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Rule to prevent flight delays causes more delays

Dec 23, 2015   |   by Jessica Plautz   |   Mashable

Sitting on a plane waiting to take off can be uncomfortable, frustrating or even downright disgusting.

Which is why, after several egregious incidents, the US Department of Transportation instituted a rule in 2010 that limits tarmac delays — the time spent on the ground from when the plane door is shut to takeoff, and from landing to when the door is opened again — to three hours on domestic flights.

Five years later, researchers at Dartmouth have published a study looking at the effect of the rule. Is air travel better now?

It is if you hate being stuck in an airplane. But of course there's more to the story.

"The [Tarmac Delay Rule] has been highly effective in reducing the frequency of occurrence of long tarmac times," the researchers wrote. "However, another significant effect of the rule has been the rise in flight cancellation rates."

The researchers continue:

Through our results and several sensitivity analyses, we show that the overall impact of the current Tarmac Delay Rule is a significant increase in passenger delays, especially for passengers scheduled to travel on the flights which are at risk of long tarmac delays.

So, travelers: Which would you prefer? Spending the occasional terribly long delay inside an airplane with a maddening view of the airport, or having to rebook that flight and taking on all the hassle (accommodations, transit, missed vacation days) that entails?

What's the matter? Don't like your options?

"Tarmac delay policies: A passenger-centric analysis" is a continuation by the authors of previous studies on the same subject: The Tarmac Delay Rule has been controversial since the legislation was first introduced.

Airline executives warned in 2010 that implementing the rule would lead them to cancel more flights. It seems their prediction/threat has come true.

So what's the solution?

The researchers have a couple of suggestions: In order to be more effective, they say, the rule should be modified to have a tarmac time limit of 3.5 hours, and should only be applied to flights departing before 5pm. They suggest the time limit should apply to when the aircraft begins returning to the gate, not the time at which passengers would actually be released.

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