Oversight Weaknesses Limit DOT’s Ability to Ensure Passenger Protections During Long, On-Board Flight Delays
Airline passengers experienced over 2 million flight delays per year in 2012 and 2013. Of these, few are classified as long, on-board delays—that is, delays exceeding 3 hours when passengers are on the aircraft. However, such delays cause passengers undue discomfort and inconvenience. In 2009 and 2011, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued regulations requiring airlines to establish contingency plans with assurances that provide for passenger comfort during long, on-board flight delays (LOBFD). Accordingly, we assessed DOT’s oversight of airports’ and airlines’ compliance with contingency plans and other LOBFD requirements.
While DOT has effectively reviewed and approved contingency plans submitted by U.S. airports and airlines, it does not ensure that plans posted on U.S. and foreign air carrier Web sites contain all required assurances and are easily accessible, as required. As a result, consumers may not be aware of their rights in the event of a LOBFD. In addition, weaknesses in DOT’s investigation process and tarmac delay regulations limit its efforts to ensure violations are identified and addressed and LOBFD requirements are implemented. For example, DOT did not always collect supporting documentation during its investigations, and the Department does not require carriers to record their compliance with time-sensitive requirements.
We made seven recommendations to help DOT meet its goal to improve passengers’ air travel experience. DOT concurred with two recommendations, partially concurred with four, and did not concur with one. Based on DOT’s response, we are requesting additional information or a revised response for several recommendations.