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Study: Tarmac Delay Rule Makes Delayed Flight Experience Worse

Back in 2010, legislation was enacted to protect passengers from long delays on the ground. However, a study has revealed that this framework has resulted in misery for delayed travelers.

A study has found that the legislation intended to protect passengers from delays on the tarmac has actually made life worse for those unlucky enough to find themselves grounded.

The disheartening results of this study – conducted by academics at Dartmouth College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – compared flight data before and after the tarmac delay rule was put into place by the Department of Transportation in 2010.

This legislation was enacted after a number of incidents in which passengers were held on the tarmac for long stretches of time. The rule currently stipulates that, if the craft has not taxied for take-off three hours after the closure of the cabin doors, passengers must be given the opportunity to deplane.

Not only does it aim to protect passengers from long delays, but the legislation also levies heavy fines against carriers that violate this time limit.

While researchers have found that the tarmac delay rule has been effective in reducing the frequency of delays, the data indicates that it has also raised flight cancellation rates and resulted in extended travel times.

But rather than a complete overhaul, the paper suggests a slight modification to the parameters of the current legislation. Based on the findings, the study’s authors propose extending the current tarmac limit from three hours to three and a half hours and applying this only to flights departing before 5 p.m.

For its part, industry trade group Airlines for America welcomes these reforms. Vaughn Jennings, managing director of government and regulatory communications, told the website that the tarmac delay rule, “has actually caused more harm than good for the traveling public.”

Vikrant Vaze, an assistant professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and a co-author of the study, commented to USA Today, “My preference would be to not have any delay at all on the tarmac and still reach my destination on time. That’s what we all want, right? This study says there’s a trade-off to be made and you need to pick the right option from several versions. We picked what we think is the sweet spot.”

[Photo: Getty]

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brocklee9000 January 8, 2016

This happened to us as we tried to connect through ATL the day before Christmas. Massive lines of thunderstorms and rain lingered over the area. They first delayed even boarding by about 25 minutes (which doesn't make sense; if there's a ramp delay/closure, just board us so we're ready to go as soon as it's open again, right?). We boarded, then were part of about 35-40 planes making a dash for 27R. I was monitoring the aviation weather as well as listening to live ATC on my phone (using device, not in airplane mode...the horror!), and could hear plane after plane moved over to taxiway Lima (between the runway and the DL maintenance areas) and were told to shut down their engines. We waited in this conga line for over two hours before we moved again. About 10 minutes prior to moving, I heard plane after plane ask ATC to go back to the gate because their company Ops told them to. The problem was, there were 30 planes in a row, nose-to-tail, and I don' t know how they got the first few out of there. Soon enough I heard the call for us, and we went back. There was a mad dash to deplane, and we lingered butthen they closed the ramp again (meaning we couldn't even step off the plane onto the jet bridge). We spent about 45 minutes on the plane, before some of the cabin crew stepped out to get a bite to eat. I had been chatting with them and saw we weren't leaving any time soon, so we deplaned as well. Luckily an hour later we got to leave. And we were EXTREMELY lucky we got to keep our plane, seats, and cabin crew. This meant no swaps, unloading bags, IROPS accommodations, etc. And thankfully, the crew wasn't going to time out, and DL Ops was able to just arrange their trip to end in SJU, instead of SJU back to ATL and onward. We got very very lucky that day, but hundreds and hundreds of others were not. I felt sorrow as I saw ridiculous lines at service counters throughout the concourse. Had we been able to just remain a little longer, we could have taken off during the intermittent rain and lightning. There wouldn't have been concerns of timed-out crew. There wouldn't have been the uncertainty of whether or not we'd get to keep our plane and cabin crew. The time going back, deplaning, eventually getting back on, and then lining back up to take off added a considerable amount of time to our 9 hour ordeal.

NJFlyer42 January 7, 2016

This is good news....cancelled flights mean I get to walk around, eat, use a toilet, not listen to crying passengers. Thanks to this law, people forget the torture of a long tarmac delay, particularly in a smaller (e.g., regional) aircraft. I do NOT want to wait in an airplane...if you can't leave the ground in two hours, it is time to give up and try again when the issue clears. This article also did not contemplate whether the tarmac rules have caused airlines to find methods to reduce delays by planning realistic schedules (NO, EWR and ORD cannot run at maximum capacity for the entire month of January...stop pretending it will), preventing maintenance or crew delays (having standby mechanics and crew), and so on.

live5 January 7, 2016

@emcampbe Excellent point.

Allan38103 January 7, 2016

"the data indicates that it has also raised flight cancellation rates and resulted in extended travel times" Did anyone really believe this would REALLY result in better passenger service? Think about it. If this would have resulted in better service at no increase in cost, or if it would provide the same level of service at a lower cost. wouldn't the airlines be doing this already?

emcampbe January 7, 2016

Many of us knew before this went into effect that it would just prompt more cancellations. It's not really hard to see - airlines would rather cancel a flight then be subject to these kinds of fines. What's unfortunate is that if an airline runs afoul of the rules, it's punished by a fine, sure, but what do the passengers get? Only whatever customer service gesture the carrier wants to offer - which is no different than before. If they really want to do something to help passengers in these situations, they would require airlines to offer passengers minimum amounts of compensation, not to simply throw fines at the carriers.