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Airlines Attack 3-Hour Tarmac Limit

Using Media In Disinformation Campaign 

January 6, 2016  

Some in the media are finding it hard to question a MIT-Dartmouth so-called ‘Global Airline Industry Program’ new research paper that’s making the rounds, that states the Three-Hour Tarmac Delay Rule actually leads to more passenger delays.

This paper is entirely a hoax.

It’s a good example of why we must remain ever vigilant and guard against the slings and arrows from the airlines, which are always looking for ways to chip away at the rights of flyers.

We have a long history with these ‘consultants’ in the the MIT and Dartmouth avionics program – which are funded by the airlines and their lobbying bloc. In fact, we testified against them in Congress back in 2009 when fighting to pass the Three-Hour Tarmac Delay Rule.  

This paper is completely counter to the passenger’s side of the debate. 
Passengers have overwhelmingly stated they would rather be delayed inside the airport where they can advocate for themselves, find alternative transportation etc., than be stuck, helpless inside a plane.

FlyersRights founder Kate Hanni said she even went to MIT, ahead of the Congressional hearings, to ask for help understanding the elasticity formulas for departure delays. That for every 1% increase in departures, there is a 2.9% increase in departure delays.  That means that if the airlines overschedule, and they regularly do at mid and major hub airports, there is no way they can get them off the ground.  

There is very little ground capacity and no room for expansion so it’s impossible given the airlines can overschedule at will, and do that daily, that there won’t be on ground delays. 
The airlines prefer to overschedule.
Airlines love to maximize their departures and arrivals, as they do routinely at JFK, a place where the FAA has stated that in the best of conditions you can have 81 flights per hour, (and the airlines schedule up to 120 per hour). This means that there will always be cascading delays at JFK and all mid to large hub airports where airlines are allowed to overschedule with abandon.
This study, perfectly timed to convince both Congress and the DOT to extend the tarmac delay rule or reduce the fines imposed for tarmac delays does nothing to help airline passengers. Instead it would allow the airlines more flexibility to oversaturate airport schedules, and prevent passenger migration in the event of a long ground delay.
And passengers overwhelmingly support limiting tarmac time to no more than three hours. This action was the consequence of thousands of extended tarmac delays of nine hours or more, with horrifying conditions on-board commercial jets in the US. Where passengers witnessed children passing out due to heat exposure, overflowing toilets, cramped spaces, no food or water, screaming babies and no hope of ever getting off the plane as no laws were in place to protect them. 
It’s this “passenger migration” that the airlines want to prevent by keeping you in a plane that doesn’t take off and not allowing you other options.  
What the paper cleverly omits is that the airlines don’t state that gate time is not tarmac time. 
The airlines are already taking advantage of a ‘gate-hold’ loophole, where being stuck on the plane at the gate does not count as ‘tarmac time’.

So, calls to our Hotline and complaints about tarmac delays are magnified by the fact that the hours they sat at the gate are not even counted – with the door open but people not allowed off of the planes.  

Furthermore, the cost of delays is mostly borne by the passengers.  The FAA paid for a study at UC Berkeley in 2008, prior to our regulations being promulgated by the DOT, which stated the airlines lose 8.2 billion per year in delays, the passengers lose 17.1 billion per year in lost time due to flight delays.
Again, the timing of this paper coincides with a new FAA reauthorization bill up for approval, where the airlines are trying to extend the tarmac delay rule to 3.5 hours.

It is a constant battle to retain our hard-fought rights for passengers.
The airlines like to shift the debate on other causes of delays, such as bad weather or antiquated ATC technology, to avoid discussing the real problem which is how airlines respond to irregular operations, which is exacerbated by over scheduling. 

If airline CEOs were as focused and committed, for example, as they were after 9/11 in securing from Congress $5 billion in direct payments and $10 billion in federal loan guarantees, the problem would have been solved many years ago.

Before the Three-Hour Tarmac Delay rule passed in 2009, hundreds of thousands of passengers were annually impacted in this way.  
The airline industry’s strategy of chipping away at our hard-fought tarmac delay rules generates its own set of serious consequences, including negative impacts on the health and welfare of passengers, lost productivity for business travelers and diminished airline brand quality. 

Prior to the 3 hour rule enacted in 2009, 150,000 to 250,000 passengers were being held hostage on the tarmac over 3 hours annually for the commercial convenience of airlines to prevent ‘passenger migration’. 

Airlines opposed letting passengers out of the planes so they could not take alternate transportation or obtain ticket refunds.  Airline flight crews usually cooperated because they lose flight pay if they return to the gate.  

Without the 3-Hour Rule with the possibility of heavy fines, airlines under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and court decisions would return to legalized false imprisonment, something no other industry or government entity enjoys.  Most lengthy tarmac delays are due to bad weather, lack of personnel or equipment and result in eventual cancellation after long delays.  

Paul Hudson
Public Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee

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