The U.S. government will investigate why passengers were stranded so long on JetBlue Airways Corp. and American Airlines planes, increasing pressure on carriers to improve service.
"I have serious concerns about airlines' contingency planning that allows passengers to sit on the tarmac for hours," Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said Tuesday in Washington.
Peters asked her department's inspector general, Calvin Scovel, to look into incidents at JetBlue this month and at AMR Corp.'s American in December. She also wants him to examine airlines' customer-service commitments and policies for dealing with extended ground delays.
The government auditor joins consumers and members of Congress in examining whether airlines are doing enough to address service problems.
The Air Transport Assn., the industry's trade group, has proposed voluntary steps rather than mandates under so-called passengers' rights legislation.
Some JetBlue passengers were stranded on planes in New York close to 10 hours because of a Feb. 14 ice storm. More than 4,600 travelers on American were stuck on aircraft in Texas during December thunderstorms.
Peters asked that Scovel recommend what airlines, airports and the government could do to prevent similar events, as well as share successful practices.
"We will cooperate fully with the DOT inspector general," said Jenny Dervin, a spokeswoman for Forest Hills, N.Y.-based JetBlue. The company "shares those concerns" voiced by Peters and is making changes to avoid repeating its problems, she said.
American Airlines wants to show the department what happened during "the massive thunderstorms" Dec. 29, how it responded and procedural changes it made, said Tim Wagner, a spokesman for the Fort Worth-based carrier.