Tarmac Imprisonment Limited To 3 Hours

Airlines must let passengers stuck in airplanes stranded on the tarmac get off after 3 hours, the Transportation Department today ordered. They’re also now only allowed to starve you for 2 hours, after which they must serve pizza or a reasonable facsimile. Toilets must be functional during the entire time as well.

In addition, airlines are prohibted from scheduling flights that are always always delayed.

Airlines that violate the rules will be subject to some sort of government enforcement action.

The new rules may not save anyone any holiday travel headaches; the regulations don’t go into effect for 120 days.

U.S. Limits Tarmac Waits for Passengers to Three Hours [NYT via Jeff Jarvis]


Edit Your Comment

  1. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    “Airlines that violate the rules will be subject to some sort of government enforcement action.”

    Bad airline! Bad airline! No! NO!

    {airline gets bapped on the nose with rolled up newspaper}

  2. Aresef says:

    Quite timely. The other day, passengers on an Air Jamaica flight leaving Baltimore got stranded when the plane got stuck in ice. It pulled away from the gate at 8:35. They didn’t get out of there until 3 or so. Some passengers called TV stations and even the cops to get the word out.


    • Tim says:

      The rule only applies to domestic flights. As for international ones:

      U.S. carriers operating international flights departing from or arriving in the United States must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers.

      And, of course, Air Jamaica is not a U.S. carrier.

    • Esquire99 says:

      I’m not sure I see the problem with the Air Jamaica flight. It got STUCK IN THE ICE and couldn’t be returned to the gate, despite attempts to do so. I see no “wrong” that was committed there, as it wasn’t a deliberate refusal to let the passengers deplane.

      • ktetch says:

        Theres these great things, called ‘portable stairs’ that can be used to deplain people without needing a jetway. Works well at a lot of airports.

        • Rachacha says:

          First one needs to get said portable stairs and busses out on to the taxiway in the middle of a major snow event, the 6th largest snow event ever recorded in Baltimore/Washington’s history. If a plane gets stuck in the snow, what is the liklihood that a bus and pick-up truck will not get stuck? Not always an easy task when by 9:00 in the morning there was 7 inches of snow on the ground. and it was around that time when the heaviest snow was coming down (this in a city that is lucky to see 7 inches of snow in an entire year, let alone 7 inches of snow in one day.

          • _hi_ says:

            In my neck of the woods it’s called being prepared.

            An airplane as you might not know makes a rather clumsy vehicle when on the ground. Airplanes are made to fly. They don’t really make them for moving around on the ground a lot. They are designed to taxi from here to there or to park it someplace. On the other hand a big truck like say… a snow plow, now those things are made for plowing snow and don’t make good airplanes. Now one could argue that a ladder or stairs are dangerous in the snow. This is where I introduce you to salt. Salt melts ice. It’s weird like that. Now add in something like a bus or another vehicle capable of driving a bunch of people on a newly plowed and salt covered ice melted tarmack and you can almost see the outcome.

        • supercereal says:

          You just can’t win around here. If it were the other way around, I’m sure you’d be complaining about how the poor passengers were forced by the big, bad airline into the unforgiving snow and ice to fight for their lives…

        • pot_roast says:

          The article notes that it was stuck on the runway. Getting stairs out there would probably be rather difficult, since the runways at BWI aren’t exactly right next to the terminals.

      • Aresef says:

        The passengers didn’t get food or even a straight answer about how long they would be stuck there. It was probably a mistake to even let the flight try to go as scheduled, though a few did take off that day. At the end of it, I’m not sure if they even got any compensation.

        And in any case, these rules wouldn’t have done anything for them, since they don’t extend to foreign carriers.

  3. Don't_rip_me_off_bro says:

    This is great. Though it still kind of boggles my mind that it took a government mandate for airlines to treat human beings this ‘well’.

    • pop top says:

      Exactly. It’s horror stories like the people being trapped for hours on the flight that had the human waste slowly creeping down the aisle that make me laugh at people who truly believe that corporations can regulate themselves, that they will take care of the customers and not try to actively screw them over, etc. Even with government regulation and intervention they still treat people like shit.

      • kateblack says:

        The feces was allowed to remain in the aisle. If a passenger tried to move forward through the cabin, he would’ve been tackled, held by the TSA and put on a no-fly list.

        I’d say the airlines treat shit better than passengers.

    • StarVapor says:

      This mess originated with Homeland Security rules that gave Airlines legal authority to treat any passenger that complains about anything occurring inside of an aircraft as a terrorist suspect.
      So you basically had to sit down, shut up, and take any crap that a flight crew subjectively decides to dump on you regardless of the situation. If you object to the flight crew for being treated that way, you risk being arrested when you deplane at you destination.

  4. dourdan says:

    just in time for the hot months!

  5. cynical_reincarnation says:

    Airline then gets fined, and begs for government bailout.

    The circle, of life.

  6. FatLynn says:

    Pizza? Isn’t that a poor choice, in that many people can’t eat it?

    • osiris73 says:

      As long as I get my kosher, vegan, pizza that’s fat and gluten free, I’ll be fine.

    • vladthepaler says:

      The post says a facsimile of a pizza is acceptable. i don’t think there are dietary restrictions on faxes.

    • ahecht says:

      According to the actual text of the regulation (DOT-OST-2007-0022) which can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480a6e352 the regulation would actually call for:

      >>an assurance that the air carrier
      >>will provide adequate food and potable water no later than two hours after the aircraft leaves the
      >>gate (in the case of a departure) or touches down (in the case of an arrival) if the aircraft remains
      >>on the tarmac, unless the pilot-in-command determines that safety or security requirements
      >>preclude such service;

      This is further clarified:

      >>The Department would consider snack foods
      >>such as pretzels or granola bars that carriers typically provide on flights to suffice as “adequate”
      >>food. We have clarified in this rule, as suggested by at least one commenter, that the water
      >>required under our rule must be “potable,” i.e. drinking water.

      The pizza stuff was an attempt at humor by the Consumerist, and is in fact wrong. Nothing more than snack food is actually required.

  7. mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

    FTA: “The regulation provides exceptions only for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.”

    Seems like a loophole big enough for a 747 to taxi through.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i was just thinking that.
      almost ANYTHING can be filed under safety.

      just like the current “it’s the weather. in oregon. which is nowhere near your departure city or destination. but there’s bad weather somewhere in the world and we are totally blaming this flight delay on THAT”

      i can’t wait for the news report: “the flight crew advised that a piece of laminate on the bathroom counter was slightly peeling up on the rear inside corner. this provided a safety hazard to the passengers, forcing us to hold them on the tarmac for 17 hours while someone located a tube of superglue”

    • ubermex says:

      ATC wouldn’t often say that. Usually it’s the airline that doesn’t want to deplane anyone. The airport itself operates on a much better bunch of policies most of the time.

      • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

        I was mostly focused on the first part of that clause, which catastrophegirl expounded upon nicely. But all ATC would have to say is that they would have to stop one other taxing plane for 3 minutes in order for your plane to return to the gate, and technically it would “disrupt airport operations.”

        • Kitamura says:

          I wonder who gets to determine “safety” though. It could make a big difference based on who’s allowed to say you can’t deplane due to “security” reasons.

      • SacraBos says:

        No but the airline will use the “security” loophole, in that there isn’t sufficient security available at the gate in order to deplane. Which is odd, since obviously there was enough security available to get you on the plane.

    • Rachacha says:

      “Disrupting airport operations” = there are no free gates available which if you have ever arrived early on a flight to your destination you know is true as you sit on the tarmac for a while, losing any time advantage you made up in the air.

    • Clumber says:

      yeeesss… but not quite an A380… MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  8. fsnuffer says:

    They also need to give passengers of canceled flights priority. With flights today being so full, your flight gets canceled and their response is that they might be able to get you a seat five days from now. There are people from this weekends storm that are being told the first available seat in on Dec 25th.

    • pittpanther says:

      Well, I don;t know what the airlines can do about finding seats for passengers from canceled flights, given that most flights are already close to full around the holidays. I’m sure the canceled passengers will have priority as Stand-By passengers, but that’s always a crap shoot as to whether you and you family will be able to get on a flight.

  9. Tim says:

    Huh. I guess that’s one way DOT could do it, making a rule. Now some airlines will probably take them to court for overstepping their authority, they’ll get a preliminary injunction and nothing will happen until Congress gets its act together and actually passes a law.

  10. mergatroy6 says:

    120 days before it takes effect?

    • Tim says:

      Standard practice for when an executive office makes a rule. It’s not legislation, which has much more flexibility in those terms.

  11. parkj238 says:

    I guess its a good thing that my corporate job doesn’t require me to fly often or have too many vacation days… I’ve never been stranded on a tarmac for three hours.

  12. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    …they must serve pizza OR a reasonable facsimile.

    Looks like Dominos will be getting a sweet contract for jetway deliveries.

  13. metsarethe... says:

    So if you were trapped for more than a few hours, you could conceivably break the toilet to make them take you back?

    If I were desperate enough, I think i’d try it

  14. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    Can’t airports build a standalone waiting room on the tarmac that contains vending machines, comfortable seats, and regular bathrooms? The airplane drives you to that standalone waiting room while it waits its turn to take off.

    • ARP says:

      I was wondering that too. Maybe not on the Tarmac, but isolated from the rest of the terminal (maybe just behind an alarmed door? So, that if its cancelled they can enter the regular terminal.), so that they can quickly reboard without security concerns.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      …how about a set of steps on all-terrain tires that can be tugged out to a plane on the tarmac so people can just get off and walk/get bussed back to the terminal?

    • yevarechecha says:

      Dulles basically already has these. They’re called mobile lounges (no bathrooms on them, though). They usually use them as shuttles between terminals, but we were on a British Airways 747 on our way back from London a few years ago and they deplaned us straight into the mobile lounges instead of a jetway and then drove us all to the terminal. Probably because it was a full 747 and thus huge, but it is definitely possible to set up a system that doesn’t need an available gate to get passengers off a plane.

  15. vladthepaler says:

    Why the delay? The rules themselves sound like a good start.

    Enforcement should include a manditory minimum $100,000 fine. I mean, it needs to be clear to the airlines from the start that it is just not worth it to violate the rules. Otherwise they’ll just decide it’s easier to suck up the stern warning than it is to let people get off the plane.

  16. nbs2 says:

    Prohibiting flights that are always delayed may be a problem. Take a look at the list of flights in and out of EWR/JFK/LGA, and by late afternoon almost every flight is delayed. That’s why airlines that fly there build in recovery time into their schedules to make up for expected congestion. Prohibiting always delayed flights will demand wholesale slashing of afternoon and evening flights in and out of NYC.

    Does the order prohibit always delayed flights or always late arriving flights (if airlines can’t make their recovery time, that’s a problem)?

    Beyond that one concern, this is a positive.

    • jamar0303 says:

      Why exactly is this such a problem for the NYC area, anyway? Seriously, 3 airports and delays still get that bad? This isn’t Kai Tak we’re talking about! Why aren’t flights being moved to Islip if crowding is that bad?

      • nbs2 says:

        Combination of factors, but with a few major culprits:

        1) Winds can be unpredictable in the NYC area, and it take just a few gusts to create a cascade effect

        2) Yes, the schedules are overstuffed, but that is partly because of the size of NYC and the traffic that goes up and down the NE corridor. Think of this – even with all these flights, 95 is a parking lot and Amtrak(!) turns a profit. Once the cascade starts, the congestion takes a long time to recover from. And that doesn’t include international flights, for which NYC serves as a major hub.

        3) They try to account for delays – you may be late leaving, but the reason your 45 minute DCA-EWR flight is scheduled to take 2 hours is so that they can recover. But, it isn’t always enough. If you are flying in/out NYC, early flights are nearly essential.

        4) Who wants to go out to Islip? Really. It’s too far away to be convenient for most people (remember traffic concerns for getting to the airport). Competition means that you want those spots as close to downtown as you can get them. The only saving grace for CO at EWR are the idiots like me who have to be cajoled into even considering any other legacy carrier (and the AirTrain or whatever they call it).

        • jamar0303 says:

          I’m not surprised Amtrak turns a profit on these routes given such conditions for air travel. I really think that most NE Corridor traffic and traffic to upstate/eastern Canada at the very least should be moved out to Islip. It’s not convenient as it is now, but let’s look at Japan; most of its major int’l airports are inconvenient (Tokyo’s International airport is farther from its city center than Islip is from downtown NYC). They built rapid rail links to make this better, why can’t NYC? Run the AirTrain out there fast and it becomes a viable alternative for short-haul and some cross-border traffic (for example, to Toronto). Link it to JFK and LGA by AirTrain. Apart from a few feeders for int’l flights JFK should be all international and LGA should be all domestic medium/long-haul but an AirTrain would make connections go smoothly.
          (You’ll notice I don’t mention EWR. This is because I think that airport may be beyond help.)

    • Jfielder says:

      My last flight from NYC was out of LGA in the afternoon, after I booked it I found it had a 2% on time rating…. Needless to say I wasn’t the lucky 2%. My flight changed gates 6 times (that i know of, I gave up and went to the bar after #5) and was delayed over 2 hours.

    • sirwired says:

      The flights are always delayed because the airlines stuff the schedule so full, it cannot possibly be met consistently. They simply fail to build in enough time to account for the almost constant delays.

  17. dougp26364 says:

    I guess I better be watching my flights closely. That blurb about they can’t schedule flights that are always “delayed” is bound the shake a few things up for future flights.

