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New Rules Limit Tarmac Waiting to 3 Hours-Is it Still Too Long?

Over the past couple of years we have heard horror stories of people stuck inside airplanes on tarmacs for hours, with bathrooms backing up, crying kids, no food, no end in sight. That will hopefully be a thing of the past under new rules announced Monday. But do those rules?go far enough?

The time limit will now be three hours. According to the guidelines the Transportation Department handed down, passengers must be given food and water if they are on a plane waiting to take off for two hours. By the third hour, passengers must be given the option of getting off the plane. The fine for failing to comply will be $27,500 per passenger.

“This is President Obama's Passenger Bill of Rights,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The problem was highlighted by a Continental Express flight that sat on the tarmac in Minnesota overnight with 47 passengers. There were conflicting stories on who would not allow the plane to return to the terminal. In all, $175,000 in fines were imposed. Under the new rules, that fine would have been $1.3 million.

There are some exceptions to the new rules. LaHood said that if returning to the terminal would cause a safety problem or interfere with operations at the airport, airlines would not be penalized.

The Transportation Department said that in 2007 and 2008 there was an average of 1,500 flights a year, with 114,000 passengers, held on the tarmac for more than three hours. Department officials said that with a rule in place, the number of such delays was certain to fall.

The airlines are generally reluctant to take an airplane back to the terminal, because the plane then loses its place in line for takeoff and must start again at the end.

As far as airlines that do not serve food, LaHood said they would have to have emergency supplies on hand.

“They’re going to have to have peanuts, pretzels on their regional jets; they’re going to have to start stocking up,” he said.

The new rules, which apply only for domestic flights, go into effect in 120 days.


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