- Prohibit tarmac delays beyond three hours
- Require airlines to provide "adequate" food and drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.
- Prohibit airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those who do to DOT enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices
- Require airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints
- Require airlines to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate
- Require airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans
- Prohibit airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.
I appreciate the DOT trying to look out for passengers, but I think these regulations will hurt the very people they intend to help. Sure, now (actually the rules do not take affect for 120 days) passengers will not have to be stuck on a plane for more than three hours, but they may be stuck in the airport for an extra day when the crew goes illegal because the plane has to return to the gate.
The new rules do have an escape clause, though:
Exceptions are allowed for safety or security, or when air-traffic controllers notify a pilot in command that returning to a passenger terminal would disrupt airport operations.
I can see airlines liberally interpreting this rule to their advantage.
Note the last bullet point above. I certainly applaud the prohibition of any bait and switch tactics that airlines might play, and support the directive that the COC cannot be changed retroactively if it negatively impacts passengers who purchased a ticket under the old COC.
What can we look for in the coming months? According to the DOT press release:
The Department also plans to begin another rulemaking designed to further strengthen protections for air travelers. Among the areas under consideration are: a requirement that airlines submit to the Department for review and approval their contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays; reporting of additional tarmac delay data; disclosure of baggage fees; and strengthening requirements that airline ads disclose the full fare consumers must pay for tickets.
Again, I like the last proposition.
As simplistic as it may sound, though, I would rather let the airlines deal with delays how best they see fit rather than have a government imposed solution. It is within the airline’s interest to keep the customer happy and keep their planes moving and I think the new government-imposed requirements may end up hurting both passengers and airlines in the long-run.