New Tarmac Delay Rules Could Up Cancellations

In this photo taken with a cell phone by a passenger, people aboard JetBlue Flight 751 to Cancun walk around the cabin while waiting to take off at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007.
New rules for airlines that went into effect Thursday are designed to prevent misery, like when nine JetBlue planes sat on a New York tarmacfor as long as 11 hours without food and water.

CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg reports airlines must now provide food, water and working bathrooms after two hours and turn back to the gate after three hours. If in violation they will be fined $27,500 per passenger. That can add up fast - nearly $5 million for a fully loaded 737.

"This gives the flying public options," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood."They can go back to the terminal," he said, "they could rebook their flight in the terminal, they could certainly get something to eat or drink."

But the airlines view the rules as an overreaction to what they claim are rare and often unavoidable occurrences. Last year, out of nearly 6.5 million flights, only 903 were delayed three hours or more. That's fewer than two-tenths of 1 percent.

"Airlines have delays most of the times from factors outside their control," said Tony Tyler, CEO of Cathay Pacific.

Bad weather causes most long delays, but is not a valid excuse under the regulations. Now the airlines say instead of delaying flights, they may just cancel them outright.

"Three hours is a very tight window to manage to, so you're going to see more cancellations," said Gerard Arpey, CEO of American Airlines."It's just the way the math works."

That kind of math might add up to more trouble for passengers when later flights are already booked.

"Many of them I think will like it, they want to get back, walk around. I think a lot of other ones are going to be upset when they get stuck at the airport, either sleeping at the airport or finding a hotel on their own dime," said Rick Seaney of

With bookings for summer flights filling quickly, the next few months will be the real test of whether the new rules will mean less misery.