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Information about Tarmac Delays

Airport runway

What is a tarmac delay?

A tarmac delay can occur when an airplane on the ground is either delayed while awaiting takeoff or has just landed but passengers are not able to depart the plane. The plane will effectively be stuck on the tarmac.

U.S. Tarmac Delay Laws

During a tarmac delay, airlines are required to provide: working toilets; comfortable cabin temperatures; and adequate medical attention, if needed.

According to the laws, any delay over 2 hours requires special attention. Passengers must also be provided with food and water.

After a tarmac delay of three hours within the USA, passengers have the right to get off the plane.

After a tarmac delay of four hours outside of the USA, passengers must be given the option to de-plane.

Exceptions to the Tarmac Delay Law

There can be exceptions to the above rules. The rules do not apply in the following circumstances: 1. If the pilot believes that there is a reason to keep passengers on the plane, pertaining to safety or security; 2. If air traffic control advises that taxiing to a place where passengers can de-plane would significantly disrupt airport operations.

Tarmac Delays in Europe

During the occurrence of a flight delay, passengers are eligible for compensation, just as they are with other causes of flight delay.

For more information, visit our flight delay advice page.

If the tarmac delay is over one hour, it is mandatory that the airline provides air conditioning, lavatories, and water onboard.

However, airlines are not required to offer passengers the option to de-plane until the tarmac delay reaches five hours.

Steps to take if you're stuck on the tarmac

1. Know your rights

Keep the timing in mind. Know what rights you have after the delay reaches an hour (Europe). At this point it is a good idea to take a look at your airline’s contract of carriage for details of their policy.

2. Take action

Are you being offered water? Are the flight attendants keeping you informed of the situation? If not, kindly remind them that this is your right. If the tarmac delay extends beyond a few hours you should be given the option to de-plane (US). If not, the airline is not complying with the law. The airline can only keep you on the plane if it’s for safety reasons, or if facilitating departure would cause disruption of airport services.

It’s important to note that an airline is under no obligation to let you back in if you decide to de-plane.

3. Not Satisfied?

If you end up in a situation where the airline isn't complying with the law, file a complaint. In the US: you can contact the airline via email or mail; the airline has up to 60 days to respond. If the airline does not respond or if you are unsatisfied, you can register a complaint with The Department of Transportation.

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Tarmac Delays FAQs

Does the U.S. Tarmac Delay Law apply to all airlines?

The Department of Transportation requires only ‘covered carriers’ to comply with the tarmac delay rule. A ‘covered carrier’ is defined as any airline that operates at least one airplane with a seating capacity of 30 or more passenger seats to, from, or within the United States. This will apply to the majority of commercial passenger carriers.

If I choose to disembark and the aircraft eventually takes off, is the airline obligated to offload my checked luggage before it leaves?

No. If you have check-in baggage in the airplane hold, the airline is not required to unload your checked bags before taking off. You will be responsible for contacting the airline to arrange the return of your baggage at a later date.

During a tarmac delay, what information should I be given?

Airlines are required to provide passengers with notifications regarding the status of the flight delay every 30 minutes. This should include the reasons for the tarmac delay. During these announcements, the airline must also inform passengers whether it is safe to depart, and must continue to do so if the opportunity to de-plane continues to exist.