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DOT Issues Two Fines Against Passenger Carriers for Tarmac Delay Violations

DOT 01-13

DOT Issues Two Fines Against Passenger Carriers for Tarmac Delay Violations

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation closed 2012 with fines against two airlines for violating federal rules that limit how long an aircraft with passengers aboard may be delayed on the tarmac.  DOT fined Copa Airlines of Panama $150,000 and Virgin America Airlines $55,000 and ordered the carriers to cease and desist from further violations. 

The Copa and Virgin America orders were the final enforcement actions taken last year by the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office.  During 2012, the Department issued 49 consent orders for consumer rule violations and assessed $3,610,000 in fines, exceeding the previous record of 47 orders and $3,264,000 in fines issued in 2011. 

“This Administration believes that consumers have the right to be treated fairly when they fly,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “Our tarmac rules are meant to prevent passengers from being trapped in aircraft on the ground for hours on end, and we will continue to work with airlines and airports to make sure that air travelers are treated with the respect they deserve before, during and after their flights.”

Airlines may not allow tarmac delays longer than three hours on domestic flights and four hours on international flights at U.S. airports without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons.   In addition, if a flight is delayed at the gate and passengers are able to leave the plane, the carrier must announce the opportunity to deplane 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and every 30 minutes afterward. 

The Department found that Copa left passengers stranded aboard an aircraft at New York’s JFK Airport for five hours and 34 minutes on June 22, 2012 on a flight bound for Panama.  Passengers were not offered food until more than four hours into the delay, although DOT rules call for airlines to provide food and drinking water no later than two hours after leaving the gate.  Copa also failed to report the tarmac delay to the Department as required, and DOT found out about the delay only after two consumers filed complaints with the Department.  In addition, Copa’s contingency plan for tarmac delays, posted on its website, failed to include a number of assurances required by DOT rules, including that it would notify passengers during a delay at the gate if they may leave the aircraft, maintain sufficient resources to implement its contingency plan, and coordinate its plan with airport authorities and other U.S. government agencies at airports the carrier serves.

Virgin America was fined for failing to notify passengers in an aircraft delayed at the gate for two hours and 16 minutes at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on July 18, 2012, that they could leave the aircraft prior to its departure for San Francisco. 

The enforcement orders are available on the Internet at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2012-0002.

Passengers may file complaints or comments about airline service not related to safety or security issues through DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD).

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013