The new tarmac delay rule goes into effect this week, and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has promised that the rule will be strongly enforced. Some passenger advocates have hailed the new rule as a landmark breakthrough. Some have even cheered the denial of airline requested exceptions for specific airports where delays will likely be beyond the airline’s control (JFK as an example). Leading the debate has been FlyersRights.org, the self-proclaimed “largest non-profit consumer organization representing airline passengers”. Well, they don’t represent me.
I have flown millions of miles, literally. I have flown every major airline in the world. I have flown in and out of more airports than I can recall. And yes, I have dealt with delays and cancellations and bad weather and emergency landings and long tarmac waits and mechanical problems and aborted take-offs and … you get the idea. I also know lots of people in the airline industry. Heck, I am on a first-name basis with multiple pilots, flight attendants, and airline representatives. So I think I am more than qualified to voice an opinion on this one. And my opinion is that this rule will become the poster boy for the Law of Unintended Consequences.
I know that it’s popular to bash airlines, especially with baggage fees (and hand luggage fees!) and fare increases and charging for select seats and no free food and so on. But, the reality is that airlines are still losing money. And they actually don’t make much on completely full flights! There is absolutely no way airlines are going to risk fines of up to $27,500 per passenger (that’s over $6,000,000 or so for a typical Boeing 757).
And so now airlines will do the only thing they can do, they’ll cancel flights earlier or more often. And for those of us who live on the road, life is going to get just a bit more painful as a result.
Congress, DOT, and FlyersRights.org, thanks for nothing!

5 thoughts

  1. This whole initiative is as a result of unintended consequences.
    A flight wouldn’t get tagged as "delayed" or late as long as it left the gate on time – a statistic that gets released to the general public, so that they can compare performance of the various airlines when making a consumer decision.
    Of course, airlines would leave the gate knowing full well they couldn’t take off for hours, and thus the "trapped" nightmare stories you hear, and the rules (this one) that aim to correct that problem.
    Flights may well get canceled, but that statistic will be made available, and consumers will be able to make purchasing decisions based on it (if they so wish).
    With regards to it "popular to bash airlines" – it’s not the fees, or the service or the baggage handling – the overall experience sucks. I mean everything, from airport to airport. And I know you do a lot of flying Ben, and you’re very experienced, but I’m referring to the other 90+% who fly occasionally, usually for vacation, and (as is my case) with family/children. It’s the complete impersonalization (is that a word?) and loss of control by the consumer that creates the frustration.
    If the experience expectation by consumers in todays world is Adobe Flash, the airline industry offers Windows 3.1
    The bottom line is that airlines can’t manage their bottom line. Now, it’s easy to blame FAA restrictions, and even blame the consumer themselves, but until the airline industry come together, and push for a better overall customer experience, consumers won’t feel the need to pay more to fly, or stop "bashing" the industry.
    Cheers.

  2. I only fly a couple times a year, so I don’t see the big issue here. Why would there be a reason to keep people on the tarmac for 3+ hours at a time, I would probably be pissed if that ever happened to me. I have never ever heard of that happening so this post was rather surprising to me.
    I do see it being an issue if it wasn’t really the airline’s fault but that’s covered with this line: "The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations." Right? Or is there more to it?

  3. On the bright side, if its cancelled while you’re on the ground or with more advanced notice, you can at least try and make alternative arrangements (written on a plane at 20,000 ft.)

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