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Ground Delays: Government or Airline Problem?

September 26, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News

Back in 2000, many of the major airlines made a commitment to change the way they approached extended ground delays. The airlines were to put policies in place that would make things as comfortable and convenient as possible for passengers during those lengthy stays on the tarmac. Well, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but a recent Transportation Department study shows that, on the whole, airlines haven’t followed through on that commitment…

As reported by Reuters, the study found that major airlines “have specifically failed to develop contingencies for stocking enough food and water or sort out when and how they would get passengers off planes during extremely long delays.”

Along with those findings, the study demonstrates that extended delays are on the rise:

“Based on the first seven months of 2007, Scovel’s report found more than 54,000 scheduled flights affecting nearly 3.7 million passengers experienced ground delays of 1 to 5 hours or more. That is an increase of nearly 42 percent over 2006.”

With continuing problems on the ground, some feel that it’s time for the government to step in and put their own policies and requirements in place. Airline industry insiders and lobbyists, however, believe that the industry is taking the necessary steps to ensure better performance in ground delay situations, and they believe government interference will only make things worse.

In fairness to the airlines, ground delays aren’t always their fault. There are issues with weather and air traffic, and there are instances like the one that occurred in Memphis yesterday when the failure of communications equipment forced the FAA to shut down airline traffic within 250 miles of Memphis. This affected passengers and caused ground delays in cities ranging from Houston to Indianapolis. During busy travel times like the holidays, these types of problems can quickly turn minor delays into extended delays, so it’s important for airlines to be prepared.

We know there will always be ground delays. However, it’s time for every airline to put clear policies in place to make these delays bearable for passengers. Airline crews need to be fully aware of them, so the policies can be executed effectively and in a timely manner. Whether it will take government oversight to make that happen remains to be seen.

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