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Hostage Release: New Regs Will Limit Wait Times on Airport Tarmacs

But three hours is still a long time, especially in the summer.

by
Andrew Ian Dodge

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December 23, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Just in time for the holiday delay season and the dire traveling weather, new regulations have been issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation to limit how long people can be “trapped” on an airplane on the tarmac. These regulations have been written thanks to the tendency of some airlines to keep people on their planes, waiting to take off, for ludicrous periods of time.

It’s interesting to see the reaction of the  airlines themselves, via their association:

“We will comply with the new rule even though we believe it will lead to unintended consequences — more flights and greater passenger inconvenience. In particular, the requirement of having planes return to the gates within a three hour window or face significant fines is inconsistent with our goal of completing as many flights as possible. Lengthy tarmac delays benefit no one,” said ATA president and CEO James C. May.

Anyone who has experienced sitting in an airplane on the tarmac for more than a couple of hours will wonder how this rule could possibly make things worse. The regulations also add that people should be provided with basic necessities when they are stuck on an airplane.

In 2007, due to bad weather, I was stuck waiting on the tarmac for takeoff. Fortunately, my wife and I were rather patient, as we were returning from our honeymoon. We had already waited in the terminal for longer than we expected. As our flight got delayed more and more, the cafes, bars, and restaurants began to close. By the time we finally boarded it was around 11 p.m. Of course, to us boarding meant taking off, and we were relieved to be finally getting home. But not in this case; we finally took off around 1 a.m. in the morning.

The airline, US Airways, was actually quite good about it and served drinks to us all. When it was clear we couldn’t take off, a catering truck was sent out to replenish our supplies and we were offered more refreshments.

What was most interesting, and from the reports I have read probably unusual, is that as we approached the two-hour mark the captain asked if we wanted to taxi back to the terminal or wait on the aircraft. He reminded us that he would lose his place in the takeoff queue if we did go back and that instead of being fourth in the queue we’d end up being 30th. He actually took a vote of the passengers. No one wanted to go back to the terminal, so we all waited.

It seems from the horror stories one reads that not every pilot or airline is as reasonable. Asking anyone to sit in a cramped seat for over three hours on the ground without refreshments or toilet facilities is clearly unreasonable unless you are willing to refund the cost of the flight. Some airlines seem to think they can treat their passengers like cattle and do with them what they wish once on the airplane.

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