OBAMA’S ‘PASSENGER BILL OF RIGHTS’…. We’ve all heard the horror stories about planes sitting on tarmacs for hours on end. It’s a phenomenon that’s about to be dramatically curtailed.

The federal government will impose stiff penalties starting this spring on airlines that keep passengers waiting too long on the tarmac without feeding them or letting them off the plane — a remedy that will relieve many travelers but mean longer delays for a few.

The Obama administration took the strict new approach in response to several highly publicized events in recent years, and in the face of likely Congressional action if airline regulators did not respond to the consumer outcry that ensued. […]

Under the rule, airlines that do not provide food and water after two hours or a chance to disembark after three hours will face penalties of $27,500 a passenger, the secretary of transportation announced on Monday.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters, “This is President Obama’s Passenger Bill of Rights.” Because of existing regulatory options, the new rules will not require congressional approval, and will go into effect in four months.

Kate Hanni, who created FlyersRights.org after she was stuck on a plane with her family for nine hours, called the Obama administration’s announcement “a Christmas miracle.”

Alex Seitz-Wald highlighted some passengers who’ll likely agree.

Between January and June of this year, airlines stranded passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours 613 times. One particularly horrendous incident in August brought the issue to national attention. Passengers on a Continental flight from Houston to St. Paul-Minneapolis were forced to stay in a cramped commuter jet overnight with a foul-smelling lavatory after thunderstorms diverted their plane to Rochester, MN and gate crews wouldn’t allow them off the plane. The ordeal led to the first-ever government fine of an airline for a tarmac stranding, with the three companies involved being forced to pay $175,000 for their negligence.

Under the new Obama administration rules, that fine could have been more than $1.2 million — giving the airline a very strong incentive to avoid a similar incident.

This isn’t my area of expertise, but I can’t help but wonder — given all of the years of awful incidents, why didn’t previous administrations do something similar sooner?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.