3 June flights sat on the tarmac for more than 3 hours; no increase in canceled flights

By Samantha Bomkamp, AP
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

3 United flights had long tarmac delays in June

NEW YORK — Only three flights sat on the tarmac for more than three hours in June compared with nearly 300 a year ago, the government said Tuesday. Airlines didn’t have to cancel more flights to avoid potentially massive fines for those long delays.

All three of the flights that were on the runway for more than three hours were operated by United Airlines, and all broke the three-hour limit by five minutes or less. All were flying out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport on the same day — June 18 — when thunderstorms and strong winds battered the area. United later canceled two of the three flights that were held up.

United said in a statement that the weather prevented employees from safely loading and unloading aircraft at a few points during the day. The airline said it gave passengers on the flights food, drinks and regular updates. It also provided compensation to customers on the canceled flights.

Last June, 268 flights were delayed for more than three hours. June is one of the busiest months for air travel and is also one of the stormiest months of the year.

Airlines canceled 1.5 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in June, the same as a year ago and just slightly higher than the 1.2 percent rate in May.

June was the second month the tarmac delay rule was in effect. Airlines face stiff fines if they do not return passengers to the terminal within the three-hour limit.

Four United flights sat on runways for more than three hours in May, the first month fines were in effect. All were delayed on the same day, at the same airport, because of bad weather. The fifth flight on the tarmac for more than three hours was operated by Delta, which also blamed bad weather.

Transportation Department spokesman Bill Mosely said there still hasn’t been a decision made on whether a fine will be slapped on airlines that had planes held on the tarmac for than three hours, or what the fine might be. The maximum fine under the rule is $27,500 per passenger, but the department rarely imposes maximum fines.

The Transportation Department reported the June statistics Tuesday as part of its monthly on-time report. Hawaiian Airlines again operated the most flights on time, followed by Alaska Airlines and US Airways.

U.S. airlines reported an overall on-time rate in June of 76.4 percent, up from 76.1 percent in the same month last year, but down from May’s 79.9 percent rate.

will not be displayed