Airline Consumer Passenger Law “Tarmac Rule” Dramatically Reduces Delays


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Airline Consumer Passenger Law “Tarmac Rule” Dramatically Reduces Delays

By Jim Douglas

August 11, 2010 - The nation’s largest airlines reported only three flights in June with tarmac delays of more than three hours compared to 268 flights in June 2009 and with no increase in the rate of canceled flights, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report released on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). 

On April 29, 2010, United States DOT rules bands airlines from allowing aircraft to sit out on the tarmac with passengers for more than three hours. The consequence under this new rule, airlines would have to pay $27,500 for each passenger stuck for more than three hours on the tarmac. 

Consumer advocate groups who have worked hard to push for more airline passenger protections welcomed this new bill. However, a number of airline executive were against this consumer protection law.


In March Continental Chief Executive called the consumer “Tarmac Rule” stupid. In July a study done by two airline consultants who attempted to skew data to favor the airlines position on the law cast a shadow of doubt on the study after the government reported the information was misleading and a premature assessment of the impact of the new passenger protections. "Government Can Work" when you leave out the special interests and the executives of large corporations.

According to information filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), a part of DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), the only tarmac delays longer than three hours reported in June 2010 by the 18 airlines who file on-time performance with DOT involved three United Airlines flights departing Chicago’s O’Hare airport on June 18, a day in which the Chicago area experienced a severe thunderstorm. 

None of the tarmac delays exceeded the three-hour limit by more than five minutes.  June was the second full month of data since the new aviation consumer rule went into effect on April 29.  In May, the first full month, there were five reported tarmac times of more than three hours, down from 34 in May 2009. A subsequent DOT investigation determined that four of the five May flights were misreported by the airline. Corrected data will be available from BTS when the airline submits revised data.


The carriers canceled 1.5 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in June, equal to the 1.5 percent cancellation rate of June 2009.  They posted a 1.2 percent cancellation rate in May 2010. The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. DOT will investigate tarmac delays that exceed this limit. 

The monthly report also includes data on on-time performance, chronically delayed flights, flight cancellations and the causes of flight delays by the reporting carriers. In addition, it has information on airline bumping, reports of mishandled baggage filed with the carriers, and consumer service, disability and discrimination complaints received by DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. This report also includes reports of incidents involving pets traveling by air, as required to be filed by U.S. carriers.


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