DOT Says No to Tarmac Waivers

Are consumers getting a break or being setup for increased inconvenience this summer with the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) tough policy on tarmac delays? The DOT yesterday denied the requests of five airlines for a temporary exemption from the new rule limiting tarmac delays. As a result, all U.S. carrier flights covered by the rule will be subject to its terms effective April 29. But what is unknown is the effect of the ruling on airlines and the traveling public.

“Passengers on flights delayed on the tarmac have a right to know they will not be held aboard a plane indefinitely,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “This is an important consumer protection, and we believe it should take effect as planned.”

The tarmac delay provision was part of a new airline passenger protection rule, issued last December, by the DOT. The rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at large and medium hub airports for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. Exceptions were allowed only for safety or security reasons or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

On March 4, JetBlue Airways asked for an exemption from the rule for its operations at New York’s JFK Airport until that airport’s main runway, currently under construction, reopens December 1. That request was followed by similar requests by Delta Air Lines and American Airlines for their operations at JFK, Continental Airlines for its flights at New York LaGuardia Airport and Newark International Airport, and by US Airways for Philadelphia International Airport. The carriers argued that, without the requested exemption, large numbers of flights will have to be canceled at the New York area airports and affected passengers will face significant inconveniences and delays before being accommodated.

The DOT said airlines could minimize tarmac delays by rerouting or rescheduling flights at JFK to allow the airport’s other three runways to absorb the extra traffic. The DOT also noted that it has the ability to take into account the impact of the runway closure and the harm to consumers when deciding whether to pursue enforcement action. The DOT can also take into account the failure to comply with the rule and the amount of a fine, if any, to seek as a result of non-compliance.




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