NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Delay Rule Bumps up Flight Cancellations

June 24, 2011

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is proclaiming the tarmac delay rule an unqualified success, as it has every month since it started.  It's true that long ground delays have disappeared, but there has been collateral damage.  Canceled flights have gone up significantly, despite the DOT's claims to the contrary, says Brett Snyder at CNN.

  • There were only 20 ground delays of three hours or more between May 2010 and April 2011, compared to 693 in the prior year, according to the DOT.
  • That's absolutely true, and there was no question that long ground delays would disappear with the threat of fines of up to $27,500 per passenger in place.
  • What the department doesn't make clear, however, is the very significant impact on cancellations.

If you tried to travel last winter when bad weather (the primary cause of long ground delays) rolled through the East Coast or Midwest, you know that airlines got far more aggressive at canceling flights in advance to avoid those delays, and you might have found yourself out of luck.  In fact, looking at the total cancellation rate over that same period, there is a 1.9 percent cancellation rate for the year-ending April 2011, up from 1.59 percent the year before.

  • That might not seem like a lot, but it is.
  • More than 19,000 fewer flights would have been canceled in the year ending in April 2011 had we seen the exact same cancellation rate as the year before.
  • If we assume each flight had 75 people on board, that's about 1.4 million passengers who wouldn't have had their flights canceled.

Source: Brett Snyder, "Delay Rule Bumps up Flight Cancellations," CNN, June 13, 2011.

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