DOT: No Exemptions For New Tarmac Rules

Remember a few weeks back when a bunch of airlines asked the FAA for a temporary exemption to the new rules about how long planes can wait on a tarmac? Earlier today DOT secretary Ray LaHood told them to go take a flying leap.

“Passengers on flights delayed on the tarmac have a right to know they will not be held aboard a plane indefinitely,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement released today. “This is an important consumer protection, and we believe it should take effect as planned.”

The rule, which goes into effect on April 29, “prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at large and medium hub airports for more than three hours without deplaning passengers.”

JetBlue had requested an exemption from the rule for New York’s JFK Airport until the main runway there is reopened on Dec. 1.

Delta and American also made exemption requests for JFK. Continental tried to double up with exemptions at both LaGuardia Airport and Newark International Airport. And U.S. Airways asked for a delay in observing the rule at Philadelphia International Airport.

Here’s the DOT’s rationale:

In denying the requests, the Department concluded that airlines could minimize tarmac delays by rerouting or rescheduling flights at JFK to allow the airport’s other three runways to absorb the extra traffic. The Department also noted that it has the ability to take into account the impact of the runway closure and the harm to consumers when deciding whether to pursue enforcement action for failure to comply with the rule and the amount of a fine, if any, to seek as a result of non-compliance.

Under the rule, airlines can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger for violations. Some have argued that this will actually result in longer waits for passengers by punishing the airlines and not air traffic control, while proponents maintain that only a small number of flights will make it all the way to three hours.

DOT Press Release