When the law was was originally being debated airlines insisted that it would trigger more flight delays and cancellations, since they would have to overcompensate by keeping passengers at the gate instead of taking the chance on weather clearing at the 179th minute. The consumer rights group behind the law, which is led by a deeply sketchy woman who may have manipulated data and misled Congress as part of a personal vendetta, implied that airlines would just magically solve the problem or try harder or whatever.
Turns out that the airlines were right and the deeply sketchy woman was wrong, which only makes sense since airlines already had plenty of incentives to avoid public relations disasters, which you can tell since passenger satisfaction is running at all time highs.
Anyway, we were flying JetBlue IAD-JFK and then JFK-LAX with an AYCJ pass. Nothing special. As our flight time approached, rain started falling in DC, and that awful storm tore through New York. "No problem," the pilot assured us, since the plane was literally first in line to take off. Then we had to wait another hour while Air Force One was in the air. By then the wait was too close to the three hour limit, so we had to taxi back to the gate for another 20 minutes. Game over.
The punchline: as soon as the plane hit the gate, the pilot was given a new liftoff time roughly 40 minutes in the future.
This disaster works on at least three levels. First, taxiing back to the gate cost every passenger at least a couple hours of their life, since the plane could have taken off if not for the three-hour rule, which would have preempted the entire subsequent fiasco. Second, returning didn't really help anyone since the plane had to leave again in a few minutes. So at a minimum we're already in "worse than useless" territory.
Third, and this was absolutely amazing, the FAA appears to have totally forgotten that the government has imposed security guidelines on airports. The "checkout" process for passengers getting off the plane was a single poor, overwhelmed woman standing in front of a cascading wave of angry customers. She was trying to track every passenger by holding a piece of paper against her leg and writing down their seat numbers with a blue felt marker, while desperately blocking people from jumping over chairs or getting around her some other way. Then as people came back to the plane she checked off their seat numbers, hoping that the same person who originally left was the one coming back.
And of course once everyone was back on the plane the flight attendants needed another 10 or 15 minutes to do a head count, extending the tarmac delay even more. And then the plane had to get in the back of the line, which added another 20 or 25 minutes to the delay. That's some smart regulating right there. Anyway, obviously we missed our connection at JFK by about 15 minutes. Then we spent the next 7 hours in the airport.
Our ruling on the new tarmac delay law, based on this and other first-hand experience with the shitshows it creates? FAIL.
[Photo: Anton Nossik / Wiki Commons]