In recent years, the incidence of lengthy onboard ground delays has been on the rise, and until recently there were no regulations limiting the amount of time that passengers could be held on an aircraft, or rules defining when and what services must be available during the wait.
In response to increasing complaints from air travelers, the US Department of Transportation recently enacted regulations (applying to aircraft with 30 seats or more) that limit the onboard delay time, and ensure that affected passengers receive needed services. US carriers are now required to adopt delay contingency plans that at a minimum include the following:
- US carriers will not permit aircraft at medium or large airports to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours unless the pilot-in-command determines that there is a safety or security related impediment, or if Air Traffic Control deems that deplaning passengers "would significantly disrupt airport operations."
- International flights operated by US carriers that arrive at or depart from a US airport will not allow aircraft to remain on the tarmac "for more than a set number of hours" as determined by the carrier contingency plan before deplaning passengers unless the pilot-in-command determines that there is a safety or security related impediment, or if Air Traffic Control deems that deplaning passengers "would significantly disrupt airport operations." In August, 2011 the tarmac delay time will be limited to four hours unless there is a safety or security impediment.
- For all flights, US carriers must provide adequate food and water no later than two hours after the plane leaves the gate or touches down unless the pilot-in-command determines that safety or security would be impeded.
- All flights must provide operable lavatories and medical attention as needed while on the tarmac
Carriers not complying with these regulations can be fined up to $27,000 per passenger.
Currently, bumped passengers are entitled to cash compensation equal to the ticket value up to $400, if the airline is able to get them to their destination within one to two hours of their original arrival time for domestic flights, and within one to four hours for international flights. If they are delayed over two hours for domestic or over four hours for international arrivals, bumped passengers are currently entitled to double the price of their tickets up to $800.
In August, 2011 the DOT will increase compensation for passengers bumped from flights due to overbooking. Bumped passengers experiencing short delays will be compensated double the value of their ticket price up to $650, and those subjected to longer delays will receive four times the value of their tickets up to $1,300. Inflation adjustments will be made to the compensation limits every two years.
Additional Passenger Rights Coming in August 2011
Lost Bags and Bag Fees
Airlines will be required to refund any fees for carrying luggage if the bags are lost.
Full Disclosure of Additional Fees
Airlines will be required to prominently disclose all potential fees on their websites, including fees for luggage, meals, canceling or changing reservations, or seat upgrades. They must also include all government taxes and fees in every advertised price.
Airlines will be required to hold reservations at the quoted fare without payment, or cancel reservations without penalty for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight's departure date.
Post-Purchase Fare Increases
Fare increases post-purchase will be banned, unless they are the result of government-imposed taxes or fees, and only if the passenger is notified of, and agrees to the potential increase at the time of sale.
For more information on how to avoid flight delays, and what to do if you are delayed or bumped, please see our article: