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US airline consumer protection rules take effect: US DoT

29-Apr-2010 12:21 PM

US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced (28-Apr-2010) the implementation of a new rule on 29-Apr-2010, meaning "air travellers must no longer be subjected to lengthy tarmac delays on domestic flights and will enjoy additional consumer protections". Details include:

  • Details of new rule - domestic services: US airlines operating domestic flights may not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at large and medium-hub airports for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security reasons or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations;
  • Details of new rule - international services: US carriers operating international flights departing from or arriving in the US must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers, with the same exceptions applicable. Carriers are required to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention;
  • Effect on cancellations: Secretary LaHood stated the new rule should not lead to large increases in the number of cancelled flights, commenting, "everyone knows the rules going in – the passengers and the airlines. We expect carriers to take steps to avoid tarmac delays and cancellations by adjusting their schedules and providing timely information to passengers";
  • Reason behind the ruling: The rule limiting tarmac delays was adopted in response to a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on the ground aboard aircraft for lengthy periods;
  • Other aspects of the new ruling: The rule also:
    • Prohibits the larger US airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those that do to DoT action for unfair and deceptive practices;
    • Requires US 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 US airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans;
    • Prohibits US airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets;
    • Beginning in late Jul-2010, airlines will be required to display on their website, flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate.
  • Other consumer protection areas: The Department plans to issue a notice of proposed rule-making within the next several months to further strengthen protections for air travellers. Among the areas under consideration are further requirements pertaining to tarmac delays and requirements relating to disclosure of baggage and other fees, and full-fare advertising. [more]

Allegheny County Airport Authority Executive Director, Brad Penrod, stated new regulations on tarmac delays may cause further flight delays at Pittsburgh International Airport, due to an anticipated increase in flight diversions to Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 28-Apr-2010). The airport handled 200 diverted flights in 2009 to an authority gate, while the number of diversions to a gate leased by one of the airport's 13 airlines were not tracked. The number of diversions from East Coast airports that frequently suffer weather-related delays is expected to increase with the new ruling, pushing back Pittsburgh airport’s scheduled services.

Palm Beach International Airport Director, Bruce Pelly, stated it may be difficult to comply with the new tarmac delay legislation as the airport, along with Fort Lauderdale Airport, frequently receives aircraft diverted from Miami, often international services (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 28-Apr-2010). This may cause further delays as in-bound international passengers must be cleared by US Customs and Board Control.

US Senator, Amy Klobuchar, welcomed the new tarmac delay legislation, stating it is a "victory" for airline passengers, who can "no longer be held captive for hours on end” (Associated Press, 28-Apr-2010).

US Department of Transportation
(DoT) denied requests for exemption from the new tarmac delay regulation at New York JFK Airport, susceptible to delay by the construction of a new runway (Ainonline, 28-Apr-2010).