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Bob Moon: The airlines have to keep a new schedule starting today: leave passengers waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours and they’ll be fined more than $25,000 a passenger. The regulation’s meant to prevent situations like Valentines Day 2007, when Jet Blue kept some passengers cooped up for more than 10 hours. But as Marketplace’s Alisa Roth tells us, some aviation experts are cautioning the rule’s more than a little misguided.
Alisa Roth: It doesn’t matter if the problem is the weather, a mechanical issue, or just plain old delays. If passengers are stuck on a plane for more than two hours, the airline has to provide food and drinks. And if the delay is longer than three hours, the airline has to let passengers off the plane.
This is all meant to protect the passengers. But Roger King, an airline analyst at Credit Sights, says it’s an absurd solution. Because airlines would rather cancel flights than risk the fine. And he says cancellations are where the hassles really start.
Roger King: Anytime a flight’s canceled, not only does it, you know, screw up people trying to get booked on other flights that are all pretty much filled up. But wherever the plane’s headed, you know, it affects their flights too.
He says marathon delays like the ones that prompted this rule are actually pretty uncommon. They just generate a lot of chatter and bad publicity. He says a smarter solution would be a way for airplanes to jump back into the take off queue once the problem that was causing the delay cleared up.
Mike Boyd runs an airline consulting business in Colorado. He says the rule is the government’s cheap answer to a much bigger problem: the air traffic control system is inadequate.
Mike Boyd: We have an air traffic control system that cannot handle weather as well as it should because it’s out of date. Therefore if you have a line of thunderstorms airplanes can’t go through it, because we don’t have the equipment to do it. And airplanes will divert or just be late.
Both he and King say claims this rule could push pilots to cut corners on safety is patently ridiculous. But that passengers could start seeing the effect of skittish airlines almost immediately.
I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.
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