Three-hour wait law to shorten passenger time on tarmac

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by STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on December 21, 2009 at 8:41 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 21 at 8:41 PM

Passengers don't have to take it any more … long, aggravating, helpless waits on the tarmac with little food, stinky toilets and crying babies.

The Obama Administration ordered to let people get off planes delayed on the ground after three hours.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood said the idea behind the new regulations is to send a strong message to airlines not to hold passengers hostage on stuck planes.

"They listened to us. They got what we said, and they honored us with the correct law," said Kate Hanni, airline passenger advocate.

She has been fighting for a federal passenger bill of rights since she was stranded on an American Airlines flight at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport  for more than nine hours. 

"Passengers should have the option of getting off a plane at three hours and their basic human needs be cared for any time they're on the tarmac," Hanni said.

The airlines said it will likely cause more delays.

The current policy of American Airlines sends planes back to the gate after a four-hour ground delay. Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman, said more flights that go back to the gate end up in cancellations.

He said crews can only work so many hours a day mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration and union. By going back to the gate and letting people off often takes so much time, crews use up all their on-duty hours.

"All of the airlines that land at Dallas/Fort Worth have agreed to allowing passengers off in three hours, with the exception of one ― American," said Hanni.

Southwest Airlines wouldn't talk about the new rules, but emphasized its current on-board delay policy in which they make refreshments available on request, make every reasonable effort to ensure the lavatories remain serviceable, inform customers when it is safe to use cell phones, ensure First Aid and other routine medical services remain available and make every reasonable effort to minimize the duration of any onboard ground delay.

Under the new regulations, the only exceptions to the three-hour rule are for safety or security, or if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

Airlines that don't play by the rules face a $27,500 fine ― that's per person, per violation.

Just last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation fined Continental Airlines, Express Jet and Mesaba $175,000 for a nearly six-hour delay in Rochester, Minn.

It was the first fine ever for a tarmac delay.

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