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dec 21 2009

Fliers' rights at last!

The skeptics said it would never happen.

Today the Department of Transportation ordered domestic airlines to let passengers stuck inside a stranded airplane de-board after three hours on the tarmac. The main exceptions are for safety or security or, as the Washington Post puts it, "if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations."

The rules go into effect early next year. (Wish it was going into effect during the holiday and winter travel season, but oh well.)

The new rules also require that passengers receive food and water within a two-hour delay on the tarmac.

Congrats to Kate Hanni and her group of angry travelers who pressured Congress and federal officials to pass the law. Whether you agree with the rule or not, it's a major achievement to take on the airline lobby and win. Budget Travel came out in support of a three-hour rule back in 2007, and we're happy to see it finally put into place.

Many people will be affected. In the first half of the year, for example, more than 600 flights had tarmac delays lasting more than three hours.

How many travelers have actually been stuck on the tarmac in extreme delays? In the past couple of years, more than 200,000 passengers have been on planes that have been been stuck on the tarmac for at least three hours, reports USA Today. That number contrasts with the roughly 1.6 billion people flown during the same timespan.

The new rule will be controversial. When we asked readers "Should there be a law against 3-hour tarmac delays?", more than 120 of you responded—with opinions all over the map. Here's a sampling:

"YES, A THREE-HOUR RULE IS A GREAT LAW."

Passengers need to have some rights in these types of situations. Under Nevada law, it is kidnapping if you hold someone without their consent. When O.J. Simpson said "nobody leaves this room" it was kidnapping under the law even though it was in the victims own hotel room.

The industry's non sequitur responses to the idea of regulation are absurd. The make it seem like the passengers are the problem, not the airline.

We all try to be reasonable travelers but a 7 to 9 hour wait on a tarmac is not reasonable. People like me may have prescription medications in their checked bags that they can't get to when needed. Does somebody have to die before the problem gets addressed? Posted By Tom B.

"MAYBE."

I think that if there is a 3-hour delay maybe they don't have to let us off, but they should be forced to give us free meals (though perhaps alcoholic drinks would not be a good thing), the way it used to be on airlines: free food and soft drinks to make our interminable wait more bearable. I mean the fact that they keep you is bad enough, but they starve you too. Once they start losing money from all the meals they are forced to give out they'll start fixing stuff. They might not be able to let us off on the tarmac but they can sure drive a food truck up to the airplane to load up our free meals. Posted By Joe S.

"NO WAY!"

I don't support this law. The incidences of such long tarmac delays are rare and involve unusual circumstances. Most people just want to get to their destination. Forcing planes to return to the gate and disembark passengers will end up forcing entire flights to get cancelled and the entire planeload of passengers even more severely inconvenienced, when a few more minutes of delay might have been enough for the flight to continue on its way.

Most of the long delays I've read about and experienced have been weather related, and returning to the terminal would not have gotten anyone to their destination more quickly -- exactly the opposite would have been the result. I don't think it's fair that a few crybabies get to dole out punishment and a huge inconvenience on the rest of the travelers who simply want to get on with it as soon as possible. Posted By Daviator

Feel free to sound off with your own view below.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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