airline-cabin-chris-sloan-airchivedotcom.jpgResponding to horror stories of stranded travelers, the Obama Administration yesterday established a 3-hour time limit for airline passengers to be delayed on the tarmac before lifting-off.

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 bringing passengers back to the gate. Carriers are also now required to provide adequate food and drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and medical attention if necessary.

“Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

This rule was adopted in response to a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on the ground aboard aircraft for many hours. After one of the most publicized incidents, where passengers were made to stay on a cramped commuter plane overnight, the Transportation Department issued the first-ever government fine of an airline for a tarmac stranding. Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines and Mesaba Airlines were fined $175,000 for their roles in the nearly six-hour ground delay at Rochester, MN.

From January to June this year, according to an AP report, 613 planes were delayed on tarmacs for more than three hours, with passengers kept on board.

The new rule, which will take affect in 120 days, also:

• Prohibits airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting them to enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices;
• Requires 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 airlines to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate;
• Requires airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans; and
• Prohibits airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.


Boeing 737 photo courtesy Chris Sloan


  1. This seems so logical and so long overdue. I hope it holds and that the airlines don’t manage to block it! It’s one of my biggest fears of traveling with two little kids. Truly great news!

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