No waivers for tarmac-delay rule, US official says
Domestic airlines will face stiff fines under system taking effect Thursday
WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday he has turned down requests from five airlines for temporary exemptions to a rule against keeping passengers waiting longer than three hours on airport tarmacs.
The new rule, which goes into effect Thursday, calls for airlines to be fined up to $27,500 per passenger for each violation.
“Passengers on flights delayed on the tarmac have a right to know they will not be held aboard a plane indefinitely,’’ LaHood said in a statement. “This is an important consumer protection, and we believe it should take effect as planned.’’
The provision was part of a new airline passenger protection rule announced in December. It prohibits US airlines operating domestic flights from keeping flights on the tarmac at large or medium airports for more than three hours without letting passengers get off the plane. Exceptions are allowed for safety or security reasons, or if air-traffic control tells the flight’s captain that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.
The rule also requires that passengers be provided with working toilets and, after two hours, food and drinking water.
On March 4, JetBlue Airways asked for an exemption for its operations at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport until its main runway, closed for construction, reopens on July 1. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines then filed similar requests for their JFK operations.
Continental Airlines requested an exemption for its flights at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, and US Airways sought one covering Philadelphia International.
The carriers said that without the exemptions, large numbers of flights would have to be canceled at the New York-area airports, causing even greater inconvenience for passengers.
Congestion in New York has a ripple effect on operations at airports across the country, accounting for a large share of flight delays on any given day.
In announcing its denial of the requested exemptions, the Transportation Department said that the airlines could minimize tarmac delays by rerouting or rescheduling flights at JFK, and that the agency can factor in JFK’s congestion when deciding whether to issue fines.