Last updated: 06:51 PM ET, Tue April 23 2013

FAA Opens Up Possibility of Suspending 3-Hour Tarmac Rule

Features & Advice | Federal Aviation Administration | Gretchen Kelly | April 23, 2013

Faced with the ever mounting evidence that the U.S. airlines industry will have to deal with longer and longer delays, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering an application filed by Airlines for America (A4A) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) to suspend the three hour tarmac delay rule in light of furloughs that are causing lengthy delays and ground stops.

The agencies’ application read, in part: “To be clear, A4A and RAA are not proposing that DOT suspend the effectiveness of the tarmac regulations in general. On the contrary, our requested exemption is narrowly tailored and would only apply for a temporary period at all U.S. airports. The exemption request includes only the rules prohibiting air carriers from allowing aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours in the case of domestic flights, and for more than four hours in the case of international flights, before allowing passengers to deplane, and is intended to provide airlines with the operating flexibility to respond to the expected flight delays resulting from the FAA’s delay plans.”

The original rule was put into place in 2010 and also specifies that airlines must keep toilets open and provide water and other essentials for flyers caught for hours on the tarmac.  USA Today’s Bart Jansen reported that consumer advocates including Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, are saying the suspension is a thinly disguised “back-door way to try and get a repeal,” according to Hudson. "It would be a total step backward and it would hurt the transportation system and it would alienate passengers more than ever,” Hudson told Jansen.

Fox News, in their report on the story offered “survival tips” including “timing your restroom visits because “if you're sitting on the tarmac for hours…conditions will deteriorate quickly.”

The pithy advice may remind travelers of the issues that prompted the DOT to legislate the issue several years ago: hours long wait-time stuck on the tarmac with no food or water, dirty or non-working bathrooms and rising tempers.

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