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Study Calls for a 30-Minute Increase in Tarmac Time Limits

A new study recommends increasing the time limit on tarmac delays to reduce overall passenger delay time.

A new analysis on the impact of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Tarmac Delay Rule calls for a regulation modification, which includes increasing the tarmac time limit by thirty minutes to three and a half hours and only on flights before a 5 p.m. departure.

The study, “Tarmac delay policies: A passenger-centric analysis,” was published in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice (Volume 83, January 2016).

“We find that the Rule has been highly effective in reducing the frequency of occurrence of long tarmac times,” said study authors Chiwei Yana, Vikrant Vazeb, Allison Vanderbollc and Cynthia Barnharta. “However, another significant effect of the rule has been the rise in flight cancellation rates. Cancellations result in passengers requiring rebooking, and often lead to extensive delay in reaching their final destinations.”

After a series of grounded flights left flyers onboard planes for substantial amounts of time, the DOT created the tarmac rule in late 2009 as a response to consumer complaints. The rule prohibits U.S. operators of domestic flights from keeping aircraft on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. For U.S. carriers operating international flights, the rule requires advance notification from airlines of their own time limits for deplaning passengers.

Exceptions include safety or security concerns or if air traffic control foresees that a plane returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

The rule also requires that airlines provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of a tarmac delay and maintenance of operable lavatories.

“We conclude that a better balance between the conflicting objectives of reducing the frequency of long tarmac times and reducing total passenger delays can be achieved through a modified version of the existing rule,” the authors said.

In addition to increasing tarmac time limits, the study suggests the rule would be more effective if the time limit is defined in “in terms of the time when the aircraft begin returning to the gate instead of being defined in terms of the time when passengers are allowed to deplane.”

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