Contingency Plan for Lengthy Tarmac Delays

Last Updated: July 1, 2021


Before delays occur, Delta has a comprehensive plan designed to forecast and adjust to operational challenges and minimize lengthy delays while passengers are on board the aircraft. The Operations/Customer Center (OCC) at Delta's headquarters is responsible for the daily execution of this plan, while keeping in mind the safety and well-being of our customers.

The Department of Transportation's (DOT) tarmac delay rule requires that passengers on a flight experiencing a tarmac delay have the opportunity to deplane before three hours (for domestic flights) or four hours (for international flights) after the start of the tarmac delay unless:

  • For departing flights, the flight begins to return to a suitable disembarkation point no later than three hours (for domestic flights) or four hours (for international flights) after the main aircraft door is closed in order to offer egress, or
  • The pilot-in-command determines that deplaning passengers at a suitable disembarkation point would jeopardize passenger safety or security, or there is a safety related or security related reason why the aircraft cannot leave its position on the tarmac to deplane passengers, or
  • Air Traffic Control (ATC) advises the pilot-in-command that returning to a suitable disembarkation point to deplane passengers would significantly disrupt airport operations

Delta's plan meets or exceeds all limits imposed by this ruling. Delta has developed a detailed plan, with established trigger points, to account for those times when unforeseen constraints have caused taxi delays.

Plan Requirements

Delta's contingency plan assures that Delta has sufficient resources and will meet the requirements of the DOT for extended tarmac delays, including diversions. This includes the three-hour domestic time limit, as well as the four-hour limit for international flights, to offer egress (arrivals including diversion arrivals) or turn the aircraft around / request permission to turn around (departures).

This plan ensures that Delta will meet or exceed specified guidance as it pertains to provisioning, as follows: adequate food and potable water no later than two hours after the start of the tarmac delay, unless the pilot-in-command determines that safety or security considerations preclude such service; operable lavatory facilities; medical attention; cabin temperature conditions, and other customer comfort needs.


The Operations/Customer Center (OCC) is responsible for the management and quality of the plan. The decision-making for this plan lies within the OCC. Airport Customer Service (ACS), Flight Operations and In-Flight Service will carry out the plan at the station and flight level.

Station Plan

The plan builds upon the standard operating procedures now in place to handle extended on-board delays and diversions. All stations have identified resources and developed procedures that will allow them to effectively bring a plane off the runway and open the door, giving the passengers the opportunity to egress within specified time limits.

Stations will assure that diversions are given the same priority as other taxi delays, meaning passenger egress will be allowed prior to the 3 hour mark (4 hours for international flights). Individual station plans should allow at least 30 minutes (or as much as 60 minutes at larger stations) to complete the task of returning to the gate and deplaning.

All Stations have coordinated plans with Airport Operations and local governmental agencies (TSA and CBA where applicable) to meet the tarmac-delay rule's requirements. This consists of back-up methods for inoperative equipment, provisioning and servicing of aircraft, as well as gate or remote pad parking considerations (including sharing facilities and making gates available during an emergency)


Announcements are made by ACS when the aircraft is at the gate with the doors open. Once the doors close, announcements are made by the flight crew. The announcements will:

  • Occur at least every 30 minutes while the aircraft is delayed
  • Identify the reason for the delay and tentative departure time
  • Explain the possible effect of the DOT's tarmac delay rule
  • Inform customers of the ability to egress, if the opportunity exists, beginning 30 minutes after scheduled departure (including revised departure time) and every 30 minutes thereafter

Throughout the flight delay, communication between Delta's Operations/Customer Center (OCC) and the flight crew will be continual. Both the OCC and flight crew will monitor the general environment and "mood" of the customers at all times. Delta will make decisions for the well-being of all customers aboard the affected flight.