Business, Economics and Jobs

Airlines want permission to make passengers wait on the tarmac for more than 3 hours


The crew of the E-4B, the plane for the US Secretary of Defense, waits for the Secretary to arrive at sunrise to leave for a NATO conference in Brussels, Belgium on Feb. 1, 2012 from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.


Jacquelyn Martin-Pool

Now that Federal Aviation Administration furloughs have gone into effect, the US Department of Transportation is considering lifting a rule that says airplanes can't remain on the tarmac for more than three hours for domestic flights before allowing passengers to deplane.

The tarmac delay rule was put into place in 2009 after a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on airplanes for lengthy periods of time. The Department of Transportation mentions one case of a six-hour ground delay in Rochester, Minn.

Two airline industry associations filed a motion with the Department of Transportation requesting a moratorium on the rule for at least 90 days or until the FAA furloughs end. They cite the "substantial delay and disruption to air travel that will occur at US airports from the FAA decision to implement daily ground delays and reduce air traffic control personnel" as part of the federal spending cuts known as the sequester.

The motion notes that about 6,700 flights will be delayed daily at 13 of the country's busiest airports now that the furloughs have started. And that doesn't take into consideration bad weather, staffing problems or "any other issues that could affect daily operations." 

To put that into perspective, the most flight delays experienced on a single day in the US in 2012 was 2,994, according to the document.

The airline associations argue that these delays might make it difficult to comply with the Department of Transportation's tarmac delay rule, which comes with penalties for those who break it. If the rule stays in place, the motion says airlines "may be forced to cancel flights and significantly disrupt the travel plans of their passengers."

But if the rule is lifted, passengers might be kept on their planes for more than three hours as the aircraft sits on the tarmac.

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