DOT rule leads to less tarmac delays

DOT rule leads to less tarmac delays

Whether a traveler has first class tickets or is flying business, the possibility of tarmac delays is no longer a surprise to casual fliers. However, due to actions taken by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) a year ago, there has been a significant reduction in the amount of postponed flights.

In 2010, DOT established a new rule which went into effect on April 29 and threatened fines against any airlines that kept passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours. These financial penalties may go as high as $27,500 per traveler, which for a Boeing 737 aircraft, translates to a $3.5 million fine.

Aircraft passengers also have an opportunity to exit their plane if they are facing long delays under the rule. Beginning August 23, the DOT guidelines will also apply to international flights of U.S. and foreign origin that expect a four-hour tarmac delay.

Government officials believe that the DOT rule has been a success, as well as a step in the right direction for the rights of air travelers. Between May 2009 and April 2010, there were 693 three-hour tarmac delays. This number has since decreased. In fact, there were only 20 delays of three or more hours between May 2010 and April 2011.

To avoid the fine that comes with tarmac delays, many airlines chose to cancel flights that faced being idle for more than two hours. However, the number of these abandoned flights only rose from 336 between May 2009 and April 2010 to 387 from May 2010 through April 2011.

"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," Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, said in a press release.

However, airport inconveniences still exist. Based on data that was filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the month of March 2011 had zero reported incidents of tarmac delays while in April there were a total of four, which lasted for three hours or more.

In addition, The Associated Press reports that Bill Mosely, a spokesman for DOT, said that 183 reports of tarmac delays are currently under investigation. 

By Mary D'Angelo

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