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New guidelines limit passengers’ on-board stays during tarmac delays

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of Transportation today issued new guidelines restricting how long airlines can hold passengers on the tarmac during delays.

The regulations were prompted after an August incident in which a flight was diverted to Rochester, Minn., and then held on the tarmac all night. Passengers were given only one small snack and a drink, and the plane’s on-board toilets weren’t working properly.

Continental Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines (the flight operator) were fined $100,000 in the incident, while Mesaba Airlines, which provided ground operations for the flight, was fined $75,000.

Among the new rules:

• Airlines would be required to provide food and water after a two-hour delay.

• Passengers would have to be deplaned after three hours.

• And airline staff would have to keep the toilets working.

“Airline passengers have rights, and airlines have the obligation to respect those rights. Passengers want — and deserve — to be treated fairly, and these new rules will require airlines to do just that,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a blog entry announcing the move.

Sen. Al Franken hailed the move.

“Their six-hour ordeal was unacceptable and unfortunately not an isolated incident,” Franken said. “I’m glad that with the new three-hour limit imposed by the Department of Transportation today, it won’t happen again.”

The new rule takes effect in 120 days.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by John Roach on 12/21/2009 - 07:52 pm.

    Travelers will find their flights being cancelled much more often as a result of this rule. The potential of a fine for a 747 full of passengers that exceeds $12 million will guarantee that airlines will cancel rather than take even the slightest chance of violating it.

    After the first few thousand cancelled flights and the first several hundred thousand stranded passengers, this rule will go away. And it won’t take long.

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