NAPA, Calif. – FlyersRights.org today renewed its call for mandatory airport tarmac delay contingency plans after flight diversions caused by an early winter storm resulted in hundreds of passengers being stranded on the tarmac for up to 10 hours. The disaster’s epicenter was Hartford, Connecticut’s Bradley Field. With New York-area airports closed, some 23 flights were diverted to Bradley, including some international flights. Bradley Field was ill-prepared, just as it was in June, 2010, when a Virgin Atlantic flight was diverted from Newark, stranding over 300 passengers for over four hours. Stranded passengers called the FlyersRights Passenger Hotline to report intolerable cabin conditions and medical emergencies on their flights. In a message to DOT leadership today, Hanni said, “We believe that, had there been a mandate for the airport to have a plan, they would have been more aggressive about their situational awareness and getting folks off of those planes.”
FlyersRights.org founder and Executive Director Kate Hanni said, “I chalk this up to airports having no contingency plans.” Incident severity was magnified because airports, unlike airlines, are not required to develop tarmac delay contingency plans. Time after time, airports faced with other-than-normal situations fail to respond, and the air traveling public pays for it. From the 2010 Christmas Storm’s 19 extended tarmac delays through last year’s Virgin Blue stranding to this weekend’s disaster, the crying need for realistic planning has been clear.
Contingency plans, regulated and approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, could provide an efficient and seamless mechanism to prevent long tarmac strandings. By comparison, International airports, such as those in the European Union have them. This is due to the fact that the EU has passed and implemented regulations in 2004. Some of these rules include provisions that require that passengers are paid a minimum of 250 EU up to 600 EU for flight delays of any kind. The rules also require that specific goods and services must be offered to passengers during delays such as phones, fax, food, and water.
“One contingency many EU airports have in place is the option to use passenger busses or co-busses that can deplane stranded passengers. Almost every country in the world has triple the number of co-busses the US has. EU has over 2400, in the U.S. we have 65,” added Hanni. “This is one option the U.S. should explore.”
Hanni also highlighted last year’s Christmas Storm incidents, noting that, “Last December, the New York/New Jersey Port Authority told employees to depart JFK, leaving no one in attendance when flights tried to return to the gate or arrived from international destinations. Had they been subjected to potential fines I don’t believe they would make that same decision.” Absent any penalty, the airports will not address this issue.
“We are pleased that the DOT is launching an investigation into this issue, and strongly urge the Department to issue a new rule requiring airports to develop contingency plans for tarmac delays, addressing preparations for these inevitable incidents. We are prepared to work around the clock with DOT and Airports to develop these plans before the Holiday travel season is upon us,” concluded Hanni.