The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has come down hard on American Airlines, fining the carrier $4.1 million for violating federal statutes and a Department’s rule.
Specifically, the government agency is punishing American for keeping passengers aboard planes on the tarmac for three hours or more without providing them an opportunity to get off the aircraft.
It’s the largest fine DOT has ever levied for a violation of the “tarmac rule.” And apparently, this is not a one-off case.
DOT said its investigation found that American kept dozens of flights stuck on the tarmac for long periods of time without letting passengers off. In addition to the fine, American has been ordered to cease and desist from violating the law.
“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”
DOT said its Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) found that between 2018 and 2021, American allowed 43 domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for lengthy periods without providing passengers an opportunity to deplane, in violation of the Department’s tarmac delay rule.
DOT also found that none of the exceptions to the tarmac delay rule, including the safety and security exceptions, applied to those flights. In addition, on one of the 43 flights, passengers were not provided with food and water as required.
The investigation report said most of the delays occurred at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and that the delays covered by the investigation affected a total of 5,821 passengers.
DOT said American Airlines had already made $2.05 in refunds to affected passengers so that amount will be deducted from the fine. DOT said it encourages that practice so that affected passengers are more quickly compensated.
After years of complaints from travelers, DOT has started a new rulemaking process aimed at requiring airlines to provide compensation and cover expenses for amenities such as meals, hotels, and rebooking when airlines are responsible for stranding passengers.
After a two-year DOT push to improve the passenger experience, the department said the 10 largest airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline and nine guarantee hotel accommodations as part of the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard.