It turns out that the airlines did not, as they claimed, have valid reasons for treating their customers like hostages.
The Department of Transportation reports that only three domestic flights were stranded for more than three hours on the tarmac last month — compared with 268 in July 2009. Last month was, not at all coincidentally, the first full month of new regulations that impose stiff fines on airlines that violate the three-hour limit.
The three delayed flights — all United Airlines flights caught in thunderstorms at O’Hare on June 18 — went only 5 minutes over the limit and may not have violated the new regulations, which make exceptions for cases where it would be dangerous to unload passengers.
And it turns out, as the DOT reports, flight cancellations did not increase as the airline industry swore they would under the new regulations. “The carriers canceled 1.5 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in June, equal to the 1.5 percent cancellation rate of June 2009, ” according to the DOT.
And so what if cancellation rates did increase as a result of the new regulations? You’d hear no complaints from me. It’s pretty clear that most passengers would rather see their flights canceled than be held indefinitely on an aircraft.
What was needed here was for airlines and airports to summon up the will to treat passengers with dignity and decency. Now that they’ve been forced to summon up that will, perhaps they’ll find it’s good business.
And, meanwhile, the DOT might try extending these regulations to cover international flights so that we don’t see another fiasco like the one that Virgin Atlantic passengers endured at Bradley last month.