New Airline Rules in Effect

Fewer than 1% of flights have "surface delays" of more than three hours, but upwards of 200,000 passengers are affected by such delays each year. Unfortunately, new rules preventing this nightmare were designed with a major loophole.

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s headline news. Airline travelers stuck on the tarmac for hours and even overnight are likely to spark a feeding frenzy by cable news networks and other media. According to air travel consultants, fewer than 1% of flights have “surface delays” of more than three hours, but upwards of 200,000 passengers are affected by such delays each year.

Something tells me we're not leaving anytime soon

Now there are new rules aimed at preventing this traveler’s nightmare from occurring. According to the new regulations, airlines face hefty fines if they strand passengers for more than three hours. In addition to the requirement that they get the passengers off the plane within the three-hour limit, airlines must provide working rest rooms and medical attention, if necessary, while the passengers are on the plane. They must also give them food and drinking water after two hours. Those air carriers who run afoul of the rules will pay a fine of as much as $27,500 per passenger.

Perhaps the biggest loophole in the new rules is an exemption that kicks in if returning the plane to the departure gate would jeopardize security or safety or disrupt airport operations. With gate space limited at many airports, airlines might find an out by arguing that getting passengers off a plane safely and securely was impossible. Airline executives also claim that the new rules might lead to more flight cancellations, but industry analysts believe cancelled flights would not become common, since they could cost the airlines thousands of dollars in much-needed revenue.

One big enough through which to fly a plane

At FlyersRights.org, you’ll find airline rankings based on the number of three-hour-plus delays per departure. JetBlue turned in the worst performance, while Southwest, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines all did well. Assigning a letter grade to each of the 18 airlines it ranked, the organization gave a C or better to just six. Ten, including JetBlue, Delta, United, US Airways, American, and Continental, rated an F.