JetBlue Fined for Tarmac-Rule Violation on JFK Flight

JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) was fined $90,000 by the U.S. Transportation Department for failing to tell passengers during a 2 1/2-hour delay they could get off the plane as allowed under a 2010 federal rule.

Passengers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport weren’t told they could leave the plane as it sat at the gate with the door open on March 3, awaiting departure to San Francisco, the department said in an e-mailed statement.

The fine was the second ever issued by the department in connection with an April 2010 rule, expanded in 2011, that fines carriers that don’t give passengers the option of getting off planes stuck on tarmacs. AMR Corp. (AAMRQ)’s Eagle unit was fined $900,000 in November 2011 for Chicago O’Hare tarmac delays over the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend that year.

Part of the rule states that if passengers have an opportunity to leave a stalled flight, such as when the plane is at the gate and the door is open, they must be advised 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward.

An investigation found JetBlue’s contingency plan for long delays didn’t contain assurances passengers would receive notifications on the status of the delay, even though that is required, according to the department’s statement.

“We’re cooperating” with the department, JetBlue Chief Executive Officer David Barger said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

“This is such a nuance, though,” Barger said. Passengers could have left any time with the door open, even though no announcements were being made, he said. “I’m sure there are some lessons learned.”

Stranded Passengers

The underlying rule fines carriers as much as $27,500 per passenger when they fail to give customers a chance to get off planes stalled on tarmacs for at least three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international trips.

The rule was written after passengers were stranded on planes for hours, sometimes without access to food or working restrooms, in widely publicized incidents, including one in which 47 people were stuck on a 50-seat ExpressJet Holdings Inc. aircraft for 5 1/2 hours in Rochester, Minnesota, in August 2009.

Separately today, the Transportation Department fined ticket agent Orbitz $50,000 for failing to “clearly and prominently” tell consumers they may have to pay baggage fees on top of ticket prices.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Hughes in Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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