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Lengthy airline delays down again in March

May 10, 2011 | 12:05 pm

StrandedjetblueJFK The airline industry predicted catastrophe last year when the federal government proposed fines against air carriers that leave passengers stranded on delayed planes for more than three hours.

But the U.S. Department of Transportation imposed the fines anyway, starting April 29, 2010. In the 11 months after the fines took effect, the airlines have had only 16 domestic flights delayed for more than three hours nationwide, according to federal numbers released Tuesday. That compares with 689 flights delayed for more than three hours in the same 11-month period before the fines started.

In March 2010 -- a month before the fines were imposed -- the nation's airlines reported 25 domestic flights delayed for more than three hours, according to the Department of Transportation. During last March, the nation's air carriers reported no such delay.

The percentage of canceled flights in March dropped slightly compared with the same month last year, according to the federal numbers.

The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines from letting a domestic flight sit on the tarmac for more than three hours without allowing passengers to return to the terminal. The rule allows exceptions for safety or security or if air traffic control officials warn the pilot that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

Airlines that violate the rule face a fine of up to $27,500 for every passenger left stranded on the plane.

So far, the Department of Transportation has yet to impose a fine on an airline.

-- Hugo Martin

Photo: Stranded passengers aboard JetBlue Flight 751 to Cancun, Mexico, walk around the cabin, while waiting hours to take off at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in 2007. Credit: Lou Martins