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Unintended consequences department: canceled flights

Congress recently decided that it knew how to run airlines for passengers' convenience better than airlines did, and instituted fines for permitting passengers to wait on the tarmac for more than three hours at a time. And now the New York Times reports:

New federal rules have pretty much abolished instances of planes sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. But the rule, which went into effect in May, may have had the unintended effect of forcing more flights to be canceled, some airline experts say.

Airlines said they have a strong incentive to comply with the tarmac rule given that the potential fines of $27,500 per passenger could end up costing around $3 million per delayed flight. But as a result, airlines have been canceling flights that they expect may face a long delay. When a plane returns to the gate to avoid the three-hour penalty, there is also an extra chance it will get canceled.

From May to September, the last month for which data is publicly available, only 12 flights remained on the tarmac more than three hours. That compares with 535 in the same period last year. But more flights were canceled in the same period, even as airlines reduced their overall capacity. ...

With fewer flights, though, travelers could end up waiting for hours at the airport, or even spend the night there, without any compensation for the inconvenience if bad weather delays operations.

The problem is sure to get worse as the weather does. Earlier at POL and Overlawyered (where I anticipated this exact problem).

Speaking of air travel, today is TSA Opt-Out Day, where travelers should opt-out of backscatter screening to register their nonviolent protest against pointless TSA security measures. Get to the airport early. For more on the recent TSA controversy, check my new TSA Abuse Blog.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.