January 28, 2010
Abram I. Bohrer

Good news for airline passengers facing long weather delays. This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced new, and according to many airline passengers, long overdue regulations to protect travelers from becoming stranded on commercial airliners.
Bypassing Congress, the DOT rules mandate that airlines operating domestic flights must allow stranded passengers to deplane after three hours. Airlines also will be required to provide food and water for passengers within two hours of a plane being delayed on a tarmac, and to maintain operable lavatories. The airlines must also provide passengers with medical attention when necessary.
“It’s about time” was the reaction of a passenger interviewed about the new DOT measures. This week’s ruling came on the heels of an incident at Rochester airport where passengers on a Continental ExpressJet were detained overnight on a small cramped aircraft and not permitted to enter the terminal, which was only feet away from the parked aircraft.
The incident conjured up images of JetBlue’s tarmac debacles of three years ago where passengers were stranded on jets a few yards from the terminal for up to 17 hours without food water, diapers or operating toilets.
The incident spawned a grass roots movement among passengers seeking their own bill of rights. The movement garnered much attention and resulted in some states, including New York, passing their own passenger bills of right: only to see those law struck down by courts as violative of federal regulations.
But now, the DOT — with the president’s blessing — has taken strident action on its own through administrative procedures rather than waiting for Congress to act.
If the rules aren’t complied with, the DOT could fine the airlines $27,500 per passenger.