Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

American Airlines Fined $1.6 Million for Long U.S. Tarmac Delays

  • Passengers weren’t allowed to exit flights after three hours
  • Violations occurred in 2013 and 2015 on 27 separate flights

American Airlines Group Inc. was ordered to pay $1.6 million in penalties and fines to settle charges it trapped passengers on 27 flights that were delayed for more than three hours on the ground.

The penalties equal the previous record for violations of tarmac-delay regulations that Southwest Airlines Co. paid after reaching an agreement with the Department of Transportation in January 2015.

American’s fine was reduced by $602,000 for compensation it has already paid passengers on the flights, according to an agency press release. DOT also agreed to waive $303,000 of the fine to reimburse the airline for better equipment to help avoid such problems in the future, the agency said in the release.

"Our tarmac rule is meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the release. “We will continue to take enforcement action as necessary to ensure passengers are not kept delayed on the tarmac for lengthy periods of time."

The fines were accrued over flights by American and merger partner US Airways, as well as regional carriers flying for them.

Learning Opportunity

“We are pleased to have this matter resolved,” said Matt Miller, a spokesman for American. “It’s worth noting that a large portion of the settlement is related to a winter weather event that occurred nearly four years ago in Charlotte. Regardless, every situation is a learning opportunity and we remain committed to taking care of our customers.”

The regulation restricting lengthy ground delays without offering assistance to passengers went into effect in April 2010 following several highly publicized incidents. Airlines face fines as high as $27,500 per customer if planes are kept on the ground longer than three hours without returning to the gate so passengers can opt to leave. The law also requires carriers to provide passengers with food, water, working lavatories and medical attention during lengthy ground delays.

The DOT identified these violations: American had 20 such flights at its hub in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 16, 2013; six flights at Dallas/Fort Worth International on Feb. 27, 2015; and one flight in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Oct. 22, 2015.

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