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Airline groups ask for temporary end to tarmac delay rule

April 25, 2013|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • Busy tarmacs have become even busier under cutbacks. Now airline groups seek reprieve from rules limiting delays.
Busy tarmacs have become even busier under cutbacks. Now airline groups… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Remember being stuck on the tarmac for eons before the Department of Transportation instituted a time limit? Those days may be back.

Blame it on budget cuts.

Airlines for America and the Regional Airline Assn. last week asked the Department of Transportation to set aside its tarmac delay rules for 90 days or until the Federal Aviation Administration furloughs mandated by federal budget cuts come to an end.

“Granting this exemption serves the best interests of the flying public by providing airlines with the operating flexibility necessary to focus on responding to the FAA’s projected delays in ways that minimize and avoid worsening the disruption and inconvenience to our passengers,” Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, said in an email. “Airlines and their employees are doing everything they can to manage service delays and interruptions created by the FAA-imposed flight delays and get customers to their destinations.”

The cuts began affecting air traffic this week when 1,500 air traffic controllers were furloughed. The FAA said Tuesday that the temporary layoffs caused 1,200 delays on Monday.

The DOT tarmac rules were instituted in 2010 and allow passengers to get off a plane if they’re stuck for more than three hours.

The rules grew out of several incidents in which travelers were held on planes well past the three-hour mark. The collective outrage gave birth to a movement that has cut the number and length of such delays. Airlines in violation of the rule face substantial fines.

On the one-year anniversary of the implementation of the rule, the DOT reported 20 such tarmac delays from May 2010 through April 2011. From May 2009 through April 2010 — before the rule — the number was reported at 693.

In a response to the exemption request, Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, said in a release Thursday: “This is just when consumers will be needing the tarmac delay protections the most. The airlines appear to be unable to comprehend that the fundamental purpose of the tarmac delay rule is to provide basic, humane treatment for the passengers entrusted to their care."

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