The Department of Transportation has created a new rule (going into effect in 120 days) limiting the length of tarmac delays for US airlines to three hours. Furthermore, airlines will have to provide food and water for passengers within two hours of a flight being delayed on the tarmac.
In general this makes sense. I’ve been stuck once or twice on a regional jet for hours, and it’s no fun, but is this rule the solution? Unfortunately I don’t think it is. First of all, three hours is rather arbitrary. I can imagine having a three hour delay, being number two for takeoff, and then returning to the gate because one passenger decides they don’t want to fly anymore. And then of course it all gets more fun from there. At the very least you lose your takeoff slot. Or there’s a good chance your flight will be canceled thanks to the crew going illegal from working too many hours. Besides, is the concourse really that much better than being stuck on a plane when your flight gets canceled and the airport is way overcrowded?
For many types of delays there’s no good solution. But for those where gates are available and you know it’s going to be a long wait, I’d much rather airlines never board the flights to begin with. Of course I realize I’m dreaming….
For a different perspective check out this funny clip from the Rachel Maddow Show (tip of the hat to Matt).