The Transportation Department decreed today that U.S. airlines operating domestic flights must allow passengers to leave their plane after it's been delayed on the tarmac for three hours. Why this rule is only happening now and not 50 or so years ago is unclear to us, but better late than never, we guess, considering that a whopping 613 flights were delayed on the runway for more than three hours between January and June of this year. In addition to releasing passengers from their claustrophobia vessels, airlines will also have to provide food and water after two hours, and even keep the toilets functioning!
Clearly this is all a great leap forward, but the new regulations do come with a bunch of caveats that should temper any excitement at finally being treated in a minimally humane way on a plane. First, there are exceptions for "safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations" — in others words, for anything. Second, foreign carriers are totally exempt and American carriers operating international flights "must specify, in advance, their own time limits for deplaning passengers." And, finally, these new rules don't go into effect for another four months, so your Christmas travel this year could still very well suck.
Tarmac Delays Limited: Government Imposes 3-Hour Limit [AP via HuffPo]