Airlines Ground Thousands of Passengers to Avoid Tarmac Fines

Rather than face steep tarmac delay fines, airlines are just canceling flights.

ByABC News
July 9, 2010, 2:20 PM

July 9, 2010— -- Airlines appear now to be canceling more flights rather than risk multi-million dollar fines for keeping passengers stuck on the tarmac for three hours or more.

While passengers won't be trapped in hot, crowded jets for hours on end, they might be stuck waiting in terminals even longer, and getting to their destination hours, maybe even days later.

Only five domestic flights in May waited on the tarmac for more than three hours, according to new data from the Department of Transportation. That's down from 34 planes last May.

At the same time, airlines chose to cancel more flights. Last May, there were 4,792 flight cancelations. This May, that figure jumped to 6,716 flights, according to the DOT.

Airlines protested the new DOT tarmac rule, saying it would have unintended consequences including the cancelation of more flights, ultimately getting passengers to their destinations later.

"There's a much larger number of cancelations than we've ever seen before," said Darryl Jenkins, an airline consultant who also runs the website The Airline Zone.

Jenkins said it is taking 17 to 18 hours on average to rebook passengers on those canceled flights.

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Rick Seaney, CEO of airfare-search site and an columnist, said that countless passengers were stuck at the terminal instead for extra hours, waiting to get home.

"My guess: more than half probably would have rather hung in for a bit more time to get home instead of partaking in airport amenities," Seaney said.