Is this the end of three-hour waits on the tarmac?

Over the last few years, we’ve heard countless stories of airlines who have allowed their passengers to spend hours stranded in a plane on the runway. Finally, those nightmare scenarios look like they’re about to come to an end.

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that, beginning this spring, airlines whose passengers sit for more than three hours at a time on the tarmac will face stiff penalties of up to $275,000 per passenger. The new rules, which Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls “President Obama’s Passenger Bill of Rights,” also force airlines to offer passengers food and water after they’ve been on the tarmac for two hours.

Many “passengers’ rights” groups are pleased with the administration’s decision. FlyersRights founder Kate Hanni called the move a “Christmas miracle.” “No more will they be able to strand passengers for over three hours in hot, sweaty, metal tubes,” she said.

But not everyone is thrilled with the Obama administration’s “Christmas gift” to travelers. David Castelveter of the Air Transport Association said that this move will result in more cancellations than there are today. If a plane has been waiting on the runway for almost three hours and is told it will take off in five minutes, a passenger who asks to be let off may cause the entire flight to be canceled.

Secretary LaHood discounted the importance of that hypothetical. “You know as well as I do that five minutes always extends out to 50 minutes, and almost always to five hours. There’s no such thing as five minutes, never, ever.”

Castelveter also noted that planes that let off passengers will have to abandon their spot in the take-off queue, taxi back to the gate, have baggage handlers remove the luggage, and during the winter months, de-ice the plane. The delays resulting from letting off the passengers could be much longer than the delays without it.

More here.

What do you think? Are the benefits of ending three-hour waits worth the costs?