The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) responded positively to news from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that tarmac delays greater than three hours in duration fell from 268 in June of 2009 to 3 in June of 2010, without any corresponding increase in the cancellation rate.
“This is very positive news for consumers and would appear to point to validation of DOT’s implementation-timetable of 120 days for airlines to adjust to the new three-hour rule, stated BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell. “However, it’s premature for a victory lap among supporters of the new rules as 2 full months of data is insufficient to draw definitive longer-term conclusions.”
BTC believes that, if these positive outcomes hold up for the rest of the summer, then an appropriate conclusion would be that airlines, “faced with the right level of financial incentives, could indeed move swiftly to comply with new rules even in a highly complex area of their business.”
According to the DOT’s Travel Consumer Report, the only tarmac delays longer than three hours reported in June by the 18 airlines who file on-time performance with DOT involved three United Airlines flights departing Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on June 18, a day in which the Chicago area experienced a severe thunderstorm. None of the tarmac delays exceeded the three-hour limit by more than five minutes, the DOT said.
June was the second full month of data since the new DOT aviation consumer rule went into effect on April 29. In May, the first full month, there were five reported tarmac times of more than three hours, down from 34 in May 2009. A subsequent DOT investigation determined that four of the five May flights were misreported by the airline.
The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, 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. The DOT said it will investigate tarmac delays that exceed this limit.
The monthly report also includes data on on-time performance, chronically delayed flights, flight cancellations and the causes of flight delays by the reporting carriers. In addition, it has information on airline bumping, reports of mishandled baggage filed with the carriers, and consumer service, disability and discrimination complaints received by DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.