June 16th’s United Flight 937 violates DOT’s 3-Hour Rule, trapping passengers on the tarmac for nearly 7 hours at Dulles International, ignoring key provisions of DOT’s April 29, 2010, rulemaking. Cliff Porter, a passenger on Flight 937, describes the flight from hell in great detail in his complaint to the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Department (http://tinyurl.com/3bl6l4s). Loaded on time, the passengers sat at the gate for over an hour before pushing back. The ordeal had begun, but the Rule says “tarmac time” doesn’t start until push back. Thus, airlines can load airplanes but hold them at the gate indefinitely.
A series of delays prevented takeoff, and they sat on the tarmac for about 3.5 hours. During that time, only a few passengers were provided water, and no food was offered. Both the tarmac time and service deficiencies are direct violations of DOT provisions. Back at the gate, a Flight 937 flight attendant stood in the doorway and threatened those trying to leave. He claimed that all restaurants were closed (false), there were no hotel rooms available in Washington, D.C. (Porter and several others had just secured a reservation using his smartphone), and that departing the aircraft would “ruin it for everyone.” Having intimidated the passengers, he then closed the door. No food or water was offered for the duration of the ordeal. The flight departed at 12:50 a.m.
United Airlines violated the letter and intent of the DOT rule, and should be held accountable.
Airline passengers should be aware that until their flight departs the gate, they are free to get off of the plane if the pilot chooses to hold the plane at the gate for a protracted period of time. Passengers should ask the gate agent and/or the pilot if the plane will be sitting for any length of time prior to departing the gate so that they can advocate for themselves. Passengers must know that the airline does not have to serve food, water or do anything for passengers while sitting at the gate.
FlyersRights.org urges the DOT to modify the definition of tarmac time to include gate holds of longer than 30 minutes after the plane is fully loaded, and to continue tarmac time accumulation while passengers are on board during unscheduled gate returns.