New DOT Tarmac Rule Takes Effect

Air travelers must no longer be subjected to lengthy tarmac delays on domestic flights and will enjoy additional consumer protections as a result of a new rule that took effect today. “Airline passengers deserve to be treated fairly, and this new rule will require airlines to respect the rights of their customers,” Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood said.

Under the new rule, U.S. airlines operating domestic flights may not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at large and medium hub airports for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. Exceptions are 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.

U.S. carriers operating international flights departing from or arriving in the country must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers, with the same exceptions applicable, the DOT says. Carriers are required to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.

LaHood said the new rule should not lead to large increases in the number of canceled flights, as some have predicted. “Everyone knows the rules going in— the passengers and the airlines,” he said. “We expect carriers to take steps to avoid tarmac delays and cancellations by adjusting their schedules and providing timely information to passengers. A little extra planning will minimize disruptions while ensuring that passengers are not trapped aboard airplanes indefinitely.”

The rule limiting tarmac delays was adopted in response to a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on the ground aboard aircraft for lengthy periods.

The DOT rule also:

*    Prohibits the largest U.S. airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those that do to DOT enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices.
*    Requires U.S. airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints.
*    Requires U.S. airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans.
*    Prohibits U.S. airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.

In addition, beginning at the end of July, airlines will be required to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate, DOT says.

The DOT also said will strengthen protections for air travelers. In coming months. Among the areas under consideration are further requirements pertaining to tarmac delays and requirements relating to disclosure of baggage and other fees, and full-fare advertising.