How and why tarmac-delay rules start today

As most travelers know from blanket media coverage, the U.S. Department of Transportation's new rules for treating passengers decently during long delays on airport tarmacs take effect today. The basics of why DOT felt compelled to adopt the tough penalities airlines would pay for violations, and just what the rules are, are explained in this AP story.

I was out on the reporting trail yesterday, at US Airways annual media day at its Tempe, Ariz., headquarters, and its executives talked about how they plan to comply with the rules. US Airways and Continental are the two airlines that have publicly outlined what they will do, including returning a plane to a gate within 2 1/2 hours (Continental within two hours), and serving water and snacks at the two-hour mark, to make sure they're in compliance.

US Airways chief operating officer Robert Isom noted that the airline had adopted the new procedures early this month after detailed planning on handling various airport scenarios during long delays, the great majority of which are caused by weather. The airline is likely to cancel more flights preemptively if it believes they may be delayed once leaving a gate, the officials said.

Airlines fought the regulations for years, but too many widely reported horror stories of long delays won over puiblic support for them. Yesterday, US Airways CEO Doug Parker made the most forthright comment by any airline executive I've seen or heard about why federal regulators felt compelled to adopt the rules, including fines that could run into the millions of dollars.

"We got ourselves into this mess," Parker said. "We were warned and we didn't do anything. Shame on us."