Airline tarmac delays: the first full year of results is in!

Airline tarmac delaysWe’re now looking back on a full year of limited tarmac delays. In April 2010, the airline industry seemed like it was begging and pleading with the American public not to accept the insanity that the government was forcing upon them. Mayhem would rule, the industry claimed, as standards for performance would prevent everyone from getting anywhere. It would be ugly … far uglier than the service the airlines had provided so far.

Throughout the year, Gadling has checked in to let you know that the airline industry did not fall apart as a result of shorter tarmac delays. With airlines only able to sit out there for three hours before facing hefty fines, the result has been noticeable – and positive.

“On the one-year anniversary of the tarmac delay rule, it’s clear that we’ve accomplished our goal of virtually eliminating the number of aircraft leaving travelers stranded without access to food, water, or working lavatories for hours on end,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “This is a giant step forward for the rights of air travelers.”
And indeed, it is. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, only 20 tarmac delays of more than three hours were reported in the first 12 months the rule was in effect. For the year prior, the total reached an astounding – and severe – 693.

Meanwhile, the number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of at least two hours edged only a tad higher, from 336 in the May 2009-to-April 2010 period to 387 in the 12 months that followed. This indicator is used to gauge flights canceled to avoid the three-hour rule because the DOT believed it’s the most likely set of flights to be cut.

And, this is the metric where airline industry mayhem would be visible. A 15.2 percent increase – in light of a 97.1 percent decline in delays of three hours or longer – pretty much tells the story.

The numbers say it all: airlines can be held to higher standards. And, the threat of heavy fines is incredibly effective. Now, if only we could levy fines for substandard customer service

No long tarmac delays in March 2011

tarmac delaysGood news! For the past six months, there have been no tarmac delays of greater than three hours, says the latest Air Travel Consumer Report. There were none in March 2011, a drastic change from the 25 reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation in March 2010. Year over year, for March, there was also a decline in the rate of canceled flights.

And, despite airline industry concerns, the world hasn’t come to an end.

From May 2010 through March 2011, there were a mere 16 tarmac delays of more than three hours, down precipitously from 689 from May 2009 through March 2010.

It’s pretty clear that all the industry alarmism ahead of the rule that promises stiff fines for keeping passengers stranded on the tarmac was self-serving … and ultimately meaningless.

The best part of this, of course, is that we’re now in a position to enjoy flying more. Who even thought that was possible a year ago?!

Airline passenger rights upgraded

Airline passenger rights upgradedFlying the friendly skies got a bit more friendly this week as the Department of Transportation upgraded the Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights made the law of the land last year. As a result, fewer checked bags should be lost or damaged, fewer passengers should get bumped and fewer flights should get stuck on the tarmac.

“Airline passengers have a right to be treated fairly,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “It’s just common sense that if an airline loses your bag or you get bumped from a flight because it was oversold, you should be reimbursed.

OK, let’s break it down.

Lost Bags and Bag Fees- No service = No fee
Airlines were already required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses for loss, damage or delay of luggage. In a “how did that slip through the cracks?” moment of clarity, airlines are now required to refund any fee for carrying a bag if the bag is lost. That sure makes sense: no service, no fee. Airlines also have to apply the same baggage allowances and fees for all segments of a trip, including segments with interline and code share partners.

That actually could be good or bad news, depending on how it plays out. If the result is that airlines raise baggage fees to everyone in order to cover their loss as a result of this rule, that might not be so good for people like me who have never (knock on wood) had a bag lost.

Full Disclosure of Additional Fees- No more hidden fees
Airlines have to prominently disclose all potential fees on their websites and refer passengers to up-to-date baggage fee information both before and after they buy a ticket. That sounds reasonable, no big deal. A huge deal is that airlines and ticket agents will be required to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised price.

Airlines are also required to let reservations be held at the quoted fare without payment or canceled without penalty for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.

New also is a ban on post-purchase fare increases unless they are due to government-imposed taxes or fees (not fuel surcharges or other airline-imposed fees), and only if the passenger is notified of and agrees to the potential increase at the time of sale. This is a lot like cruise lines do with the potential fuel surcharge that might be added on later if the price of oil goes sky high. You agree to it as a condition of buying the ticket.

Bumping. Big fees paid to bumped passengers.
If you get bumped from a flight and the airline can get you to your destination within a reasonable amount of time, (1 to 2 hours later on domestic flights and 1 to 4 hours international) you will receive compensation equal to double the price of your tickets up to $650 (up from $400). Those subject to longer delays (more than 2 hours domestic and more than 4 hours international) will receive payments of four times the value of their tickets, up to $1,300 (up from $800).

Tarmac Delays. 4 hour limit on domestic and international flights
Thank those passengers who sat delayed on the tarmac for what must have felt like days during the December 2010 blizzard that shut down New York’s JFK airport for this one. Exceptions will be allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons but the new rule puts a four hour limit. Airlines are also required to supply adequate food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and any necessary medical treatment.

