American Airlines was ordered to pay a $4.1 million fine, the largest such penalty to date, for allowing aircraft to sit on the ground for three hours or more without giving passengers a chance to exit.
The US Transportation Department on Monday said the action was part of an increase in enforcement starting last year after Secretary Pete Buttigieg began denouncing carriers for causing lengthy delays and canceling flights.
“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”
US law prohibits domestic flights from sitting on airport tarmacs for more than three hours without pulling planes back to gates to allow people to disembark. The DOT alleged that American violated the rules on 43 domestic flights between 2018 and 2021. A total of 5,821 passengers were aboard the flights, the agency said.
American said in an emailed statement that it has made improvements to its flight-planning system to prevent planes from stacking up at airports during extreme weather.
“American always strives to deliver a positive travel experience to our customers and takes very seriously our responsibility to comply with all Department of Transportation requirements,” the airline said.
Half of the penalty, $2.05 million, will be used to compensate passengers who were on the delayed flights, the DOT said.
Most of the delays occurred at one of American’s main hubs, Dallas-Fort Worth International. On one of the 43 flights, passengers were not provided food and water, which is also required in the law, the agency said.
Buttigieg has been a vocal critic of the airline industry as it rebounds from the Covid-19 pandemic. The DOT earlier this year began the creation of new regulations increasing the compensation passengers would receive for airline-caused delays and cancellation. It also created a website showing consumers each airlines’ consumer policies.