Imagine being stuck on a plane for hours and hours -- just sitting on the tarmac with no food, water or bathrooms. Hopefully, those horror stories will become a thing of the past.
Beginning Thursday, passengers have some new rights when flights are delayed, and airlines that don't comply will face steep fines.
Under the new rules, airlines must give passengers water, food and access to working toilets after two hours on the tarmac. After a three-hour delay, passengers have the option of getting off the plane.
Airlines that don't follow the rules can be fined $27,000 per passenger. On a large, sold-out flight that could add up to more than $3 million.
The rule also:
- Prohibits the largest U.S. airlines from scheduling chronically delayed flights, subjecting those that do to DOT enforcement action for unfair and deceptive practices;
- Requires U.S. airlines to designate an airline employee to monitor the effects of flight delays and cancellations, respond in a timely and substantive fashion to consumer complaints and provide information to consumers on where to file complaints;
- Requires U.S. airlines to adopt customer service plans and audit their own compliance with their plans; and
- Prohibits U.S. airlines from retroactively applying material changes to their contracts of carriage that could have a negative impact on consumers who already have purchased tickets.
In addition, beginning at the end of July, airlines will be required to display on their website flight delay information for each domestic flight they operate.
While most travelers think it is a good idea, some travel experts worry that it will backfire. They say the rules will lead to more flight cancellations and passengers who can't get onto other planes will be stranded.
The new consumer rule can be found at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2007-0022.