U.S. Limits Tarmac Waits to Three Hours - TheStreet

NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Anyone who's ever been stranded on a stuffy plane for hours in heavy holiday traffic will perhaps find consolation in a new government restriction on lengthy delays.

In a move to protect airline-passenger rights, the Department of Transportation has told U.S. airlines that their aircraft can't sit on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. Airlines that don't abide by this rule will face a steep fine for domestic flights, although safety and security exceptions would be taken into account.

Furthermore, the DOT said, airlines must provide their passengers with an adequate amount of food and drinking water, working toilets and possibly even medical care within two hours of the delay.

The rule also says that any U.S. airline operating international flights flying to or from the U.S. must advise, in advance, the time limits they have set for themselves on deplaning passengers.

The rule has been announced in direct response to a series of ground delays and incidents of stranded passengers. The most recent tarmac delays involved

Continental Airlines

(CAL) - Get Report

,

ExpressJet Holdings'

( XJT) ExpressJet Airlines and

Mesaba Airlines

. Together, they were charged $175,000 for their roles in an almost six-hour ground delay at Rochester, Minn.

In trading Monday, Continental stock has improved by 1.3% to $17.50 in afternoon trading, while ExpressJet has slumped by 2.2% at $4.50.

AMR

(AMR)

has been holding steady at $7.60, while

Delta Air Lines

(DAL) - Get Report

has retreated by 1.1% to $11.50.

-- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York

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