On December 21, 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation, ("DOT"), announced a new rule that imposes a three hour limit on the amount of time an airline can keep a passenger on board a domestic flight that has been delayed on the tarmac. Exceptions exist within the rule for concerns of safety or security, or if the air traffic control advises the pilot that a return to the gate would disrupt the operations of the airport.
Additionally, the rule, which goes into effect in 120 days from the date of its adoption, will require airlines to provide food, water and operable bathroom facilities to passengers on board within two hours of a plane's tarmac delay.
The rule comes as a response to several well-publicized incidents occurring amongst the airlines in which passengers were stranded for great lengths of time - in one case for nearly 11 hours - on the tarmac and unable to deplane. During these incidents, passengers reported being denied food, water or working lavatory facilities. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the new rule "will require airlines to live up to their obligation to treat their customers fairly."