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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) just revealed that it has levied a $4.1-million fine against American Airlines (AA) for keeping thousands of passengers onboard planes that sat on airport tarmacs for several hours without the option to deplane.
According to the DOT’s document detailing AA’s violations and corresponding penalties, AA acquiesced to paying $2.05 million of the total in direct penalties to the Federal Treasury, while the DOT credited the carrier for the balance of the amount, being equivalent to compensation the airline had already paid out to affected customers.
An extensive investigation by the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) discovered that, between 2018 and 2021, there were dozens of incidents in which AA kept passengers trapped inside delayed aircraft, which sat on the tarmac for long periods without providing them the requisite opportunity to disembark.
Each instance constituted a violation of the department’s Tarmac Delay Rule, which requires airlines to let passengers get off the plane if their aircraft has been sitting on the tarmac for a period of three hours for domestic flights, four hours on international flights.
The regulation also stipulates that the airline must provide passengers with a snack and drinking water after no longer than two hours have lapsed, keep cabin temperatures comfortable, and ensure access to working toilets and adequate medical attention, if needed.
Most of AA’s tarmac delay violations occurred at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, one of the airline’s major hubs, and were reportedly connected to inclement weather events. Altogether, 5,821 passengers were impacted by these infractions.
“We have since apologized to the impacted customers and regret any inconvenience caused,” American Airlines said in a statement. AA, the country’s largest carrier, also pointed out that the 42 affected flights constitute only a tiny fraction of the 7.7 million flights it operated during the years encompassed in the investigation.
Although the airline initially contested some of the investigation’s findings and questioned the department’s methods in determining the penalty amount, it ultimately agreed to pay the settlement nonetheless.
The federal agency said this fine is the largest of its kind ever to be levied against an air carrier, according to The Washington Post. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement that the penalty was assessed at part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s concerted efforts to expand and uphold airline passengers’ consumer rights.
“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” saidButtigieg. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”
The DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection maintains a portal where consumers can file a complaint against an airline for passenger rights violations here.
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Laurie Baratti is a San Diego-based journalist whose work has previously appeared in publications like TravelAge West, SPACE,...
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