US DOT denies airline requests for tarmac rule exemptions

Washington DC
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JetBlue Airways says it is "disappointed" after the US Department of Transportation (DOT) denied a request for an exemption from a new tarmac delay rule at the carrier's hub at John F Kennedy Airport.

DOT also denied similar exemption requests from Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, US Airways and Continental Airlines - all with operations in and around New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The new rule, effective 29 April, imposes a three hour time limit for grounded passengers on domestic flights and requires airlines to have emergency plans in place to provide passengers adequate food, water and toilet facilities during lengthy tarmac delays.

"We are disappointed in the DOT's ruling, but we have every intention of complying with this rule when it goes into effect next week," JetBlue said in a statement released on 23 April. "We will continue to provide, as we do every day under our own Customer Bill of Rights, sufficient food and beverages during a ground delay as well as access to lavatories and working television."

JetBlue requested the exemption citing the closure of JFK's main runway from March through June for reconstruction. The carrier sought the exemption to avoid being penalised if JFK becomes gridlocked during peak operating times due the runway closure.

Airlines that operate out of JFK had already voluntarily restricted their operations and reduced schedules to mitigate delays during construction.

The New York airspace, under ideal conditions, is one of the most congested in the USA. All of the carriers argued that without the exemptions, large numbers of flights will have to be cancelled at the New York area airports and passengers will face further delays and inconvenience before they can be re-accommodated.

In denying the requests from all five airlines, the DOT says that the carriers could resolve some of the issues by "further adjustment of schedules as appropriate and that the public interest would be better served by keeping the full protections of the tarmac delay ruling in place".

The agency also says if "totally unexpected situations occur appropriate prosecutorial discretion can be applied with respect to potential enforcement actions".

American Airlines issued its own comment to DOT's decision, saying it is "gratified that the Department understands the unique challenges at Kennedy", and will take those issues into account when deciding whether to pursue civil penalties".