in the right direction, but it still does not feel that the traveling consumer is the priority.

    December 21, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  14. mk

    "This rule will apply to domestic flights, with exceptions only for safety or security issues, or if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt operations. U.S. airlines operating international flights will have to specify their time limits for deplaning passengers in advance."

    This quote says it all. This new "limit" will not help the people stranded on a tarmac. I predict that we will see many "exceptions" to this rule. Once again, the government has gone and fixed a problem with a stupid solution that is not helpful or binding at all.

    December 21, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  15. chelle

    Three hours is still too long -seriously there is no reason that the tower and the airlines don't know ahead of boarding that there is going to be a huge delay in take-off. It makes it easier for the airport to board the passengers and have them wait on the plane.

    December 21, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  16. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    The fact that the airlines put people on a plane and just leave them there is just unthinkable. I guess it is good for their stats - pushing back from the gates shows that the plane departed. This ignores the fact that the plane never took off. I have two small kids, and I would never accept being stuck on the plane for that long with them.

    December 21, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  17. KM

    This was something that was really needed. There is nothing more annoying than to be held hostage on a plane for six hours just to hear the Captain come back on and say, "We hope to be leaving momentarily."

    If there is anyone that see a problem with this, that means that you have never paid money to be held "captive" before.

    December 21, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  18. Fitz in Texas

    Congress and officials appointed by the White House is often the problem for the delay. They call ahead and ask planes to be held for them because they're running late. I say to bad, if you're late don't hold us up and find some other way to get to where you need to be.

    December 21, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  19. ran

    With the exceptions there will be little if any change. What another useless law.

    December 21, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  20. David Ray

    They should have named him criminal of the year!

    December 21, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  21. RichP the Pocono's

    Can we tie the offending airline manager naked out in the snow when he keeps us out the past the limit. I can see them rewriting their rules and regulations now in the airlines corporate headquarters...so they can pass the buck.

    December 21, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |