New Rule Could Force Airlines to Pay for Delays

Proposed federal rule would require airline contingency plan

Passengers stuck on parked planes for several hours could sue airlines under a new rule proposed by federal regulators.

The rule proposed by the Department of Transportation in Washington would allow passengers delayed too long on airport ramps to sue the airlines for breach of contract.

The proposal would require each airline to have a contingency plan for lengthy delays and make it part of their contract of carriage, the legally binding agreement that outlines the airlines responsibility to passengers.

According to the proposed rule, the contingency plan would include "the maximum tarmac delay that the carrier will permit, the amount of time on the tarmac that triggers the plan's terms, assurance of adequate food, water, lavatory facilities and medical attention, if needed, while the aircraft remains on the tarmac."

    • Read the entire proposed rule from the Department of Transportation

A thunderstorm at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport kept Neal Lewis stuck on a plane for three and a half hours.  Because the plane had already left the gate, Lewis and the other passengers were unable to get off. "Beyond a certain point, you should be able to get out," Lewis said. "Otherwise, you're captive."

Passengers said they hope the new rule would make it easier to sit through long delays on planes or significantly reduce or even eliminate them.

The Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on the proposal through Feb. 6.

Airlines are asking for more flexibility. American Airlines already sets a maximum of four hours on planes before either taking off or returning to the gate and give passengers the option to get off, if possible. Southwest Airlines tries to keep its time to no more than two hours.

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