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Survival tips as DOT considers lifting tarmac delay rule

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DOT is considering lifting a rule that says airplanes can’t remain on the tarmac for a prolonged period before allowing passengers to deplane.iStock

Just when you think things couldn't get worse for travelers negotiating delays from Federal Aviation Administration furloughs, now there's this. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering lifting a rule that says airplanes can’t remain on the tarmac for a prolonged period of time before allowing passengers to deplane, according to a release.

Under the DOT’s tarmac-delay rules, carriers must provide food and water when a tarmac delay exceeds three hours for domestic fights or four hours for international flights. Passengers must be given the opportunity to leave the aircraft at four hours. The rules were put into place in 2009 after passengers were stranded on airplanes for hours with little food, water, and in some cases without functioning bathrooms.

Two airline associations, Airlines for America and the Regional Airline Association, have requested a temporary exemption to the rule for at least 90 days or until the FAA furlough ends, arguing that the delays might make it difficult to comply with the rule, which comes with penalties for those who break it.  DOT is asking for public comment till April 6.

Getting on a flight now requires some mental preparation, even more so if there's a moratorium on the tarmac rule.  

Here are some tips to help prepare for long waits that may seem to have no end.

Stock up on snacks: You don't want to be at the mercy of the airline staff who'd be more than happy to sell a bag of nuts at $5 a pop.  Pack a sandwich or snacks that don't need refrigeration. Also bring plenty of water. If your plane is in line for takeoff, the airline crew will want to limit the intake of liquids to avoid a rush on the bathrooms because the aircraft is prohibited from taxing unless everyone is seated. 

Juice up the cell phone and electronic devices: You're going to need to keep loved ones abreast of any delays you're experiencing,   But remember, keep calls to a limit, not only for the sake of your battery life.  Fellow passengers will thank you, too.  Other electronic devices, like iPads, DVD's and computers, can keep you distracted for hours, but clear it with cabin staff to be sure it's okay to use while you wait.

Time your restroom visits: The cabin crew will let you use the bathroom if you're delayed, but we aware, if you're sitting on the tarmac for hours, the conditions will deteriorate quickly.  Make sure you use the restrooms before you get on the plane, and then be strategic about when you make additional onboard trips.  

Give yourself plenty of extra time:  Be sure to pad your travel time on the front end and the back end of your trip.  Don't book flights with tight connections, and if you're flying direct, don't schedule appointments without giving yourself enough time to get there.  Adding an extra three to four hours is a minimum, or better yet, give yourself an extra day if you have the time.

Hide your watch:  Watching the minutes tick away will only make you more anxious. Bring a book, do a crossword puzzle, or come prepared with a few mental relaxation techniques.  Image relaxing your entire body, starting with the feet and working your way up to your head.  You'd be surprised how long that takes and how much more relaxed you'll be.