NAPA, Calif. – On October 29th, 2011, 28 international and domestic flights were diverted to Bradley Airport in Hartford, CT due to inclement weather, stranding a large number of passengers, one for over 10 hours. This was due to the fact that airports are not held accountable under the stipulations of the current three-hour tarmac rule. International flights are also held to a different standard due to customs requirements. Today, FlyersRights.org proposed additional enhancements to the DOT Rule to close the “diversion” loophole.
“Local airports must have the authority to allow passengers to disembark to secured areas within the facilities, based on a set of accepted guidelines during exigent circumstances such as inclement weather,” said Kate Hanni, President and Founder of FlyersRights.org. “Additionally, should international passengers be stranded due to diversions, arrangements should be made to deplane them after four hours to a secure area if resources are not available on the ground to clear them through customs effectively.”
“We are working with the Department of Transportation, the Transportation Security Administration, industry stakeholders and others to safely and efficiently close this loophole as soon as possible,” added Hanni.
The problems at Bradley caused by the diverted flights were not unique. In 2006, 138 American Airline flights, both domestic and international, were diverted to 24 different airports across Texas. At least 67 of those flights were forced to sit for over four hours on the tarmacs, with some of them sitting in excess of 9 hours. In April 2007, 92 flights were diverted to the same airports, with similar stranding wait times. These were regularly occurring events that affected hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting passengers.
In 2008, a Task Force representing the airlines, airports, the TSA, CBP and FlyersRights.org, was created for “developing contingency plans for long on-ground delays.” The TSA made a recommendation for the airports to deplane international passengers into a “sterile” room without having to go through normal customs procedures. Passengers would have been escorted to and from the secured area by airline or airport employees and allowed to re-embark for the continuation of their trip. To date, no airports have taken any steps to adopt that policy.
FlyersRights.org has sent out several Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests to all major and medium hub airports that regularly receive diverted flights. Although results have not yet been finalized, preliminary figures indicate at least half of all airports have not implemented any contingency plans for the management of passengers diverted to their facilities. Many of the airports contacted have responded by saying that it not their responsibility to have a plan, but is solely the responsibility of the airlines to manage this issue. The full results of the airline and airport readiness study will be released to the media by December 30th.