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BTC Seeks Industry Views on Tarmac Delays

July 27, 2009 By: George Dooley

How long should passengers be stranded on runways? Is three hours too long? Should federal law regulate so-called tarmac delays? The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) is reaching out to the industry to get the best thinking on whether or not U.S. passenger rights legislation is a prudent course of action for passengers and the airline industry. New legislation, among other passenger rights provisions, would allow passengers to disembark after three hours on the tarmac, should a captain decide it is reasonable and safe to do so.

BTC notes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding bill (S.1451) has been passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee. This bill will likely face a contentious floor vote, the BTC says. Should the three-hour standard survive the Senate floor vote, then it will be negotiated and likely modified in conference with the House as the companion bill H.R. 3288 is reconciled with S.1451.

The BTC was first asked by Congress in 1999 to provide testimony regarding proposed passenger rights legislation and has done so three additional times since (for a closer look at the testimony, visit BTC has been against such government intervention, but has always cautioned that if the airlines do not fix the service and so-called tarmac delay problems then someone will eventually endeavor to do so for them. That's where the industry regrettably finds itself today, and BTC needs to weigh in, but not before securing broad industry input.

BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell says there are three points of view that capture most travel industry participants’ positions.

1.    Some passenger rights and consumer groups believe that there should be a legislated standard of three or four hours on the tarmac after which passengers should be given the option of deplaning.

2.    The airline industry's perspective is captured in a Bloomberg News quote regarding S.1451, which states “There’s virtually nothing good in the three-hour rule,” said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, in an interview. “It would have many unintended consequences that would increase delays, increase cancellations and add more customer inconvenience, as well as cost to the airlines.”

3.    And here’s what a former major airline CEO told BTC this week: “Kevin, beyond three hours, the airlines need to fix the problem, and if they are forced to do so, they will.”

The BTC said one industry source recently summed up his view, saying “Where do the equities lie in a long tarmac delay? With the passengers concerned they won’t get to their destinations, or with the passengers, probably mostly business travelers, who are grateful that after three or four hours they are returning to the gate so they can make alternative plans? If the second group, at the theoretical level, outnumbers the first group, then that suggests some sort of industry standard should be emplaced. Consumers should have some op-out opportunity after a period of time. Airlines should not have full discretion; ‘trust us’ needs to be replaced with a bright line standard.”

What do you think? Help BTC formulate its position and share your views by posting a comment below or by visiting

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