The Transportation Department fined American Airlines $4.1 million on Monday, saying the carrier violated federal rules by keeping passengers stranded on airport tarmacs for hours on dozens of occasions in recent years.
The agency said the fine was the largest penalty it had ever doled out for tarmac delays. The violations stem from 43 domestic flights between 2018 and 2021 in which passengers were stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours without being given a chance to deplane, according to the department.
A majority of the delays occurred at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, the largest hub for American Airlines. Others took place at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, San Antonio International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington. The most extensive delay was in San Antonio, when a flight carrying 105 passengers sat on the tarmac for six hours in August 2020.
“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, D.O.T. will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”
Sarah Jantz, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said the carrier had made substantial efforts to reduce tarmac delays, such as deploying a tool that adjusts the timing of flights in response to bad weather.
“While these delays were the result of exceptional weather events, the flights represent a very small number of the 7.7 million flights during this time period,” Ms. Jantz said in a statement. “We have since apologized to the impacted customers and regret any inconvenience caused.”
American Airlines will have to pay only half of the $4.1 million fine to the federal government. For the other half, the government is giving the airline credit for compensation provided to passengers for delays.
The federal prohibition on lengthy tarmac delays dates to the Obama administration. For domestic flights, airlines are not allowed to keep passengers sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving them a chance to deplane. For international flights, the limit is four hours.
During Mr. Buttigieg’s tenure, the Transportation Department has tried to emphasize its desire to improve the flying experience for travelers and hold airlines accountable for their performance.
The department has imposed millions of dollars in fines, and it has pushed airlines to guarantee that children can sit with an accompanying adult at no extra charge.
It also created an online dashboard to show travelers the services they are entitled to when flights are canceled or significantly delayed for reasons within an airline’s control, and it announced plans to propose regulations that would require airlines to compensate passengers for such travel disruptions.
Mark Walker is an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Covid-19 in 2020. He grew up in Savannah, Ga., and graduated from Fort Valley State University. More about Mark Walker
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