Delayed on the Tarmac? Gov't Says 'Tough Luck'


A government task force assigned to formulate guidelines for dealing with tarmac delays has submitted its recommendations, but unfortunately, passengers will find little relief. The report does not suggest a limitation on how long passengers can be kept waiting aboard a plane, nor does it recommend that any proposed guidelines be made mandatory.

What are those guidelines, you may ask? According to the AP, the task force made four recommendations:

  • Airlines update passengers delayed on tarmacs every 15 minutes even if there is nothing new to report.
  • A secure room be provided for passengers from diverted overseas flights so they can avoid having to go through security checks when reboarding an aircraft to their final destination.
  • When practical, refreshments and entertainment should be made available to passengers confined aboard aircraft awaiting takeoff.
  • Airlines should make reasonable efforts to be keep airplane restrooms usable.

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Don't feel bad if you didn't fall out of your seat with excitement while reading that. I didn't either. This is not to say that I don't appreciate the complex problems associated with tarmac delays or the difficulty of finding good solutions for them. As many proponents of these recommendations point out, the issue of airline delays does not have a one-size-fits-all solution, because different airports have different circumstances, and different types of delays (weather, mechanical, etc.) have wildly varying consequences.

But that doesn't mean passengers should have to settle for an empty handshake, which, to me, is what these recommendations represent. When is it not "practical" to give people water and some peanuts? Any guidelines should, at minimum, require an airline to see to the comfort of its passengers, and to me that means water, juice, soda, snack boxes, sandwiches, and so forth. I also think a time limit for tarmac delays can be imposed, with some common-sense exceptions for planes that are near take-off or airports without empty gates. Because as Congressman Mike Thompson of California said, the task force's suggestions, "are nice window dressing, [but] they don't provide any real guarantees that passengers will not be abandoned on the tarmac."

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