American Airlines is being fined $4.1 million by the federal government for dozens of incidents in which customers were denied the opportunity to leave planes during protracted ground delays.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, this fine against an airline is the biggest to date since regulations governing lengthy ground delays went into place approximately ten years ago.
According to a settlement agreement that resolved the matter, American is required to pay half of the punishment within the following 30 days, while the department offered the airline credit for the other half, or slightly over $2 million, for compensation it paid to delayed passengers.
According to the department’s inquiry, American kept 43 domestic aircraft on the ground for at least three hours from 2018 through 2021 without offering passengers — a total of 5,821 — the option to disembark. However, the department claimed that none of those were factors in the flights it examined. There are some instances in which airlines are permitted to bend the regulations, notably for safety and security concerns.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declared, “This is the latest action in our continued drive to enforce the rights of airline passengers,” and threatened to make airlines liable under consumer protection laws.
The 43 flights represented a miniscule fraction of 1% of the nearly 7.7 million flights that American and American Eagle conducted between 2018 and 2021, despite the fact that American said it intends to prevent any significant ground delays in the consent decree. The airline claimed it offered “substantial compensation” to passengers who were delayed, and it has subsequently increased managerial focus on averting delays.
The majority of the delays were at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where American is by far the most popular airline; other delays happened in San Antonio and Houston as a result of flights being diverted to DFW. Numerous were caused by thunderstorms, and American was unable to control its airport gates to allow passengers to disembark.
The airline accepted the terms of the consent agreement despite having expressed concerns about delays at Reagan Washington National Airport during a winter storm in January 2019.
For a domestic trip, the DOT’s regulations allow aircraft to wait for takeoff for a maximum of three hours without giving passengers the opportunity to disembark. Nevertheless, the government found after an inquiry that American “kept dozens of flights stuck on the tarmac for long periods of time without letting passengers off.”
The DOT has extensive consumer protection jurisdiction, which has been used in the past to support judgments to sanction airlines for breaking regulations like leaving customers waiting on the tarmac for an excessive amount of time or failing to offer fast refunds.
According to an investigation by the agency’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection into occurrences that occurred between 2018 and 2021, American permitted “43 domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for lengthy periods without providing passengers with the opportunity to deplane,” it stated. During the delays, passengers were not provided with food or water, which is standard procedure, according to officials.
About 5,821 passengers were impacted by the majority of the delays, which mostly happened at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, American’s main hub.
American airlines was fined previously
Likewise, in 2021, the DOT announced fines of $1.9 million against American Airlines for infringing the same rule, which at the time was the highest penalty ever imposed for rule violations.
What’s next: The DOT has proposed a number of regulations aimed at better safeguarding airline customers, the most significant of which would improve safeguards for passengers who request a cash refund in the event that a flight is canceled.
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As of Monday, according to the DOT, around half of the amount will be “credited to the airline for compensation provided to passengers on the affected flights.”