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Op-Ed: The "Plane" Facts For Domestic Air Passengers


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As of April 27, 2010, domestic air travelers were spared of lengthy airplane delays on the tarmac and will enjoy additional consumer protections. Although not everyone considers air travel to be fun, it should certainly be safe and free of suffering.

Under a new rule, U.S. airlines operating domestic flights may not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at large and medium hub airports (LAX and Burbank Airport) for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. Three hours is still too long but this is a reasonable start.

U.S. carriers operating international flights departing from or arriving in the United States must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers. Carriers are required to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.

The rule limiting tarmac delays was adopted in response to a series of incidents in which passengers were stranded on the ground aboard aircraft for lengthy periods. The only exceptions are for safety or security reasons, or if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

The rule also:

* Prohibits the largest U.S. airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those that do to Department of Transportation enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices;

* Requires U.S. airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints;

* Requires U.S. airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans; and

* Prohibits U.S. airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.

In addition, beginning at the end of July, airlines will be required to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate.

I am hopeful that these new rules will, for example, prevent a passenger who is visiting a sister in St. Louis from unwillingly participating in an episode of the television series "Survivor" on the tarmac.

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