United Continental Airlines CEO Had Called Tarmac Rule Stupid Was He Right?


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United Continental Airlines CEO Had Called Tarmac Rule Stupid, Was He Right?

By Eddy Metcalf

June 9, 2011 - Consumer advocate groups called on tougher airline regulations as a result of 47 passengers that were forced to remain seated overnight on the airport tarmac at Rochester International Airport on August 8, 2009. Continental Airlines Flight 2816 had taxi from the gate to the runway with its passengers, however, due to poor weather conditions the aircraft was not allowed to takeoff.  

Rather than taxi the aircraft back to the gate and passengers allowed to deplane the aircraft just sat out on the taxiway, complete with crying babies, the aroma of over used toilets and AC system that was not turned on.         

As a result of this incident DOT?s Aviation Enforcement Office sets precedent on November 24, 2009, by issuing the first ever enforcement orders against an airline for stranding passengers for an unreasonable amount of time. In addition, new regulations, ?Tarmac Rule? was put in place to prevent these kinds of events from happening again.

Just before the Federal Aviation Administration implemented the ?tarmac rule?, Continental Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek called the plan ?stupid? and ?inane,? and warned it would lead to a sharp increase in cancellations. 

During the first 12 months after a new rule which limited airline tarmac delays went into effect, lengthy delays experienced by passengers aboard aircraft largely disappeared and only a minimal number of flights were canceled to avoid delays on the tarmac, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced. 

?On the one-year anniversary of the tarmac delay rule, it?s clear that we?ve accomplished our goal of virtually eliminating the number of aircraft leaving travelers stranded without access to food, water, or working lavatories for hours on end,? U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. ?This is a giant step forward for the rights of air travelers.? 

According to DOT?s Air Travel Consumer Report, there were only 20 total tarmac delays of more than three hours reported from May 2010 through April 2011 by the airlines that file on-time performance data with DOT, compared to 693 reported from May 2009 through April 2010.  April was the 12th full month of data since the new rule went into effect on April 29, 2010. 

At the same time, the number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours ? those most likely to be canceled to avoid violating the rule ? increased only slightly, from 336 between May 2009 and April 2010 to 387 between May 2010 and April 2011. These additional 51 cancellations compare to over 6 million flights operated by the reporting carriers in a given year.


The rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from allowing an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without providing an opportunity for passengers to deplane, 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. International flights of both U.S. and foreign carriers at U.S. airports will be subject to a four-hour tarmac delay limit beginning August 23.

The monthly report also includes data on on-time performance, chronically delayed flights, flight cancellations, and the causes of flight delays filed with the Department by the reporting carriers. In addition, the report contains information on reports of mishandled baggage filed by consumers 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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