Airline let domestic flights stay on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers opportunity to get off plane

New American Airlines Plane Design / American Airlines Fined $1.6 Million for Violating Tarmac Delay Rule
Image: American Airlines
December 16, 2016

American Airlines has been fined $1.6 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for violating its rule prohibiting long delays on the tarmac. The airline must refrain from similar violations in the future.

This fine is the highest amount assessed against an airline for violating the tarmac delay rule. It matches a similar $1.6 million fine against Southwest Airlines from 2015.

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

Upon investigation, the DOT's Aviation Enforcement office discovered that in 2013 and 2015, American Airlines had let numerous domestic flights stay on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving the passengers an opportunity to get off the plane. There were 20 flights that experienced such delays at Charlotte International Airport on February 16, 2013; six flights at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on February 27, 2015; and one flight at Shreveport Regional Airport in Louisiana on October 22, 2015.

DOT rules prohibit U.S. airlines operating aircraft containing 30 or more passenger seats from letting their domestic flights stay on the tarmac for more than three hours without providing passengers with an opportunity to get off the place. Exceptions to this time limit are allowed only for reasons related to safety, security, or air traffic control. Airlines are also required by the rules to provide adequate food and water, make sure that lavatories are functioning, and, if necessary, provide passengers with medical attention during long delays on the tarmac.

The delays in Charlotte occurred during a snowstorm on flights being operated by both American Airlines' predecessor U.S. Airways and its regional partners. The DOT found that the airlines did not properly evaluate the situation in time to take preventive measures that would have avoided long delays on the tarmac.

The DOT also found that, while heavy snow and rain did contribute to the delays in Dallas/Fort Worth, American Airlines did not prepare for the weather adequately and did not take proper measures to prevent numerous extended delays. The investigators also discovered that the delay in Shreveport was at least partially a result of American's mismanagement of personnel and resources.

Of the $1.6 million assessed to the carrier for these violations, $602,000 will be credited to American for providing compensation to passengers on the impacted flights, and $303,000 will be credited toward the expended costs incurred by the carrier to acquire, operate, and maintain a surface management and surveillance system at both Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth to monitor where each aircraft is on the airfield.