Lengthy delays for passengers on airport tarmacs -- once seemingly on their way to extinction -- are creeping back up.
Fourteen flights sat on tarmacs for more than three hours in June compared with only three in June 2010, the latest monthly data by the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics out Tuesday show.
It was the second month in a row that the number of three-hour delays reached double digits since a new Transportation Department rule took effect in April 2010. The rule can lead to fines for airlines of up to $27,500 per passenger for tarmac delays that last more than three hours.
Until May and June of this year, when heavy thunderstorms and high winds swept through several major hub airports, airlines had mostly kept the lengthy delays in check.
From May through December 2010, there were only 15 delays of more than three hours, when there were 584 during the same period in 2009 before the rule took effect.
The Transportation Department has yet to fine any airlines for delays though it's investigating several, department spokesman Bill Mosley says.
Kate Hanni, a passenger rights advocate who lobbied for the tarmac delay rule, says the government is hesitant to confront the airlines that vigorously opposed the rule.
"A rule without teeth is meaningless," says Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org. "If (the department) doesn't impose fines, tarmac delays will continue to increase. Airlines are going to push the envelope because they're not scared."
Airlines have argued that bad weather, which prompts most flight delays, backs up airports, especially those with heavy traffic.
Five of the 14 recent delays occurred at Chicago O'Hare on June 21, when severe weather forced hundreds of flights to be canceled at the airport. Three United flights were also stranded on the tarmac at Washington Dulles for more than three hours on June 16, a day of thunderstorms in the region.
An American Eagle flight was stuck on the tarmac at New York's JFK for nearly four hours on June 21, the longest delay in June.
The bureau also reported:
The 16 largest U.S. carriers delivered 77% of their flights on time, relatively unchanged from 76.4% in June 2010 and May's 77.1%. A flight is considered on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of schedule. Among the major carriers, Alaska Airlines topped the list with 91.4%. US Airways fared the worst, with 73%.
Of nearly 528,600 flights operated by all 16 carriers in June, about 9,200 were canceled, a rate of 1.8%. That compares with 1.5% in June 2010 and 2.1% in May.
The carriers posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.57 reports per 1,000 passengers in June, down from June 2010's rate of 3.65 but up from May's 3.52. American Eagle Airlines, a subsidiary of AMR, reported the highest rate of mishandled bags.
The number of customer complaints received by DOT in June was 1,127, down 21% from a year earlier.
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