American Airlines Fined $1.6M Over Tarmac Delays

The U.S. Transportation Department has fined American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) $1.6 million for violating a rule that prohibits long tarmac delays. American Airlines reportedly broke the DOT’s tarmac delay rule 27 times in 2013 and 2015. The delays involved flights operated by both American Airlines’ predecessor US Airways and its regional partners. The department did not cite any violations for 2014.

Federal rules don’t allow domestic flights to stay on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers a chance to leave the plane. The department does allow exceptions to its tarmac rule for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement the “tarmac rule is meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end.”

The rules, which went into effect in April 2010, apply to U.S. airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats. The rules also require airlines to provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working and provide medical attention to passengers during the delays. Airlines face fines as high as $27,500 per customer per incident.

Most of the airline’s tarmac delays occurred when 20 of its planes were grounded during a 2013 blizzard in Charlotte, North Carolina. The department says the airline didn’t do enough to prepare for that scenario.

The DOT said that the fine was “the highest amount assessed against an airline for violating the tarmac delay rule.” The fine matched the amount that was assessed against Southwest Airlines in 2015 for violating the same rule.

According to DOT, $602,000 of the fine “will be credited to American for compensation provided to passengers on the affected flights.” Another $303,000 “will be credited to American” for acquiring and maintaining a new surveillance system at the Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth airports. This means that American Airlines will only pay $695,000 of the fine to the DOT.

Matt Miller, a spokesman for American said, “We are pleased to have this matter resolved.” He continued, “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.”