Department of Transportation mulls expanded passenger delay rule

The Department of Transportation is thinking about getting even stricter with the airlines. After implementing a rule last spring that involves heavy fines for carriers that keep passengers on a plane on the ground for at least three hours, the DOT is already considering expanding the scope to small airports and international flights.

MSNBC reports:

“The situation is much worse than the [official] statistics indicate,” said George Hobica of “We have to include every airport, every type of plane and every type of flight.”

Unsurprisingly, the International Air Transport Association isn’t crazy about Hobica’s approach, with spokesman Steve Lott saying, “If DOT goes ahead with this, they’re going to cause a much larger problem than the one they think they’re trying to solve.”

The final rule won’t come down until the spring, so there’s plenty of time for both sides to fight this out.

For the airline sector, this measure seems to be seen as a signal of something much worse – the prospect of broad regulation and constraints on its ability to operate effectively in the manner to which it has become accustomed.

For its part, DOT won’t announce a final rule until next spring, but you can expect a lot of others to weigh in before then. Hundreds of last-minute ideas were lobbed over to the DOT, according to MSNBC, addressing all kinds of passenger and watchdog hot buttons, such as: advertising, fee disclosure and compensation for those denied boarding. The big one, of course, was the issue of delays on the tarmac.

International carriers oppose the expanded rules – shocking, right?! Lott, taking the standard industry stance, raises the issue of cancellation instead of risking a $27,500 per passenger customer fine, telling MSNBC, “I don’t think getting stranded in a U.S. city for a day or more is necessarily helping passengers.”

This may be a risk, but the data tells the only reliable story:

Meanwhile, as the airline industry and consumer advocates press their points of view, two truths regarding tarmac delays remain. Delays of three hours or more for domestic flights are down substantially since the original rule went into effect – there were only three in July, says DOT, compared to 161 during the same period last year – and international flights do present a much more challenging scenario.

[photo by williamcho via Flickr]