American Airlines is facing a $4.1 million fine after keeping thousands of passengers waiting on tarmacs for hours at a time.
The Department of Transportation says the fine is the largest civil penalty ever issued for tarmac delay policy violations.
“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a press release on Aug. 28. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”
According to the federal agency, American Airlines allowed 43 domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for three or more hours between 2018 and 2021. The impacted passengers – over 5,820 in total – were not allowed to deplane in violation of DOT regulations. They were also not provided food or water.
The majority of these delays occurred at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
American Airlines has been ordered to refund $2.5 million to the customers impacted by the delays. Another $2.05 million will be credited for compensation the airlines have provided to passengers aboard the planes.
“American states that it takes very seriously its responsibility to comply with all of the Department’s requirements, including the tarmac delay rule, and that American has fully cooperated with the Department’s investigation of the flights at issue,” said American Airlines in a statement, per The Hill. “American states that while its goal is to avoid any lengthy tarmac delays, the 43 American flights included in this enforcement order represent less than 0.001% of the approximately 7.7 million flights operated by American and its regional partners during the period of 2018 to 2021.”
“American states that it provided substantial compensation to affected passengers in connection with these events, as reflected by the Department’s credit to American of over $2 million of the assessed penalty under this Consent Order,” added the airline.
As Transportation Secretary, improving air travel has been a priority for Buttigieg. He told airlines that the increase in delayed or canceled flights was unacceptable in August of 2022 and called for improvements.
“These aren’t just numbers,” said Buttigieg in a letter addressed to the CEOs of major airlines. “These are missed [birthdays], parties, graduations, time with loved ones and important meetings.”
“I urge you to take this opportunity to assess your Customer Service Plan to ensure that it guarantees adequate services and amenities to help passengers with expenses and inconveniences due to delays and cancellations,” Buttigieg wrote, per The Street. “The department asks that airlines, at a minimum, provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight at an airport because of disruptions within the carrier’s control.”