The airline industry may be complaining, but any U.S. airline passenger would agree with the federal government that three hours is plenty long enough to sit on an airplane waiting to take off.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the new three-hour limit and other new regulations announced on Monday were intended to send a strong message that airlines are not allowed to hold passengers hostage on delayed domestic flights.
It’s about time.
Airline passengers have precious few rights these days. They are crammed into tight seating and forced to wait while boarding passengers try to find space for all the luggage they carry on to avoid checked-luggage fees. Most flights are full, making it almost impossible to find an alternate flight if a trip is interrupted by bad weather or a cancellation.
But most travelers would agree there is nothing worse than being trapped for hours on an airliner, usually without flight attendant service or even access to bathrooms, while awaiting clearance for takeoff. In an extreme case that may finally have gotten the federal government’s attention, 47 passengers were kept on their plane overnight in Rochester, Minn., last month because airline employees refused to open a gate that would allow them to enter the terminal.
The airlines already are complaining that the new regulations will result in more canceled flights and more inconvenience for passengers. On the contrary, it should force airlines to make better decisions concerning basic passenger service and comfort. It may be easier for airlines to load an airplane and let it sit for indefinite periods of time on the tarmac, but it is not easier for the passengers.
Too many airlines seem oblivious to factors that are causing many travelers to avoid air travel. It’s partly a financial choice, but many travelers also are influenced by declining levels of airline service and dependability.
In 120 days, after the regulations go into effect, airlines could be fined up to $27,500 per passenger for each violation of the three-hour limit. Any passengers who exceed the three-hour wait on their holiday travels this year would think that’s little enough penalty for airlines to bear.