A landmark rule by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), requiring airlines to deplane passengers after three hours of an extended tarmac delay if it is safe and operationally feasible to do so, won praise from the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) while the Air Transport Association (ATA) warned that the decision may have unintended consequences. A limit on tarmac delays has been supported by consumer groups and by ASTA.
After passenger protections concerning tarmac delays were debated for some 10 years, the BTC applauded Secretary Ray LaHood and the DOT for its rulemaking as well as Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) for drawing official attention to this serious problem in recent years in Washington, D.C.
“Perhaps the most profound and positive implication of this three-hour rule is that it simply will not work at the three New York City-area airports, and other over-scheduled major hubs, unless incumbent airlines rationalize and de-peak their schedules and operations,” BTC president Kevin Mitchell said. “Each airline will have to look at their entire system and restructure, or they will violate the new rule virtually every day. U.S. global carriers will have to consider changes to their domestic and international schedules and operations. The problem of congestion and delays could be substantially alleviated with this three-hour rule.”
According to the BTC, passengers will likely experience problems during the period when airlines are reengineering their businesses as 120 days is may not be sufficient time for airlines to prepare for this kind of fundamental and complex change-management process. Over the longer term, however, the BTC believes passengers will move throughout the aviation system much more efficiently and business travelers in particular will recapture productivity lost sitting on delayed aircraft.
"All passengers will benefit from the requirement that airlines must provide food, water, operable lavatories and medical attention as needed," added Mitchell. "Importantly, passengers will finally have hope and realistic expectations that there is an exit strategy should a flight be destined to remain excessively delayed."
The ATA, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, said the airlines will comply but warned of unintended consequences including more canceled flights. “We will comply with the new rule even though we believe it will lead to unintended consequences— more cancelled flights and greater passenger inconvenience. In particular, the requirement of having planes return to the gates within a three hour window or face significant fines is inconsistent with our goal of completing as many flights as possible. Lengthy tarmac delays benefit no one,” said ATA president and CEO James C. May.