DOT: Long Tarmac Delays Dramatically Diminished

During the first 12 months after a new rule limiting 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 today.

“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, the DOT said.

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 DOT 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 Aug. 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.

DOT data showed that there were four tarmac delays of more than three hours reported in April, equal to the four delays reported in April 2010, but up from the zero reported in March 2011. In April, the carriers also reported that .0700 percent of their scheduled flights had tarmac delays of two hours or more, up from the .0300 percent reported in March 2011.

On-time performance showed an overall on-time arrival rate of 75.5 percent in April, down from the 85.5 percent on-time rate of April 2010 and March 2011’s 79.2 percent rate. In April, the carriers canceled 2.0 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, compared to 0.7 percent in April 2010 and 1.3 percent in March 2011. There were 40 canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours in April 2011, up from 12 in April 2010, the DOT said. At the end of April, there were only six flights that were chronically delayed – more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time – for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for three consecutive months or more.

In April, 7.57 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 6.15 percent in March; 8.35 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 7.41 percent in March; 5.68 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 5.35 percent in March; 0.55 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.32 percent in March; and 0.04 percent for security reasons, equal to 0.04 percent in March.

Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category, the DOT reported. This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved. Weather is also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category. In April, 39.87 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, up 13.23 percent from April 2010, when 35.21 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and up 8.34 percent from March when 36.80 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.