It is a lovely day at Boston Logan Airport, which is the location from which I am writing this blog. I just left my first meeting of the MIT Global Airline Consortium. ACI-NA is the newest member of the Consortium, which also includes the Air Transport Association, Air Canada, Amadeus, Boeing, Lufthansa Airlines, Boeing and SITA. Today we were briefed on 10 research projects currently underway, covering many issues of importance to airports and the aviation industry.
As you might expect, much of the discussion centered on delays and improving the U.S. air traffic management system. But we also talked about the implications of Congressional proposals which would mandate that airlines provide passengers the option to deplane if there was a three hour delay on the tarmac. Dr. Amy Cohn of the University of Michigan (MIT graduate) is leading this research and I was pleased to hear that she not only recognized the importance of obtaining the airport industry perspective (through ACI-NA). Further, she had already arranged a meeting with Jim Crites, of DFW Airport. Jim has been an industry leader on this issue, providing much of the information included in the airport section of the DOT Tarmac Delay Task Force report released in December 2008.
I served with Jim, Ben DeCosta/ATL, George Doughty/ABE and Brad Penrod/PIT on the DOT Task Force and continue to respond to numerous press calls on this issue. Travelers remain concerned and the fact that tarmac (taxi out or in) delays of more than three hours are a very small fraction of airline delays does not assuage their fears. That became even more obvious to me over the last week. Frankly I was blown away by the number of people who called me after seeing my interview in the article by Chris Elliott in the Washington Post Travel Section on October 25. Chris initially called ACI-NA to find out if passengers should call 911 if they were trapped on an airplane. The answer is no and I suggested that if passengers want to make a call to help resolve the situation, it should be the airline as they have the ability to take action. While airports stand ready to offer assistance in deplaning passengers, we do not have the legal authority to order the airline to return to the terminal. It was a good conversation and clear that Chris really wanted to provide assistance to his readers.
At the end of the day, the answer is to not only respond effectively to the small number of extended tarmac strandings, but to work hard to prevent them. I am hopeful that some of the research undertaken at MIT, funded in part by airports and airlines, will help.
-Debby McElroy, EVP, Policy & External Affairs