New Tarmac Delay Rules: More Harm Than Good?

The regulations aim to save travelers from languishing on the tarmac

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Flying on commercial airlines is an activity plagued with hassles, but the Department of Transportation has implemented new rules it hopes will end one big hassle: Sitting on the tarmac for hours at a time. Any traveler who has experienced this inconvenience, which can be caused by anything from delays to faulty gate equipment, can attest to just how unpleasant it is. Now the government says it will fine airlines for holding passengers on the tarmac for over three hours. But the law could cause some unintended harm. Here's the good and the bad.

  • Your New Rights   Fox News' Brian Wilson explains, "If your plane pulls back from the gate and sits on the tarmac for two hours, the airline must give you access to food, water and the plane's bathroom. Before three hours have passed, they have to take you back to the gate. Believe me, when I say the airlines will take this seriously. They can be fined $27,500 per passenger. If the plane is full, that could add up to somewhere in the neighborhood of a $3 million dollar fine."
  • The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back  Fox News' Paul Eisenberg recounts the incident that finally spurred regulators to action. "Last August, a Continental flight heading from Houston to Minneapolis-St. Paul was diverted to Minnesota's Rochester International Airport because of thunderstorms in the Twin Cities. The 47 passengers and the flight crew sat on the Rochester tarmac for nearly six hours overnight without ample water or food as well as a toilet tank that was never meant to be used for a six-hour stretch." Other accounts say the passengers subsisted on rationed Pringles.
  • Why This Could Cause Problems  MarketWatch's Christopher Hinton warns, "airlines are crying foul, saying that the new rules will lead them to cancel flights rather than risk the fines. While other observers question how carriers will implement such requirements as having food and water on hand, as well as clean lavatories, in the event of long delays. ... For the new rules to work, there need to be spare gates, extra personnel, storage space for reserve food and water, and means to service aircraft stranded on the tarmac that can't get back to a terminal, all of which means extra costs and eventually, higher ticket prices."
  • The Nightmare Scenario  USA Today's Ben Mutzabaugh passes along the concerns of Airline CEOs. "As for a spike in cancellations, several big airline CEOs have warned they think that is exactly what will happen. So, in such a scenario, passengers may be able to get off the plane and avoid ultra-long ground delays - but then could face delays of as long as several days in trying rebook on a new flight to their destination. That's because planes are flying at nearly full levels and because airlines have dramatically reduced capacity over the past two years."
  • Also Targets Unrealistic Scheduling  CNN's Marnie Hunter says the new rules also go after the notorious airline practice of scheduling flights it doesn't believe will really leave on time. "Large airlines can be penalized for unrealistic scheduling, which may include a frequently canceled flight or one that is considered "chronically delayed." The designation applies to flights that operate at least 10 times a month and arrive more than 30 minutes late more than half the time. Carriers with flights that are chronically delayed for more than four consecutive 30-day periods would be subject to penalties. Beginning at the end of July, large airlines will have to provide flight delay information on their websites for all domestic flights early in the purchasing process."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.