Tarmac Rule Suspension Idea Heralds Really Long Flight Delays

Sequester cuts have had already had an impact on travel, grounding the Navy’s Blue Angels at air shows, turning Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental into a third world-like airport and delaying the opening of national parks. This week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began furloughs for some of its 47,000 agency employees, including 15,000 air traffic controllers. Faced with flight delays that could add up to hours, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering a temporary suspension of the three-hour tarmac delay rule, making air travelers the clear losers in the deal.

Just when air travelers were beginning to enjoy better on-time performance by airlines, partially fueled by the 2010 Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, evidence is mounting that U.S. airlines will experience longer and longer delays. In response, the DOT is considering an application filed by Airlines for America (A4A) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) to suspend the three-hour tarmac delay.

That rule also requires airlines to keep toilets open, provide water and essentials for passengers held for hours on the tarmac and allow them to deplane after three hours for domestic flights and four hours on international flights.

The exemption, if granted, would greatly reduce the possibility of airlines being fined up to $27,500 per passenger.Cutbacks are estimated to delay as many as 6,700 flights each day at the nation’s 14 biggest airports said a report in the International Business Times. Airports affected include Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and all airports serving New York City.

History tells us that being without air traffic controllers is a bad idea, but not one that means long-term travel disruption. When President Reagan fired air traffic controllers in 1981, air travel slowed. But after supervisors and military controllers joined non-striking controllers, 80 percent of flights were operating normally.

[Photo credit – Flickr user shutterbug4000]

March a good month for on-time arrivals

We all love to hate the airlines, and on-time arrivals are among our largest gripes. There’s nothing worse (well, within reason) than seeing the toe-tapping that comes with the disgruntled looks of people waiting to pick you up … it’s not like they had to spend endless hours on the runway or circling LaGuardia. Well, in March, they weren’t as bad.

The 19 largest airlines in the country reported an improved rate of on-time flights compared to March 2008, according to some data from the Feds. Well, the bar wasn’t set very high. On-time results for March 2008 were 71.6 percent, according to the Department of Transportation‘s Bureau of Transportation Statistics and reached 78.4 percent this year. Before you get too excited, it’s down from 82.6 percent in February.

So, what does all this mean? Airlines were late almost a quarter of the time, and that includes the padding applied to routes. Aviation analyst Michael Boyd says that a flight from Binghamton, NY to New York City is scheduled for an hour and 15 minutes – not the 45 minutes it takes.

Aviation system delays were responsible for 7.3 percent of delays, with late arrivals from other planes kicking in another 6.5 percent. Factors within airlines’ control were responsible for almost 5 percent delays.

Extreme weather? A mere 0.62 percent.

U.S. News & World Report Summer Travel Issue

Be sure to pick up the latest (June 18) issue of U.S. News & World Report magazine. It’s their featured article that we’re drawing attention to: “Air Travel Summer Survival Guide.”

It lists worst airports, simple travel tips and the like. Check out their comprehensive list of the best and worst airports here, in which they rank airports on the basis of percentage of flights delayed as well as “average load factor” (how full the flights are).

Their findings were unsurprising to the seasoned traveler: avoid the big airports and try using regional airports instead. The best? Oakland. The worst? Detroit.

Another important tip that, while obvious, can’t be over-repeated: be prepared for big delays as planes fill up and more folks hit the airports for the vacation season.