Delta passengers were trapped on runway for 12 hours — but did they get compensation?

A plane of unlucky Delta Air Lines DAL, +1.73%   passengers spent 12 hours trapped on a plane at the Kansas City International Airport on Wednesday due to icy conditions.

Such nightmarish events could soon be on the rise as the airline industry attempts to roll back rules meant to limit the amount of time passengers can be stuck on a plane. Under current Department of Transportation regulations, airlines that keep passengers on a plane for more than three hours at a time can face fines. But Delta found a loophole on the flight delayed for 12 hours by repeatedly returned to the gate throughout the delay to let customers exit the aircraft if they wished.

In the case of the 12-hour Delta delay this week, passengers reportedly got just $100 vouchers and an apology from Delta.

That’s small potatoes in comparison to passengers who are involuntarily bumped from flights are entitled to 200% of their one-way fare in compensation (no more than $675) in cash if their delay is more than one hour but less than two, according to a federal regulation. If the delay is more than two hours, they are entitled to 400% of a one-way fare (but no more than $1,350) in cash.

U.S. airlines like Delta are not at all required to pay passengers for these kinds of delays, as bad weather is not covered by the Montreal Convention or other passenger rights regulations, said Henrik Zillmer, chief executive officer airline compensation service AirHelp.

Under the European law EC 261, European airlines are required to compensate passengers 600 euros (around $700) for lengthy flight delays of three hours or more.

According to Airhelp.com:

• After a tarmac delay of two hours, passengers must be given food, water, toilet facilities, and medical care if needed, the company said.

• If they are stuck for three hours on the tarmac at a U.S. airport, passengers must be given the option to deplane. This happened this week with Delta.

• It’s slightly longer overseas: After a tarmac delay of four hours outside of the U.S., passengers must be given the option to deplane.

“Delta apologizes to those customers whose flights were disrupted as a result of Tuesday’s weather,” a spokesman told MarketWatch. “The significant amount of ice accumulation drove prolonged de-icing times, prompting some flights to return to the gate, which in turn impacted wait times for arriving aircraft as Delta crews worked to clear departing aircraft of ice.”

Airlines want to have the three-hour tarmac delay regulation modified under President Donald Trump’s regulation reform agenda, and that could hurt travelers, said consumer advocate Christopher Elliott.

“It’s shameful,” he said. “There’s no reason for them to undo this rule that protects passengers. It’s a troubling turn of events.”

Airlines for America, a lobbying group for airlines in the U.S., said they do not want to repeal the current tarmac rule, but modify it so that the time period for measuring a delay stops when a pilot requests authority to return to the gate.

“In addition, we support making exceptions to the rule when the pilot in command determines that there is a safety or security reason not to deplane such as snow or intense wind or rain that prevents safe movement of the aircraft,” she said. “These changes will enhance passenger safety and also comply with Congressional direction.”

Zilmer said passengers are entitled to free food and drink in such instances and, in this case, he alleged that the airline did not give passengers sufficient information about their rights. “Delays of this kind are not that uncommon, so it is of the utmost importance that passengers are treated in a correct way,” he said.

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