New DOT Consumer Rule Limits Airline Tarmac Delays

December 21, 2009 · Posted in Commentary 

The United States Department of Transportation, USDOT, issued a new rule today that prohibits U.S. aircraft on domestic routes from remaining on a tarmac for more than three hours with passengers aboard.  The only exceptions would be for “safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. 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, with the same exceptions applicable.”

According to the USDOT press release, airlines are also required “to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.”

Included in the rule:

• Prohibits airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those who do to DOT enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices;
• Requires airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints;
• Requires airlines to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate;
• Requires airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans; and
• Prohibits airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.

The new rule goes into effect 120 days after date of publication in the Federal Register.

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