The Department of Transportation fined American Airlines $4.1 million for allegedly violating federal rules during tarmac delays, including those governing the length of time flights can keep passengers onboard without providing an opportunity to deplane.
The DOT said in a statement that the fine is the largest ever levied against a carrier for violating its tarmac delay regulations. The department also ordered American to cease and desist from violating the law.
“This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the statement. “Whether the issue is extreme tarmac delays or problems getting refunds, DOT will continue to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable.”
The DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection ordered American to pay $2.05 million within 30 days of the order being issued. The other half of the penalty will be credited to American for compensation the airline has already issued to passengers.
The OACP found 43 flights between 2018 and 2021 violated a DOT rule that prohibits domestic flights from remaining on the tarmac for more than three hours without providing an opportunity to deplane.
The OACP investigation also found that one of those flights violated a rule requiring airlines to provide adequate food and water to passengers during tarmac delays within two hours of touching down in the case of arriving flights.
Because of these alleged violations, the OACP found that American “engaged in unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition.”
American agreed to the terms of the compromise settlement but said it disagreed that certain cases cited in the OACP assessment warranted enforcement action since there were “extreme circumstances presented.”
“In response, 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,” American stated in its official response.
“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 continued. “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.”