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U.S. Threatens Airlines With Fines for Long Tarmac Waits

Updated: Dec. 22, 2009, 12:35pm ET

Score one for airline passengers: The Obama administration said Monday it will begin penalizing air carriers for leaving passengers stuck on a tarmac for more than three hours.

Under the new guidelines, which take effect in 120 days and apply to domestic flights, airlines would face fines of $27,500 per passenger for violations. Carriers will also be required to provide food and water for passengers within two hours of a being delayed on a tarmac, and to maintain working bathrooms.

An average of 1,500 domestic flights each year experience runway delays of more than three hours, affecting some 114,000 passengers, according to the Wall Street Journal. One of the worst cases of the past year occurred in August, when what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Houston to Minneapolis was diverted to Rochester, Minn., and the 47 passengers on board were not allowed to disembark for six hours.

“Airline passengers have rights, and these new rules will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement announcing the decision.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the long-delayed flight last August from Houston to Minneapolis was diverted to Rochester, N.Y.

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