Airline passengers can’t win on tarmac delays

November 15, 2011 • Business

FILE – In this Jan. 20, 2011, file photo, an American Eagle jet taxis at Boston’s Logan International Airport. The Transportation Department announced Monday, Nov. 14, that they are fining the regional affiliate of American Airlines $900,000 for keeping passengers cooped up on planes for over three hours in Chicago at O’Hare International Airport earlier this year. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sometimes it seems like airline passengers just can’t win: The government cracks down on airlines that keep people cooped up on planes that sit on airport tarmacs for endless hours, and carriers respond by canceling more flights to avoid hefty fines.

The Transportation Department’s $900,000 fine Monday against an American Airlines regional affiliate for holding hundreds of passengers on board 15 planes for hours in Chicago earlier this year may only fuel more debate over whether the government’s get-tough policy is making air travel better or worse for passengers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has hailed as a success his department’s three-hour limit on such tarmac delays. Between May 2010 and April 2011, the first 12 months after the time limit was in effect, airlines reported 20 tarmac delays of more than three hours, none of which was more than four hours long.

In contrast, during the 12 months before the rule took effect, airlines had 693 tarmac delays of more than three hours, and 105 of the delays were longer than four hours.

However, a recent Government Accountability Office report concluded, “The rule appears to be associated with an increased number of cancellations for thousands of additional passengers — far more than DOT initially predicted — including some who might not have experienced a tarmac delay.”

With Monday’s fine against American Eagle Airlines, the first imposed on an air carrier under new rule, cancellations will shoot up even more, airline analyst Michael Boyd said.

“If there’s a 20 percent chance of this happening, an airline will cancel,” Boyd Login to read more

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