Tarmac-Delay Rules Give Travelers More Respect
If you're afraid of being trapped in a parked plane on your next trip, stop worrying.
Only three flights were delayed more than three hours in July, the latest month reported by the
"Unfortunately, the way the weather pattern was that day, we couldn't park (the planes) on a gate," she added. "The ramp was closed. Our passengers were given a snack and water, and our crew tried to keep them as comfortable as possible while waiting."
The three American Eagle regional jets bound for
It's been almost a year since passenger-rights activists held a "stakeholders" meeting in
But only in reviewing the effectiveness of the new tarmac-delay rule has the real problem -- and the solution -- become apparent. It wasn't these isolated but maddening delays, but how airlines regarded them, that became troublesome. Regulators looked past the rhetoric of the moment, ignored the fact that this was a small issue and envisioned a big solution: With a patchwork of new rules, they believed, they could encourage airlines to think of their customers in a different, and maybe better, way.
Three full months of data are now available for review. In June, only three flights were delayed more than three hours, also in
"As more time passes, it's becoming clear that the sky is not falling on airlines or their customers over the three-hour tarmac-delay rule," said
But tarmac delays weren't really a crisis before the rule went into effect; they were a shameful but exceedingly rare event. In
Yet for reasons that aren't clear to the casual observer, tarmac delays remain a contentious issue in
The study, which was based on the government's May airline data, claimed that airlines had proactively canceled 140 flights to avoid violating the three-hour rule.
The government has also signaled that it's ready to enforce the three-hour rule, if indirectly. Earlier this month, for example, it went after
And there's more. A sweeping passenger-rights rulemaking initiative currently under consideration would extend the three-hour rule to international carriers, require airlines to coordinate their tarmac-delay contingency plans with all U.S. airports they serve and compel airlines to notify passengers of the flight's status every 30 minutes while a plane is delayed.
What does this mean to the average airline passenger? Your odds of being on a flight that's stuck on the taxiway for more than three hours are extremely low, just as they've always been.
But is air travel a better experience now -- or were tarmac delays an unnecessary diversion?
In the past year, there's been a proliferation of airline fees that have effectively doubled the price of some tickets. Service cuts have continued, two major airlines have merged and two more are about to. Passengers are getting less and paying more.
Did the watchdogs waste their time on the tarmac? Not necessarily, says
"Although tarmac delays were a small problem, they emboldened the government to help airlines find customer service religion again," he said. Proposed new rules covering everything from transparent publication of airfares and airline fees to increases in denied-boarding compensation are "strong evidence" that the
Maybe flight delays aren't such a bad thing, after all.
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