Tarmac delays, R.I.P.? Don’t bet on it

Did the federal government just kill tarmac delays?

You could be forgiven for thinking so after reading this morning’s news release from the Transportation Department, which declared that for the first time since it began keeping records on tarmac delays, it recorded no delays of more than three hours in October. That’s down from 11 flights in Oct. 2009.

There’s no word on delays of less than three hours, although it seems our attention is likely to focus on them soon.

I’ll skip the Ray LaHood soundbite. Needless to say, the DOT is pleased with itself.

But did it just kill tarmac delays? I wouldn’t be so sure.
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Now that the tarmac delay rule is “working as planned” should the government shorten the leash?

That’s a question a lot of airline observers may be asking themselves after today’s DOT report (PDF) that there was just one tarmac delay exceeding three hours in August 2010.

And look at this chart (above). What point is reporting this data to the flying public when there’s no meaningful data to report?

The Transportation Department is doing a well-deserved victory lap on tarmac delays. In today’s news release, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood summed up his department’s reasons to celebrate:

These numbers show that the tarmac delay rule is protecting passengers from being trapped indefinitely aboard an airplane – with little or no increase in canceled flights.

Also, it shows that the hard work the airlines are putting into implementing the rule is paying off. With the summer travel season behind us, it appears that the rule is working as planned.

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Ray LaHood: “We’re in the era of full disclosure”

In part two of their interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Christopher Elliott and Charlie Leocha explore the new tarmac-delay restrictions for airlines and pending rules for the disclosure of surcharges, such as baggage fees, that have spread through the airline industry. Here’s the first part.

The number of enforcement actions are up at the department’s Aviation Enforcement Office. Did you go down there and light a fire under them?

I think that people in the department understood when I came on board that safety was number one and we were going to look out for consumers. People knew I was a member of Congress and that I was co-sponsor of the Passenger Bill of Rights. Once we put out the tarmac rule, that sent a message out all over these two buildings and all over the FAA buildings who we care about.
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If traffic fatalities just hit a record low then why is Ray LaHood unhappy?

First, the good news: The government this morning announced that the number of overall traffic fatalities reported at the end of 2009 reached the lowest level since 1954, a new record.

Now the bad news: The boss is still unhappy.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood dismissed the results in a blog post this morning:

I am … disturbed that we are still talking about nearly 34,000 preventable deaths a year. There are still too many people dying in traffic accidents every year. Just too many.

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Transportation Department steps up efforts in aviation consumer protection

Attention, air travelers: The government has your back.

The Transportation Department’s airline cops have written big tickets in recent months, including a $375,000 fine against Spirit Airlines for, among other things, failing to comply with denied-boarding compensation rules, and a $600,000 fine against an online travel company called Ultimate Fares, for advertising violations.

“Aviation consumer protection is one of my top priorities, and we are taking a fresh look at the industry from that perspective,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told me recently.
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