By Philip Newman
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has ordered the nation’s airlines to let passengers off planes waiting for takeoff after three hours.
“Airline passengers have rights and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly,” LaHood said in announcing new federal regulations.
The rules, which LaHood referred to as the Passengers Bill of Rights, state that airlines are legally obligated to provide food, water and functioning toilets in jetliners waiting after two hours on runways.
The Obama administration was reacting to reports of passengers being held six to eight hours and even overnight on planes standing on the tarmac. The regulations, which become effective in 120 days, fine the airline $27,500 for each passenger for each violation of the three-hour-rule.
The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, said its member would observe the new rules, but predicted “they will lead to unintended consequences, including more canceled flights and greater passenger inconvenience.”
“I don’t know what can be more disruptive to people than to be stuck sitting on a plane five, six or seven hours with no explanation,” LaHood said.
Passengers aboard a JetBlue airliner sat more than eight hours waiting for takeoff at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the winter of 2007 and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics said an average of 1,500 domestic flights were delayed more than three hours over the years 2007 and 2008.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.