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The Department of Transportation (DOT) has ordered that airlines must allow passengers to deplane if they have an airplane wait of 3 hours or longer.
Unfortunately for holiday travelers, the rules won't take effect until 120 days have passed from the DOT's announcement.
NPR reports that the new regulations aim to address largely ignored passenger rights on airplanes. The Obama Administration hopes that it will send an important message across to the airline industry about tarmac delay abuse. NPR quotes Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as saying, "Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly."
The new regulations requires airlines operating domestic flights to allow passengers to deplane if their airplane wait is three hours or longer. It does allow exceptions to this rule for safety, security, or disruption of air traffic control. Airlines must also give passengers food and water within two hours of a tarmac delay as well as access to airplane bathrooms.
Airplane wait is a common theme in airports. From January 2009 until June 2009, 613 flights were grounded on tarmacs for more than three hours. Passengers were forced to stay on the planes.
Airlines who schedule flights that are always late will face charges of unfair and deceptive practices.
Airline companies are opposed to these new regulations. They claim that forcing planes to turn around and go back to terminals will only worsen flight delays. However, the federal government wanted to address the issue of tarmac delay. Last month, the Dept. of Transportation actually penalized Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines and Mesaba Airlines for a six hour airplane wait on Continental Express Flight 2816 en route to Minneapolis. The passengers were diverted to Rochester and forced to sit in the plane overnight. The employees refused to open the gate to allow passengers to enter the airport terminal. It was the first time that the agency penalized an airline for a tarmac delay.