A new DOT rule on tarmac delays would give airlines more flexibility, but consumer groups are worried the regulation may weaken passenger protections.

By Sam Mintz

Politico Morning Transportation

October 25, 2019

DOT PUBLISHES NEW TARMAC DELAY PROPOSALThe DOT is publishing a new proposed regulation today which would update its rules on airline tarmac delays, as mandated by Congress in 2016, giving carriers more flexibility to operate. The time limit by which airlines need to let passengers deplane will not change — it remains three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights. But the proposal would shift how that clock is interpreted, including changing when planes are considered to be heading back to a gate, and stipulating that the clock should not necessarily start when an aircraft’s doors close.

Travel Fairness Now, a consumer advocacy organization, said the changes are “another example of the undue influence that carriers have over DOT policy,” arguing that consumers have been waiting for FAA action on other issues that “occur far more frequently than the relatively rare occurrences this rulemaking addresses.” Paul Hudson, head of another consumer group, FlyersRights.org, said his organization is reviewing the rulemaking and plans to file formal comments, but that the change “looks like a weakening.” 

The airline industry group Airlines for America said in a statement “we commend the Department of Transportation for proposing an improvement to its tarmac delay rule as required by the statutory requirement in the 2016 FAA Extension Act.”