Officials from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) today finalised a new rule governing tarmac delays after several highly-publicised incidents that left travellers stranded for lengthy periods of time.
The rule prohibits US carriers operating domestic flights from allowing an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. Exceptions to the rule include safety and security issues or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.
DOT says that US carriers operating international flights departing from or arriving in the US must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers, with the same exceptions applying to those particular operations.
Other provisions of the rule prohibit airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, require airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations and to respond in a timely manner to consumer complaints.
Additionally, airlines are required to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate, adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with those plans.
The rule also prohibits carriers from retroactively applying material changes to contracts of carriage that could negatively impact customers that have already purchased tickets.
DOT states the rule was adopted in response to a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded aboard aircraft for lengthy periods of time, and in response to the high incidence of flight delays.
Last month DOT levied a $100,000 fine against ExpressJet and its partner Continental Airlines after passengers on an 8 August flight remained inside an aircraft on the tarmac for six hours. The ground handler at Rochester International Airport in Minnesota, Mesaba Airlines, was also fined $75,000 for its role in the incident.