DOT gives guidance for tarmac delays, Ebola

If an airline or airport believes a passenger on a plane has Ebola or another serious contagious illness and passengers are kept on the plane for several hours, federal fines for lengthy tarmac delays may not apply, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT’s tarmac delay rule prevents airlines from keeping passengers on an aircraft on the tarmac without a chance to get off the plane for more than three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights. But there are exceptions in cases where the captain “determines that there is a safety-related or security-related reason why the carrier cannot deplane passengers,” according to the DOT.

In a letter last week to two airport industry groups in response to questions from airports, the DOT said its enforcement office “recognizes that an airport and an airline must use extreme caution if it suspects a passenger may be infected with the Ebola virus, including whether to deplane passengers into the terminal area.” If they are following guidance from health authorities and looking to minimize harm to passengers, the DOT said its enforcement office “is unlikely to bring enforcement action if the airport and the airline acted with caution using the best available information.”