Rules signal relief for air passengers
The nation's top transportation official is promising tough enforcement of a new rule that goes into effect Thursday limiting to three hours the amount of time airlines can keep passengers waiting in planes on tarmacs.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that airlines that don't return waiting passengers to gates within three hours can expect his department to come down hard on them.
LaHood sidestepped a question about whether he will seek the maximum fine against airlines that break the rule -- $27,500 per passenger. But he said it's important that there be "strong enforcement" so that airlines know the government is serious about the time limit.
The new rules also say that airlines must provide adequate food and potable water for passengers within two hours of an aircraft being delayed on the tarmac. Additionally, airlines must maintain "operable lavatories" and provide passengers on delayed aircraft with necessary medical attention.
LaHood also blogged about the new rules Wednesday on his Fast Lane blog, writing, "These provisions are just plain common sense. Airlines need to treat their customers like human beings."
Airlines have complained that they may be forced to cancel flights, causing passengers to rebook flights and creating greater inconvenience than if they had continued to wait onboard for clearance to take off.
Last week, LaHood turned down requests from five airlines for temporary exemptions to the three-hour limit at congested New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia airports.
LaHood said Tuesday that it's important the new rule be applied consistently. He noted that the rule applies only to domestic flights and will not affect international flights.
The impetus for the new rule was a Continental Express flight that was diverted to Rochester, Minn., in August due to thunderstorms. Forty-seven passengers were kept overnight in a cramped plane because employees of another airline refused to open a gate so that they could enter the closed airport terminal.
-- Associated Press and staff reports
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