(Tried asking this on aviation because it concerns FAA rules and was closed https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/88512/what-happens-if-a-passenger-wants-to-get-off-the-plane-during-a-runway-delay-bec?noredirect=1#comment236667_88512)

I am taking a 3hr flight from A to B to attend a funeral in B. Take-off scheduled for 1200, landing scheduled for 1500. Funeral scheduled for 1700h. According to flightstats this flight has an on-time rate of 93%. Assume it takes 1h to travel to the funeral.

Now say there is a runway delay of 1.5hrs (so far). If we take off right now I can get to the funeral at 1730 which is no longer worth it. If the delay goes on any longer I will miss it completely. There is no longer any reason for me to travel and even though I can't get my money back (sunk cost). At this point, getting off the plane is a no-brainer for me.

I am sure flight attendants have a plan for panicking travelers but I think this is different. The airline sold me a service and then did not deliver it. In other businesses this is where I just walk away, even without any hope of a refund.

Does anyone here know about anything like this happening? Are there any FAA regulations about this? Airline regulations? Precedent?

Obviously, I would never cut it this tight in real life given how unreliable flying has become. But I am currently on a long runway delay (no funeral) so am curious.

  • 16
    What if the delay occurs during the flight? Will you want the plane to turn around and carry you back to A?
    – TooTea
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 17:51
  • 36
    You open the emergency door, activate the slide (optional), jump out and eventually get arrested. Sadly this has been done multiple times in just the last year. Bonus is that you'll be banned from the airline and never have to worry about delays with them again.
    – Peter M
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 18:20
  • 1
    Have you already read the Department of Transportation's page on tarmac delays? First hit for the phrase on Google. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 18:29
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    On the financial side of things with some airlines, you can declare a "trip in vain" and the airline will put you on the next flight back to your origin once you reach your next destination, and depending on the length of the delay, may issue some kind of compensation, either a partial (or sometimes even full) refund on the ticket or credit towards a future flight, or they may allow you to use the ticket again on a future date. Obviously more expensive tickets and high status passengers are more likely to get more generous compensation for a trip in vain. Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 22:10
  • 2
    @gerrit That's not really relevant to the topic at hand. Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 18:07

4 Answers 4


(From your mention of FAA I assume you are interested in the United States. Rules in other parts of the world may be different.)

Yes, the US Transportation Department has specific regulations for "tarmac delays" at 14 CFR 259.4, as well as an informal summary for travelers.

The general rule is:

[14 CFR 259.4 (c)(1)] For all domestic flights, each covered U.S. air carrier shall provide a passenger on a flight experiencing a tarmac delay at a U.S. airport the opportunity to deplane before the tarmac delay exceeds three hours in duration, subject to the exceptions in paragraph (c)(3) of this section.

For international flights, the limit is four hours instead. There are exceptions in case deplaning would be unsafe, or would significantly disrupt airport operations. There is also a technicality that they only have to begin the process of returning to the gate before the three-hour mark, and it's okay if it takes longer before they actually get to the gate and can start deplaning.

Airlines could of course make their own policies promising to return to the gate sooner, but as far as I know, none of them have.

So in your example, you are out of luck. If the delay has only been 1.5 hours, the airline is not yet under any obligation to take the plane back to the gate so you can get off.

(It should go without saying that you should not attempt to get off of your own accord, e.g. via emergency exits, nor to force a return to the gate by causing a disturbance, threatening violence, or anything like that. Those are federal crimes.)

If the flight should manage to take off within a further 1.5 hours, you will just have to go along with it, even though it ends you up somewhere that you no longer want to go.

In future, plan your itinerary accordingly.

  • 21
    I think that quote uses an extremely weird way of saying the airlines can wait up to 3 or 4 hours before having to let you get off. Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 9:03
  • 2
    Also note there is a question around about such a situation where passengers were allowed to get off, but the airline refused to return checked luggage...
    – jcaron
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 9:41
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    "Plan your itinerary accordingly." In other words, "Leave the day before your engagement and book an hotel room for the night", right?
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 7:38
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    @nick012000 If it is important to you that you make the appointment, yes. I would do this for a job interview, court appearance, business meeting, wedding, funeral, etc. Wouldn't you? Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 10:33
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    @nick012000: For instance. Or, in OP's case, it seems like their main goal was to be able to stay home if it turned out they could not make it to the funeral. So they could have booked a flight with a departure time of about 1000h. If the delay is under 3 hours, they probably make it to the funeral on time; if the delay exceeds that, the FAA rule means they can get off the plane and stay home. Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 13:49

It's not going to happen.

