Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Airlines want out of new penalties for extended tarmac delays

Even before new rules imposing fines on airlines that leave passengers waiting more than three hours on airport tarmacs take effect, air carriers are stacking up exemption requests. US Airways has become the latest to apply for a waiver from the new U.S. Department of Transportation requirements, which are not scheduled to go into effect until April 29, according to Cable News Network (CNN). US Airways has asked for a waiver for its hub in Philadelphia to avoid fines as high as $27,500 per passenger in the event of a long delay. US Airways' filing backed requests for similar exemptions from competing airlines JetBlue, Delta, American and Continental, CNN said. The filing said US Airways needs the exemption "because it shares the same airspace, is part of the same air traffic control center (New York Center), and has the same congestion challenges as JFK, LaGuardia and Newark," CNN said. Federal officials have not acted on any of the requests, but a DOT spokesman reacted negatively in a prepared statement. "Carriers have it within their power to schedule their flights more realistically, to have spare aircraft and crews available to avoid cancellations," spokesman Bill Mosley said. But Mosely might have been responding to a statement by Continental CEO Jeff Smisek that his airline would cancel flights to avoid penalties. Of course, the new regulations would have no meaning at all if airlines can be excused from complying with them, right? And the regulations probably would not even have been proposed were it not for a series of well-publicized incidents in which passengers were kept for hours aboard planes at airports, even though it really doesn't seem to be so difficult to figure out how disrespectful and downright uncomfortable such involuntary confinement is for airline customers. Right? In fact, an airline passengers' rights activist said as much in a statement released after the requests. "The fact that the airlines are already working actively to find loopholes and excuses to avoid compliance with the new consumer protections before the regulations even go into effect demonstrates their continued hostility to consumers and new laws and policies designed to protect them," said Kate Hanni, the founder of

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