Washington, D.C.—The airline industry is calling new Obama administration regulations "inconsistent" with its "goal of completing as many flights as possible."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has ordered airlines to allow passengers off planes delayed on the ground after three hours. Those who don't comply could be fined $27,500 per passenger for each violation.
The airline industry says it will comply with the regulations - which go into effect in 120 days - but it predicts the result will be more canceled flights and more inconvenienced passengers. LaHood dismissed such concerns, saying he can't think of anything "more disruptive to people than to be stuck sitting on a plane five, six, seven hours with no explanation."
Airlines can be exempted from the rule for safety or security concerns of it air traffic control advises that returning would disrupt airport operations.
The three-hour limit applies to domestic flights, but operators of international flights will be required to specify their own time limits for deplaning . For both domestic and international flights, the rule includes exceptions for instances where deplaning would present safety or security concerns, or if it would be disruptive to airport operations.
The rule also requires that airlines post flight delay information on their websites and adopt customer service plans to address complaints relating to flight delays and cancellations. Airlines will also be required to provide food and water within two hours of a delay.
"Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement.
The rule was sparked by a series of recent tarmac delays, such as one case involving a Minneapolis-bound flight that was diverted to Rochester, Minn., and sat idle on the tarmac for nearly six hours before passengers were allowed to leave the plane. The Transportation Department fined three carriers involved in the delay.
The department is considering rules that would require airlines to disclose baggage fees and to disclose the full price of advertised flights. Also under consideration are rules to require stronger reporting of and contingency plans for tarmac delays.