President Bush ordered steps on Thursday to reduce the long delays at airports ahead of the holiday season, hoping to ease air traffic congestion that has increasingly angered travelers and left many passengers stranded at airports.
The president said the Pentagon will open up unused military airspace from Florida to Maine to create "a Thanksgiving express lane" for commercial airliners. It will be open from Wednesday through Sunday next week, the busiest days of Thanksgiving travel.
The Department of Transportation will also propose doubling the bump fee that airlines must pay to travelers who buy tickets but lose their seat due to overbooking. The penalty now is $200 or $400, depending on how long the passenger has been inconvenienced. The proposed increase would make the fee $400 to $800, but it wouldn't take effect until next summer.
Bush said the problems with delayed flights are "clear to anybody who's been traveling. Airports are very crowded. Travelers are being stranded and flights are delayed, sometimes with a full load of passengers sitting on the runway for hours."
He said the failures "carry some real costs for the country, not just in the inconvenience they cause but in the business they obstruct and the family gatherings they cause people to miss."
The new plan also would also be in effect for the Christmas travel season, and White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the Federal Aviation Administration was imposing a holiday moratorium on nonessential maintenance projects, allowing all FAA personnel and equipment to be focused on keeping flights on time.
Further, officials said the FAA would take other steps to increase efficiency such as rerouting airspace, using technology to fill unused space in the air and on the ground, and using more precise routes for takeoffs and landings.
Another proposed rule would deem the operation of a chronically delayed flight — defined as a flight that operates more than 15 minutes late more than 70 percent of the time — to be an "unfair and deceptive practice." That designation carries with it substantial monetary penalties.
President Bush said other steps were under consideration to reduce crowded skies, such as charging airlines higher landing and takeoff fees at peak hours, and auctioning off landing and takeoff rights to the highest bidder.
Domestic carriers are expected to fly roughly 27 million passengers worldwide over 12 days beginning Nov. 16, with planes about 90 percent full, according to the Air Transport Association.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press