Image: Planes taxi on runways at JKF International Airport, New York
Mark Lennihan  /  AP
Starting April 29, passengers will have the right to get off the plane if it's stuck on the tarmac for three hours unless doing so would jeopardize safety.
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updated 4/22/2010 4:02:35 PM ET 2010-04-22T20:02:35

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday he has turned down requests from five airlines for temporary exemptions to a rule against keeping passengers waiting longer than three hours on airport tarmacs.

The new rule goes into effect on April 29. The department has said airlines may be fined up to $27,500 per passenger for each violation of the new rule.

"Passengers on flights delayed on the tarmac have a right to know they will not be held aboard a plane indefinitely," LaHood said in a statement. "This is an important consumer protection, and we believe it should take effect as planned."

The provision was part of a new airline passenger protection rule announced by LaHood last December. It prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting a plane to remain on the tarmac at large and medium hub airports for more than three hours without letting passengers get off the plane. Exceptions were allowed only for safety or security reasons or if air traffic control advises the flight's captain that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

The rule also requires that passengers be provided with working toilets and, after two hours, food and drinking water.

On March 4, JetBlue Airways asked for an exemption from the rule for its operations at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport until the airport's main runway, currently under construction, reopens on Dec. 1. That request was followed by similar requests from Delta Air Lines and American Airlines for their operations at JFK.

Continental Airlines requested an exemption for its flights at New York's LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. US Airways sought an exemption for its operations at Philadelphia International Airport.

The carriers said that without the requested exemptions large numbers of flights will have to be canceled at the New York-area airports, causing even greater inconvenience for passengers.

Congestion in New York has a ripple effect on operations at airports across the country, accounting for a large share of flight delays on any given day.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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