Annals of airline regulations

Don't Delay; Cancel!

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Are three hours of your time worth $27,500? If they're spent in an airplane on a tarmac, the U.S. Department of Transportation says they are. 

In December the department announced that it would begin fining airlines per passenger for any tarmac delay lasting more than three hours. The fines, which took effect on April 29, mean that a delayed 747 jammed full of people headed to their summer vacations could cost the airline more than $13 million.

But there's a loophole in the new rules big enough to fly that 747 though: If a flight is canceled, the fine does not apply. This means flight cancellations will become more common. Under the new rules, every flight that is delayed more than three hours on a U.S. runway is very likely to be canceled.

Should an airline trigger a fine by violating the rules, the money won't go to the passengers affected. The feds will collect the cash, while travelers enjoy their "fundamental right to be treated with respect," in the words of Transportation Department spokeswoman Maureen Knightly. All that respect is sure to keep vacationers warm while they doze in uncomfortable chairs or stretch out on the terminal linoleum to await rebooking. 

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