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Oversight Weaknesses Limit DOT’s Ability to Ensure Passenger Protections During Long, On-Board Flight Delays

In accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2009
Project ID: 
AV2015001

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.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

Closed on 07.06.2016
No. 1 to OST

OST to develop a process for periodically reviewing a sample of the contingency plans that U.S. and foreign carriers have posted on their Web sites to ensure all of the required assurances are included.

Closed on 09.25.2015
No. 2 to OST

Clarify the meaning of easily accessible" in the case of posting carrier contingency plans on their Web sites to ensure consumers can easily access airlines' and airports' obligations to passengers. Clarify the meaning of "easily accessible" in the case of posting carrier contingency plans on their Web sites to ensure consumers can easily access airlines' and airports' obligations to passengers."

Closed on 09.25.2015
No. 3 to OST

Obtain supporting evidence from air carriers, and other entities (i.e., FAA, Customs, and TSA), to verify airline responses when investigating LOBFDs.

No. 4 to OST

Require carriers to keep and maintain records documenting when they: a) Notify passengers about the status of the flight delay; b) Notify passengers when they have the opportunity to deplane; and c) Provide food and water to passengers.

No. 5 to OST

Revise DOT regulations to require carriers - when calculating the length of tarmac delays for reporting purposes - to include the time when an aircraft is at the gate with passengers on board and the crew has not made an announcement to deplane.

No. 6 to OST

Revise DOT regulations and the FAQ to indicate that U.S. and foreign air carriers provide food and water service within 2 hours after passengers no longer have the opportunity to deplane.

No. 7 to OST

Define comfortable cabin temperature and include the requirement in DOT regulations.  In the interim, issue guidance to the industry that defines comfortable cabin temperature.