United Cops Record Fine for Stranding Passengers on Tarmac

United Airlines has received a hefty penalty for keeping passengers waiting on airplanes for hours on end while their flights were delayed. The Department of Transportation fined the carrier $1.1 million-the biggest fine of its kind so far-for tarmac delays that happened at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport last year.

Rules that were put in place in 2010 state that airlines will be penalized if they keep passengers waiting around on the tarmac for more than three hours. In United’s case, all the rule breaking happened on one particularly stormy day when 13 separate United flights were delayed because of thunder and lighting. According to the rules, United was meant to give passengers the chance to get off the plane as it was obvious flights would be held up. But the carrier didn’t. And to top it off, bathrooms on the some of the delayed planes weren’t working, leaving passengers in the lurch.The Department of Transportation says United didn’t do a very good job handling the situation and didn’t reach out to other airport personnel for help. The Department of Transportation also slammed the airline for not having a good plan in place to deal with weather-related problems in general. Some of the money from the fine will go to passengers affected by the delays, while another portion will go towards creating a tracking system at O’Hare so United can better monitor its planes.

Photo of the day – Waiting at the gate

Today’s photo of the day is from a place every traveler has a love/hate relationship with: the airport gate. Beyond it lies exploration, excitement, or maybe just home. But it also stands for all the worst in travel: delays, cramped seats, and maybe the worst, other travelers. Flickr user davitydave philosophically calls this pic from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport “Each Waits His Own Way,” which is rather poetic for a picture of some dudes sitting around on ugly carpeting. How do you pass the time before boarding? Some of us frantically search for a wifi connection, others try to take a quick nap, and others, like the guy standing at right, like to look out onto the tarmac and imagine where all the planes are going.

Taken any good travel pics while waiting to board? Add them to the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use it as a future

photo of the day.

Photo of the Day (11.01.10)

Most of us only interact with a few types of airline and airport employees. We chat with flight attendants, check-in with gate agents and get frisked by TSA officers. It’s often easy to forget that there are scores of people working on the Tarmac to keep planes well maintained and airports running smoothly. Those beverages don’t put themselves on the planes. Someone is driving that fuel truck. That flight delay caused by a maintenance issue? It might annoy you, but it allowed a highly-skilled mechanic to service your aircraft so that you’ll be able travel safely.

I was reminded of all of those hardworking folks when I saw this photo by Flickr user stefantrego. Sure, airports can be annoying (though some people love them) but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a moment to marvel at the impressive efforts put forth by all those people who keep things moving so that we can keep on moving, as well.

Have a picture of some unsung travel heroes? Or maybe just some great travel photos? Submit your images to Gadling’s Flickr group and we might use one for a future Photo of the Day.

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?

Few solutions offered for passengers trapped on plane overnight

Even Gilligan used his creative wits better in crisis.

The 47 people on-board a Continental flight last Friday night found themselves on their own “three-hour tour,” a la Gilligan’s Island. Rather than taking three hours to fly from Houston to the Twin Cities, they were stuck on the tarmac in Rochester, Minnesota for nine hours overnight, not even leaving the aircraft. The flight, operated by ExpressJet, had been diverted to Rochester because of thunderstorms in the Twin Cities.

Nine hours is a really long time, don’t you think?

One passenger told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “This was a sardine can, with a single row of seats on one side of the plane and two rows of seats on the other. And they’ve got about 50 people inside, including babies, for the whole night. It was a nightmare.”

The airline seems to have plenty of excuses, but few answers. Just a few: They couldn’t wait for the storm to pass because the crew had already reached their maximum work hours, and another crew had to be flown in. The passengers couldn’t just go into the airport, because they would have to undergo security screening, but the screeners had already gone home for the night. And the idea of at least letting passengers sleep on chairs in a certain area of the airport “wasn’t provided as an option.”

I’d be curious to know whether the passengers were throwing around the term “anarchy” after a few hours, or whether the original crew deplaned because they were at the end of their shift.

Poor, poor passengers. Rather than arriving in Minneapolis around midnight on Friday night, they eventually landed around 11 a.m. on Saturday morning.