Airports want more control when flights are diverted

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"It's not in the interest of passengers or the overall aviation system to overload airports and to have a system that is set up to fail," she continued. "It doesn't serve passengers to have another very problematic situation like we did on Oct. 29."

The group has sent Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood a letter signed by 85 airports in support of its argument and is pressing its case at forum on flight diversion the DOT is hosting Wednesday.  

On the date McElroy referenced, JetBlue and American airlines diverted seven planes to Hartford, Conn., and held passengers on the jets for more than seven hours because there were no gates available for the planes to pull up to.

The FAA launched an investigation into whether the situation violated a three-hour limit on tarmac delays for domestic flights the Department of Transportation implemented in 2010 as part of an "Airline Passengers Bill of Rights." Under the rule, airlines can be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger for a delay longer than three hours after an airplane is boarded and leaves its airport gate.

McElroy told The Hill that the situation possibly could have been avoided if officials at the Hartford airport were contacted before the planes were sent there.

"In general, airports need to have a greater role in planning for diversions, operationally," she said.

Ahead of Wednesday's forum, LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt appeared to agree with McElroy.

"During severe weather situations, we want to do everything we can to make sure passengers are flown to airports that are ready and prepared and where passengers can get off the plane quickly,” LaHood said in a statement when the forum was announced early this month.

“We can’t control the weather, but we can improve the way diversions are handled,” Babbitt added.

The FAA has proposed setting up a new website that would allow airlines to check conditions at airports before sending unscheduled planes there. The agency has also suggested increasing the number airports that are allowed to participate in daily conference calls for flight planning.

The forum Wednesday is taking place at the transportation department's headquarters in Washington.