The U.S. Department of Transportation announced that starting in April, U.S. airlines will be required to let travelers leave airplanes that have been sitting on the tarmac for 3 hours, provided doing so doesn’t jeopardize safety and security or disrupt airport operations. Airlines that violate the rules face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.
Under the new rules, carriers must provide passengers with food, such as pretzels or granola bars, as well as potable water within the first two hours a plane is delayed. They also must maintain working lavatories. They also are barred from scheduling chronically delayed flights and required to provide passengers with each flight’s on-time record.
The new measure is tougher than many in the aviation industry expected and represents a significant victory for passenger-rights advocates. Many airline executives had argued against setting a time limit for delays, saying large numbers of travelers could be stranded if carriers cancel flights out of fear of penalties that they otherwise would have flown.
The new rule leaves airlines and airports with little time to resolve a host of logistical issues. One problem is that aircraft lined up for takeoff can’t easily pull out of the line of planes when they reach the time limit. And returning to the gate may create a whole new set of headaches for passengers, who may find themselves stranded overnight rather than for several hours.
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