  18. citrusfa says:

    The real blame for the majority of tarmac delays should be placed with the outdated ATC system the FAA refuses to replace. There have been plenty of times that my flights have closed out, and either as soon as the last passenger has boarded, the door has closed, the plane has pushed back, or we have taxied the entire way to the runway, and ATC will inform the front-end crew that our destination city will not allow us to take off until a certain time. The airline AND ATC then usually won’t let passengers deplane, because when the takeoff clearance comes, it means right this minute, not 30 minutes from now because you’re waiting for passengers to re-board.

    It’s ridiculous, and I’m sure there are better ways to do it, but for now we’re left with ol’ stick-in-the-mud FAA and their insistence that, yes, our computer and operations systems work just fine!

    • sirwired says:

      The problem isn’t the ATC system. For the chronically congested NYC-area airports, it is the airlines, who schedule more flights than the runways and taxiways can possibly handle if there is the least little glitch anywhere in the northeast.

      When you hear “ATC delay” as a delay reason, it usually means one of two things: 1) The weather sucks, which means required increased plane spacing. 2) There are simply more planes scheduled to come in than the airport/traffic pattern can handle. This happens every time the weather delays (and then lets go) a whole wave of flights.

      Every time the FAA tries to limit scheduled flights, the airlines bitch and moan, and get their way.

    • kubus_gt says:

      Thank You CitrusFA for spelling out the exact problem.
      FAA wasted more tax payers money then any other gov’t agency and did nothing to do something about the issues. I’ll never forget the idiots blamed the Airlines for delayes and said that airlines should just schedule less flights.
      Worse part is that Airlines just take it from FAA without much of opposition. Grow some balls already!

  19. chenster02453 says:

    It’s about time! Lets hope that the Transportation Department can and will enforce this new rule better than how the SEC and Fed enforced financial regulation.

  20. lannister80 says:

    Yeah, unless returning the plane to the gate would “disrupt airport operations”.

    Nice loophole there, but it gets trotted out every time people are stuck for more than 3 hours.

  21. Wang_Chung_Tonight says:

    they will also give you a P.O.W. plaque

  22. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    That’s good news. We are going back to the good olde days – although pizza (or a reasonable facsimile) isn’t exactly beefsteaks and fixings….

    When Englishman Anthony Trollope (his mother was the original ‘trollope’) toured America in 1861 the Lake Michigan boat from Grand Haven to Milwaukee was delayed due to a storm…

    …And I was soon informed with considerable energy, that let the boat be kept there as long as it might by the stress of weather, the beefsteaks and apple jam, tea, light fixings and heavy fixings, must be supplied at the cost of the owners of the ship.

    “The first supper you pay for,” my informant told me, “because you eat that on your own account. What you consume after that comes out of their doing, because they don’t start; and if it’s 3 meals a day for week,it’s their look out.”

    It occurred to me that under such circumstances a captain would be very apt to sail in either foul weather or in fair. – AT

  23. fantomesq says:

    The fine is $27,500 per person… I’d say that’s teeth, if the loopholes don’t eviscerate it.


  24. Aphex242 says:

    It’s a shame we have a ‘socialist’ regime willing to interfere with ‘big business’ and ‘capitalism’ in this despicable manner.

    (I’m hoping my sarcasm’s coming through, here. Go get ’em, Obama.)

  25. LostTurntable says:

    I’m glad they finally took care of this because if they didn’t someone was going to die eventually. Most likely at my hands if I ended up stuck in an on-ground airplane for four hours.

  26. Aisley says:

    120 days is quite a long time, and with the East coast weather it looks even worse. So I’ll use the solution from the Department of Aisley Transportation:

    1. Make sure you’re seated and your seat belt is buckled up.
    2. In the most polite and melodious voice call the closest flight attendant.
    3. Still in a polite and sweet tone, ask the FA if you’re allowed to leave the plane.
    4. When (s)he says “no”, say thank you with a polite smile and lean back on your seat.
    5. Wait for 10 to 15 minutes.
    6. Look for the closest FA and in repeat # 2.
    7. Repeat #3
    8. (S)he’ll repeat # 4
    9. Go ahead and repeat from #5 to #8.
    10. Ready, now you have yourself more than enough cause to take the airline to court for
    11. Enjoy!

  27. Dustinm says:

    ugghhh, I’m going to be getting on a flight from Sacramento to Co. Springs on Wed. and I’m not looking forward to it at all. I’m going to keep my point-and-shoot cam on me to catch an airline antics on video if we get delayed because of the expected snow in Co Springs that day.