You have to give credit where it's due, or at least that's what Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood thinks. LaHood penned a short note today thanking the airlines for their part in reducing tarmac delays. Since the DOT's rule banning tarmac delays longer than three hours took hold in April, the number of those delays has dropped more than 98 percent. Here's what LaHood had to say:
These numbers show that our recent tarmac delay rule is working—and passengers are being given options in the event of unanticipated delays. With the busy summer travel season behind us, it seems the rule is working as planned.
But these numbers demonstrate something else worth highlighting: our nation's airlines are doing their part.
Data submitted by the airlines indicate that, not only were extended tarmac delays down, but flight cancellations in August did not increase from the previous year. And, more favorable weather conditions this year account for only a small portion of the improvement over last year.
The bulk of the turnaround is a testament to the hard work the airlines are putting into managing the new rule. And I thank them for their efforts to improve service for passengers. It's difficult to imagine the positive results we've noted without the commitment they've shown.
I think it's great for LaHood to acknowledge the role airlines have played in eliminating tarmac delays. Considering the DOT has used every opportunity since April to broadcast the success of its rule, it would not have been at all surprising to see it claim the achievement entirely for itself. It would be a false claim, of course, because all the DOT has done is threaten airlines with fines. It hasn't proposed or implemented operational changes that fixed the problem; it simply put a metaphorical gun to the airlines' heads and said, "do this, or else." And the airlines have.
I was also happy to see LaHood admit that the rule is still too young to be declared a true success. He writes, "It may be too soon to declare victory for aviation consumers—we know that winter weather often presents its own challenges to our aviation system ... We'll keep watching the data in the coming months to make sure this positive trend continues."
It absolutely is too soon to declare total victory, but so far, not bad. Airlines and passengers made it through the summer without a massive operational collapse, and that's good. Airlines only had a few months to prepare for the rule, and even though most of them spent that time whining about it, they've responded well. That they've effectively eliminated tarmac delays while keeping cancellations mostly in check is a real accomplishment. Let's hope this trend, and the DOT's new cooperational tone, continues through the winter.