I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the hell of being trapped on an airplane against your will, but I have on numerous occasions. Years ago I was trapped in a plane in Boston for 6 hours. We were even at the gate, but they literally would not let us off the plane although it was after midnight and we would rather just stay the night there.
I’ve also been trapped for over two hours for a flight that was only scheduled for 40 minutes. And I can’t think of how many times there have been 1-2 hour delays where the airplanes sit on a hot Texas runway with little or no air conditioning going. With ALL passengers complaining – just to save a little fuel.
Well, the US Transportation Department says they can no longer hold passengers hostage on delayed planes for hours on end. Starting in April, there will be a three-hour limit for planes stuck on tarmacs. And I for one think this is an idea whose time has long since come. (Here is the official government document in PDF.)
According to the Washington Post:
U.S. Department of Transportation regulators ordered airlines to stop the practice of holding passengers for hours on grounded airplanes. Under the new rules, airlines will have to get travelers in the air within three hours or let them off the plane. Airlines could face fines of as much as $27,500 per passenger for violations.
The new rules also say that airlines must provide adequate food and potable water for passengers within two hours of an aircraft being delayed on the tarmac. Additionally, airlines must maintain “operable lavatories” and provide passengers on delayed aircraft with necessary medical attention. The rules go into effect in about three months, officials said.
In a statement Monday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the rules would “require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly.”
Airlines have strongly opposed a hard time limit on tarmac strandings. They say forcing planes to return to gates so that passengers can get off could cause more problems than it cures. They predict more flights will be canceled, further delaying passengers from reaching their destinations.
Last month, the department fined Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines and Mesaba Airlines $175,000 for their roles in a nearly six-hour tarmac delay in Rochester, Minn. On Aug. 8, Continental Express Flight 2816 en route to Minneapolis was diverted to Rochester due to thunderstorms. Forty-seven passengers were kept overnight in a cramped plane amid crying babies and a smelly toilet because Mesaba employees refused to open a gate so that they could enter the closed airport terminal.
The LA Times quotes the Business Travel Coalition’s online survey showing that:
…82% of travel professionals, business travelers and others support legislation to let passengers off a plane that sits on a tarmac for three hours or more.
Heck, even the pilots don’t like what the airlines are making them do!
“Pilots don’t like the idea of keeping passengers in the conditions that the airlines are imposing,” said Jason Goldberg, a 12-year veteran pilot for American Airlines and a representative for the Allied Pilots Assn.
Rules enacted include:
- Airlines barred from scheduling chronically delayed flights, and will require carriers to assign staff to monitor problems with delays.
- Airlines must provide access to bathrooms as well as food and water on domestic flights within two hours of a delay.
- After three hours, passengers must be offered a chance to disembark.
Keep in mind that the $27,500 per passenger fine equates to a potential penalty of $5.5 million for a jet with 200 people on board. But the Transportation department will be relying on customers to report all infractions of the rules! So set your stopwatch when your plane pulls away from the gate!