These new rules are certainly a big step in the right direction, speaking the universal language of all airlines (money) loud and clear.

Transportation Secretary LaHood concluded “The additional passenger protections we’re announcing today will help make sure air travelers are treated with the respect they deserve.”

Flickr photo by soypocolapantera

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Mixed Bag: Six stats about airline performance in 2010

Airline performanceLast year was a good one for the airline industry in the United States. In addition to posting record profits, carriers also showed some improvement in other areas, such as on-time arrivals. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows a slight improvement in getting from Point A to Point B on time, edging from 79.5 percent in 2009 to 79.8 percent in 2010.

December was a pretty rough month for the airlines, as you’ll see below, but much of it may have been caused by the storms and nasty weather that hit parts of the country toward the end of the year. Overall, performance improved, even if passenger sentiment didn’t really reflect it.

Let’s take a look at six stats that define the airline industry in 2010:1. Tarmac Delays: DOWN
It looks like the decline in tarmac delays sure helped. Those lasting more than three hours fell from 34 in December 2009 to only three in December 2010. The prospect of stiff fines likely contributed to this substantial decline. In fact, from May 2010, when the new rules (and penalties) took effect through the end of the year, the DOTs Bureau of Transportation Statistics found only 15 tarmac delays lasting longer than three hours (based on the 18 airlines that file on-time performance data). For the same period in 2009, there were 584 tarmac delays lasting longer than three hours.

2. Chronic Delays: DOWN
The number of “chronically delayed” flights – those delayed more than 30 minutes more than 50 percent of the time– fell as well. At the end of December 2010, there was only one chronically delayed flight (for the three months prior), with six more that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months. None reached four or more months in a row.

3. Baggage Problems: DOWN
Meanwhile, the airlines are getting better with our bags. The number of mishandled bags reported fell from 5.27 per 1,000 passengers in December 2009 to 4.8 reports per 1,000 passengers in December 2010. But, the last month of last year still posted an increase from a rate of 2.93 in November 2010. For the entirety of 2010, there were 3.57 mishandled baggage reports per 1,000 passengers, down from 3.99 in 2009.

4. Bumped Passengers: DOWN
Last year, only 1.09 passengers per 10,000 were involuntarily denied boarding (also known as “bumping), a drop from 1.23 per 10,000 in 2009. For the last three months of 2010, the “bump rate” fell to a measly 0.79 per 10,000 passengers, down from 1.13 in the last quarter of 2009. If you were supposed to get on a flight and didn’t screw up, it seems, there was a pretty good chance you got on it.

5. Pet Incidents: UP
In December 2010, there were seven reported incidents involving pets that were lost, injured or dead, up from three in December 2009. Six were filed in November 2010. There were 57 incidents in all of 2010, up from 32 in 2009.

6. Service Complaints: UP
In December, there were 753 complaints about airline service, though much of this likely involved the awful weather at the end of the month. This is up from 692 in December 2009. For all of 2010, though, the DOT picked up 10,985 complaints, a 24.5 percent increase from 8,821 in 2009.

[photo by kla4067 via Flickr]

Shocking: Airlines have no long tarmac delays, world doesn’t end

Airlines and tarmac delaysFor the second month in a row, the world hasn’t ended. The threat of heavy fines has ensured that the airlines haven’t kept passengers trapped in the cabin on the tarmac for more than three hours at a time, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. October and November were good months for passengers, now that airlines are being held accountable. These are the only two months in which the airlines haven’t had tarmac delays since the DOT began keeping score back in October 2008.

So, the lobbyists and industry folks were wrong. They forecasted logistical catastrophe. Once again, this has not happened. And, it happened to coincide with record profits for the U.S. airline industry, which means that doing the right thing for passengers is probably good for business, too.

There have been a mere 12 tarmac delays of more than three hours from May 2010 through November 2010. For the same period the year before, there were 550. So, let’s be realistic: the airlines were more than a little lazy in 2009. When the threat of severe fines cause that drastic an improvement, the implication is that the airlines should have been doing a better job on their own.Of course, those representing the airline industry believed that the threat of fines would lead to a heavy rate of flight cancellation, as airlines would rather give up than risk having to pay large tabs to the government. Of course, this didn’t happen. In November, U.S. carriers posted a cancellation rate of 0.7 percent. Sure, it’s up from 0.5 percent, which is negligible, but it’s also down from 0.97 percent in October. The number of tarmac delays lasting more than two hours ticked slightly higher, from 224 for the May-to-November period in 2009 to 241 for the same seven months this year. There were 11 canceled flights in November 2010, up from none the previous November.

So, that’s a lot of canceled flights relative to the prior November, but how big a deal is it? Eleven canceled flights relative to more than 500 long tarmac delays shed? Those are pretty good numbers, suggesting the government can pass a useful law every now and then.

[photo by Simon_sees via Flickr]