A new rule takes effect Thursday that will impose fines on the airlines up to $27,500 per customer when passengers are kept on a grounded plane for more than three hours. Airlines will also be required to provide water and snacks when the delay is from two to three hours, and to keep bathrooms on the plane functioning.
Sounds great. However, the Air Transport Association is warning that some carriers will just cancel flights rather than breach the three-hour limit, and some are predicting that scrapped flights in New York may rise up to 15 percent.
The rule applies only to domestic flights. It gives an exemption for pilots who cite safety or security concerns. Air-traffic controllers can also waive the three-hour limit if they decide returning a plane to the gate would disrupt airport operations.
The rule follows several well-publicized groundings of American Airlines and JetBlue flights in late 2006 and early 2007 that had passengers stuck on planes for almost 11 hours with limited food and water, crying babies, and stinky toilets. Continental Airlines and two regional partners were fined $175,000 in November for holding 47 customers on a plane overnight at Rochester, Minnesota, last year. The fine could have been as much as $1.29 million under the new rules.
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