delayed flightThe 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.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, the American Society of Travel Agents and the U.S. Tour Operators Association have all filed suit against New York City to stop the extension of a hotel tax on their clients, according to legal documents.  They allege that a law enacted in June to extend the city’s hotel room occupancy tax to “third-party travel intermediaries” is “unconstitutional and illegal,” as the city “has no inherent power to tax.”  The law, which came into effect in September, was passed as part of a measure by New York to solve a budget shortfall amid lower tax receipts due to the global economic downturn.
  • A fight broke out between passengers waiting at the busy Delta terminal at JFK, but no one was injured before police arrived.  The incident arose after some passengers were booted from an overbooked Haiti-bound flight.  Delta’s website shows that its scheduled 9am flight to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, departed nearly two hours late – and there’s reports of frustration on Twitter on other Delta flights as well.  Snow storms are likely to blame for the delays.