You cannot exit the plane without it going back to the gate. It's unsafe. The crew will refuse to let you. If you continue to try they will probably restrain you and you will be in other trouble.

The plane will not return to the gate for you to disembark just because you have decided you want to. Doing so will delay the plane further, possibly much further, and inconvenience all the other hundreds of passengers on the plane.

If you attempt to exit the plane after being told not to, or otherwise disrupt the flight, you will compromising the safety of the plane. The probability is that the plane will return to the gate, where you will be arrested, as well as delaying the plane more and causing you to be very unpopular with other passengers. The punishment you receive will be significant, and part of it will probably be that you will not fly again for a long time.

For a long enough delay the plane will return to the gate to let you disembark, but I believe the norm is 3 or 4 hours.

You should be able to obtain some compensation for the delay, depending on circumstances and jurisdiction. Assuming you haven't tried to force your way off the plane.

  • 3
    "...Doing so will delay the plane further..." not to mention all the other planes using the airport. At a busy location, the costs associated with any delay would be very high.
    – David
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 8:17
  • 1
    @David An aircraft returning to the gate to have an unruly passenger arrested wouldn't normally delay the other aircraft at that airport, at least not by a significant amount. Possibly by a couple of minutes if they're in a position where they'll need to take the runway in order to taxi back, but otherwise generally not by much. It will, however, cause a considerable delay for your flight and your fellow passengers (and crew) will not be happy. It could also end up causing your flight to get cancelled if, for example, the crew times out as a result.
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 21:14
  • What does it mean “the crew times out”? Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 0:50
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    @VladimirReshetnikov If the crew times out, it means that they wouldn't be able to complete the flight before their maximum number of working hours is reached.
    – Isvara
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 4:48
  • the OP very obviously meant going back to the gate .. not climbing out (with a rope?) and walking back over the tarmac
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 15:33

I once flew London to New York; flight diverted to Boston because of bad weather and stayed on the tarmac for 3 hours; a family who asked to leave the plane at Boston were firmly told this was not allowed. Eventually the crew ran out of flying hours and all the passengers were disembarked; the family were still told they had to continue their flight for immigration reasons, but they absconded.

  • 6
    AIUI, any passengers should have been able to leave, once the plane was at a gate, except if the airport was not an international airport (i.e., no customs/immigration on-site). Which should only happen in a rare emergency situation, but every so often something like that happens and it gets tricky because the passengers have to, essentially, be quarantined in one section of the airport until they can get a replacement flight out. Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 2:45

There is no longer any reason for me to travel and even though I can't get my money back (sunk cost). At this point, getting off the plane is a no-brainer for me.

Think of air travel as a group project in school. Just because you no longer have an interest in biology (being on the plane) does not mean you get to ruin it for others.

When a plane is delayed it has to wait diligently (up to 3 hours) for the ATC to clear them for take-off. This window of opportunity is small so the plane must be ready to go at all times.

Short of a medical emergency, if you were to miraculously convince the crew to go back to the gate and the plane gets cleared for takeoff while you're deboarding then you will make a lot of silent (sometimes loud) enemies because now they have to wait for clearance again.

If the flight crew times out then they have to wait for another crew; sometimes from an incoming flight.

If people are making international connections it is imperative to at least get them one step closer to their destination. If you're in a small city and destined for a big city then think about how much more likely the other people can connect to their final destination.

As for compensation, read your airlines' ToS. It's usually SOL for weather delay but you could request a full refund for mechanical issues.

Better yet, get travel insurance next time.

  • 2
    SOL = Statute of Limitations, stoppage of leave, or (edited) shit out of luck? Please edit if I guessed wrongly.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 16:06

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