The Department of Transportation (DOT) has imposed a record fine of $4.1 million on American Airlines for violating the rule that prohibits long tarmac delays on domestic flights. The fine is the largest civil penalty that the DOT has ever assessed for this type of violation, according to a statement released on Monday.
What is the rule and how did American Airlines violate it?
The rule, which was implemented in 2010, states that airlines must allow passengers to deplane from domestic flights after a tarmac delay of three hours or more, unless there are safety or security reasons to prevent it. The rule also requires airlines to provide adequate food, water, ventilation, and access to lavatories during such delays.
The DOT found that American Airlines violated the rule on 43 domestic flights between 2018 and 2021, affecting more than 5,800 passengers. Most of the violations occurred at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, which is one of the airline’s hubs. The DOT said that American Airlines lacked sufficient resources to handle several of these flights once they landed, and failed to provide passengers with the required amenities.
The longest tarmac delay among the 43 flights was six hours and three minutes, which happened in August 2020 when a flight from Los Angeles was diverted to Austin due to severe weather. The DOT said that the airline did not have enough staff or equipment to deplane the passengers, who were stuck on board a plane with limited air conditioning and no food or water.
How did American Airlines respond to the fine?
American Airlines said in a statement that the delays were the result of “exceptional weather events” and that they represented a “very small number” of the 7.7 million flights during that time period. The airline also said that it has apologized to the impacted customers and regretted any inconvenience caused.
The airline said that it has invested in new technology and tools to better manage flights in severe weather and reduce congestion at airports. “These efforts are already providing significant benefits to our customers and team members, and we continue to look for innovative ways to further improve,” the statement said.
American Airlines will pay half of the fine to the government and the other half will be credited for compensation provided to passengers on the affected flights.
What are the implications of the fine for American Airlines and other airlines?
The fine is a sign of the DOT’s increased enforcement of passenger rights and consumer protection rules under the Biden administration. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement that the fine was part of the department’s effort to “enforce the rights” of airline passengers. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable,” he said.
The fine could also serve as a deterrent for other airlines to avoid similar violations in the future, especially as air travel demand recovers from the pandemic. According to DOT data, tarmac delays of three hours or more on domestic flights have decreased significantly since the rule was implemented, from 868 in 2009 to 36 in 2019. However, there were still 96 such delays in 2020, despite the reduced flight operations due to COVID-19.
The fine could also prompt airlines to review their contingency plans and resources for handling tarmac delays, as well as their communication and coordination with airports and authorities. The DOT said that it will continue to monitor airlines’ compliance with the rule and take appropriate action when necessary.