DOT issues new 3-hour limit on tarmac delays

The Department of Transportation has created a new rule (going into effect in 120 days) limiting the length of tarmac delays for US airlines to three hours. Furthermore, airlines will have to provide food and water for passengers within two hours of a flight being delayed on the tarmac.

In general this makes sense. I’ve been stuck once or twice on a regional jet for hours, and it’s no fun, but is this rule the solution? Unfortunately I don’t think it is. First of all, three hours is rather arbitrary. I can imagine having a three hour delay, being number two for takeoff, and then returning to the gate because one passenger decides they don’t want to fly anymore. And then of course it all gets more fun from there. At the very least you lose your takeoff slot. Or there’s a good chance your flight will be canceled thanks to the crew going illegal from working too many hours. Besides, is the concourse really that much better than being stuck on a plane when your flight gets canceled and the airport is way overcrowded?

For many types of delays there’s no good solution. But for those where gates are available and you know it’s going to be a long wait, I’d much rather airlines never board the flights to begin with. Of course I realize I’m dreaming….

For a different perspective check out this funny clip from the Rachel Maddow Show (tip of the hat to Matt).

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Besides, is the concourse really that much better than being stuck on a plane when your flight gets canceled and the airport is way overcrowded?

    And that’s Kent Jones’s point entirely. 🙂

  2. Are you against the requirement that we be given food and water after 2 hours and that the lavatories are operable? This could be a challenge for the carriers since they typically don’t have food AT ALL for folks in Y. Also, if we are in the air for 7 hours they don’t give us food (say ORD-HNL) so why do they have to give it to us on the ground for 2 hours? Dont get me wrong, I think they should – but then by that logic they should give us something in the air too, right?

    I argue that the terminal is WAY better than being stuck in a regional jet. At least the terminal has a) AIR b) Restrooms c) enough room to get away from the screaming baby d) the option to LEAVE and stay in a hotel and deal with the problem in the morning. And all that assumes that we are talking about a terminal that’s CLOSED. If it happens during normal business hours then you also have 1) Restaurants 2) Lounges 3) Internet 4) CSRs that you can try to get to help you find another way home!

    I agree with you that 3 hours is abitrary, but I don’t think they will wait till 2:59 then say “sorry we’re going back even though we are next in line for takeoff in 30 seconds.” I think that 15-30 minutes before the 3 hour mark they will tell passengers – hey we’re getting close to takeoff time but we are also close to the time where the airline gets FINED for keeping you stuck in here. So if we don’t make it by 3 hour mark, we’re heading back to the gate because even if they say we are next in line at that point, we really can’t be sure HOW much longer it might be (because anything could happen) and you deserve a chance to stretch your legs, breath some real air, use the restroom and eat something.

  3. What exactly dose this new rule mean? Dose it force the plane to go back to the terminal regardless of what passengers want or dose it allow the passenger the right to ask the plane to go back. I’ve been in similar situations before, and we’ve always been given a choice to go back to the gate even if its a short delay, the pilot will usually let passengers know everything he dose and if there’s someone who wants to get off, then the plane goes to the gate, over wise the plane waits.

  4. “Besides, is the concourse really that much better than being stuck on a plane when your flight gets canceled and the airport is way overcrowded?”

    If there is food, water, walking-around space and working restrooms on the concourse? Hmmm, let me think this over.

  5. “Besides, is the concourse really that much better than being stuck on a plane when your flight gets canceled and the airport is way overcrowded?”

    You must fly up front too often. When you are stuck in the tin can, you have zero options. As soon as you are off the plane, your options open up.

    How often do you think a flight that has a 3+ hour ground delay is successful for the passenger? I would love to see the statistics of the number of flights that actually take off after a long ground delay, and the number of passengers who end up at their intended destination.

    Try to remember, you are in the minority that you actually like being on a plane. From my perspective, if I am not flying, I don’t want to be on a plane. A little further down the spectrum are the people who hate flying, and only do it because it is the only reasonable option for getting from point A to point B.

    I hope you were joking, because it is hard to believe someone would rather spend an extra 3 hours on a plane on the ground than in the airport.

  6. I think the key to this legislation working in favor of the passenger is that is applies to ALL air carriers. If all traffic out of a particular airport is delayed by 4 hours, then everyone will be heading back to the gate once before take off. If this can somehow be choreographed such that each plane gets back into line where it was, then no problemo.

    Also, it should be mandated that take off slots should no longer be held only as long as the plane is “in line” or pushed back. A plane that returned to the gate to satisfy the 3 hour rule should not be pushed to the back of the line after disembarking the psgrs who elect to do so.

  7. After over a decade and almost a million miles of flying, I can count on one hand the times I can recall being on a plane for 3+ hours not moving on a tarmac, and in every single one of those cases I’d have given just about anything to get off that plane.

    It’s very rare when a flight delay of more than 2 hours doesn’t mean there’s some sort of major mechanical problem that popped up during taxi or severe weather – the latter being a situation where they shouldn’t have boarded you on the plane to begin with. This is no-brainer legislation, and is long overdue. It will force airlines to put more thought in to when to board the aircraft and force airports to take measures to eliminate long delays on taxi (here’s looking at you, JFK).

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